Globalization and liberalization have changed the face of the Indian economy. We have seen a plethora of developments, predominantly industrial and business. Thanks to the global exposure and the cosmopolitan atmosphere the Indian culture has evolved over the years and is a great thing to cherish. However, some elements of our culture did fade away into the past as we failed to give them the importance they deserved. One such element is the folk dance. While a significant number of Indian folk dances have already been buried deep in the annals of history, another good number are on the verge of losing their cultural identity in an attempt to compete with the fast pervading western culture. When I was on my field visit to Madanpur Rampur in Kalahandi district of Odisha, I had the opportunity to witness one such folk dance, the Danda Nata which is also known as the Punishment Dance. This dance is an ancient folk dance of India native to Odisha.In fact, Danda Nata is more than just a dance; it is a dance festival. According to a legend, the dance festival took birth some 400 years ago when kings ruling this region punished people, who failed to pay taxes, by making them walk barefoot all through the village in the hot sun. The helpless villagers prayed to Goddess Kali to provide them strength to cope with the pain caused by the punishment. To this date, Danda Nata and the associated rituals enjoy high patronage among the performers as well as the people in parts of the Indian state of Odisha. The festival is celebrated usually for a period of 13 days and sometimes for 18 or 21 days during the Indian Calendar month of Chaitra and ends on Vishuva Sankranti, the Odiya New Year.Each group consists of 13 performers who are called Danduas and the group is called Tera Budhuta. Of these 13, one of them leads the group and is called a Patta Dandua. During the 13 day period, the danduas live an ascetic life and worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali. At the onset of the 13 day period, the danduas led by patta dandua perform yagna at a Kali temple and are offered a sacred thread to wear by the temple priests. After the yagna, the patta dandua stays at the Kali temple while the other danduas travel from one village to the other performing Danda Nata every day. They stay near a temple or under a tree during the 13 day period. The danduas eat only one meal every day and it has to be a strict vegetarian meal. Also, they drink water only in the evening after the Pani Danda, one of the 3 stages of Danda Nata. The Danda Nata is a physically demanding folk dance. Besides getting exposed to extreme heat conditions during the day, the danduas also pierce sharp objects into their back, get their body stung by poisonous snakes, and walk on fire or sharp objects to show their devoutness.The first stage of Danda Nata is Dhuli Danda which involves performing on hot sand under the scorching heat of sun in the noon. It lasts for about 2 hours. The second stage is called Pani Danda and it is performed in the evening in a nearby water body such as a river, a lake or a pond. The danduas stay in water for about an hour during this period. When I reached Rampur about 11 in the morning, I could catch a glimpse of the danduas performing Dhuli Danda. However, I didn’t have the opportunity to see the Pani Danda. The Dhuli Danda is performed in front of the house of a villager at his/her request, and the villager is either poor or childless or suffering from a health complication. The final stage is called the Agni Danda which starts at late in the night and runs till early in the morning. As I picked up a conversation about Danda Nata with the MSF employess, I became all curious about the Agni Danda and decided to kill my sleep that night to view this performance.After having my dinner at Mahashakti Foundation’s office, I left for the venue of the Agni Danda performance at around 10 pm along with the MSF chauffeur Suryakanth. The venue was an open area adjoining the bus station. As we reached the place, I noticed the procession of danduas far off approaching the bus station. I started to walk towards the procession. As I reached, I noticed there were around 7 distinct groups of danduas performing that night. I followed the procession to the venue near the bus station. Two danduas from each group valiantly performed with fire during the procession. While three other danduas played the musical instruments of Dhol (a double-headed drum), Jhanjha (a type of cymbal) and Mahuri (a trumpet like musical instrument native to Odisha), a few others, who seem to have been lost in religious ecstasy, danced to the magnificent rhythms of these instruments. The remaining danduas carried flags of different colours, bunch of peacock feathers, a picture of Goddess Kali attached to a bamboo pole, and a torch.[caption id="attachment_2590" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Danduas participating in the procession[/caption]After the procession reached the open area, each of the 7 groups performed puja to Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali. The venue was so crowded; we decided to reach the terrace of the adjoining bus station. For some reason, the staircase was covered with thorny bushes but a good number of us climbed the staircase, walking along its edge while holding the side rail to reach the terrace. And our efforts paid off as we could catch a clear sight of the puja rituals. Soon after the puja, each group left for various spots in the vicinity of the venue to perform the folk drama, Chadheya Nata. It was shortly after midnight that the folk drama started; the fatigue of the field visit in the afternoon already started to take a toll on me. My eyes started to shut down slowly but my fascination for such rural folk dances tried hard to keep them wide open. At around 2:30 am, I really wanted to hit the bed and we left the place for our room.The 3 stages of Danda Nata are a daily routine for danduas till Vishuva Sankranti. On the day of Vishuva Sankranti, they reach their destination, which is their own village from where they started initially. The danduas perform the Dhuli Danda in front of the house of one of the village residents. After this, the danduas reach the Kali temple and perform the final rituals. The patta dandua then comes out of the temple and performs a breathtaking act in which he hangs himself upside down above a fire pit till blood oozes from his nose and falls on the fire. Chadeya Nata is enacted in the night. The following day, the danduas break the sacred thread while taking bath and this marks the end of Danda Nata. The danduas together relish a feast with non-vegetarian dishes. Another startling fact about the Danda Nata is that it maintains distance from the Indian caste system. A dandua can hail from the orthodox class or from the lowest class in the society as well. In a nation which is tattered by the malady of caste, such a union will certainly astonish someone like me who has no prior idea of Danda Nata.So far, during my stay in Odisha as a Milaap Fellow, I observed the people of this state, in particular, the rural and tribal populace to be very dedicated in their efforts to preserve their rich culture and traditions. So much so that culture comes second to nothing. Learning about foreign cultures and embracing them is very essential as doing so will open up our mind. But, it is equally important to take pride in our own culture and keep our Indian roots intact irrespective of what advantage doing so will entitle us to.
Centuries Old Folk Dance Of India Danda Nata Still Retains Charm