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Journey to the land of Xattriya

- Mexican danseuse Betzabel Falfan performs in Majuli, revels in bhakti

Jorhat, April 2: From the gay abandon of the salsa to the intricate movements of Xattriya, Betzabel Falfan has travelled a long way.

Betzabel Falfan travelled from Mexico via Paris to Majuli with a masters degree in Xattriya nritya under her belt, to flawlessly perform the classical dance on the river island, its home. She left the island today after performing the ranga prabex (the first performance on stage when the dancer is also presented with the ghungroo).

The ranga prabex is mandatory for obtaining the first masters degree which she already has and her performance at Majuli was just that — a performance.

The 27-year-old has mastered the dance under the tutelage of Bhabananda Barbayan, a teacher at Uttar Kamalabari Xatra in Majuli, at the Sattriya Dance Academy at Sankardev Bhawan in New Delhi and a visiting faculty at Paris 8 University.

Falfan told The Telegraph over phone that she was drawn to Xattriya because “it was a dance which infused spirituality in its movements”.

“Through it, I understood the bhakti of the Vaishnavite culture and the commandments of Xankardev who fought against social disparity in Assam in the 16th century,” she said.

Comparing the two forms of dance, Falfan said salsa was a folk dance, which called for a partner, while Xattriya was performed solo.

“The salsa, which is a part of my culture, is a folk dance akin to Bihu and is danced at parties and other joyous occasions. There has to be a male or female partner to twirl you around and do the bends. The Xattriya has more intricate steps and hand movements, which symbolise devotion to Krishna,” she said.

“I mimicked every step shown to me by my adhyapak (Barbayan) and asked the meaning of every mati akhara (basic grammar) of the Xattriya,” she added.

The dancer said through Xattriya, she realised she wanted her life to be meaningful — spiritually and physically. “I knew what I should be with the conviction of bhakti in my life,” she said.

Barbayan is proud of his pupil. “Betzabel is in her second year at the Paris 8 University and will get her second masters in ojapali in June under my tutelage,” he said.

Barbayan had gone to Paris in 2010 and after one of his lecture-cum-demonstrations, Xattriya nritya and philosophy was incorporated as part of the course of the University.

“I have to go every year as a visiting faculty and deliver my lectures in English. It is translated into French and the students have to appear for the paper in French,” he said. “Betzabel has finished the ranga prabex of Xattriya, which is similar to the arengatram of Bharatanatyam before getting the first masters degree and is learning the theatrical techniques of ojapali at the Sattriya Academy in New Delhi where I am based. She will most likely be here for another year as the Indian Council of Cultural Relations has given her a three-year scholarship,” he said.

Besides Betzabel, Barbayan has three other pupils under him at the university, two of whom have completed the first masters in Xattriya.