BERHAMPUR: Clad in saffron dhotis, groups of Danduas are marching under the scorching sun in Ganjam district as they beat drums and blow trumpets holding flags with religious symbols in their hands.
They have been performing Danda Nacha (dance for penance) at various places in the district, including the Silk City. They undertake physical rigours and maintain austerity for 13-21 days.
This festival of penance starts from Ram Navami and ends on Mahavisuva Sankranti. Walking bare-footed, the troupes perform their rituals on the roads during the day. At night, they act in plays at makeshift theatres or stages.
Households and bazaar committees invite these Danda Nacha troupes to perform and worship goddess Kali. Though rising temperature raises concern over cases of heat stroke, the ‘danda nacha’ troupes pay no heed to heat or weather.People worship them as they pass through the streets. The folk dance of Danda Nacha has survived the test of time in Ganjam, Boudh, Kandhamal and Sambalpur districts. It is mostly performed during the month of Chaitra.
Not much is known about its origin. According to historians, it started some 400 years back. There are over 100 distinct groups of Danduas in the district. The groups offer prayers to goddess Kali and Lord Shiva during their 21-day ordeal. During this time, they stay away from their near and dear ones. They consume food once a day. Though the dance has a number of restrictions and rituals, there is no bar on caste. The Danduas visit Kali temples to offer prayers to Goddess Kali on the auspicious day of Visuva Sankranti. They perform various dances in three phases, including Panidanda, Dhuli Danda and Agnidanda.
The dances are performed in front of houses of those who invite them as per their religious vows. While performing Dhulidanda, the Danduas start the performance in morning. As per a ritual, they endure the pain of sleeping on sand under the scorching sun. During sunset, they take a dip in ponds and remain there for more than an hour. The last and crucial phase, ‘agni danda,’ starts at midnight during which goddess Kali and Lord Shiva are worshipped together. While a group consists of 30 to 800 danduas, each of these is controlled by a person who is known as ‘Patta Dandua (Bhukta)’. He confines himself to the temple of Kali and comes out on Visuva Sankranti, the day after the last rituals are performed by his group.
Bhukuta plays the most crucial role in the act. He hangs himself upside down over a fire pit near a Kali temple till a few drops of blood ooze from his nose and fall into the fire pit in the presence of thousands of devotees.These Dandua groups, who walk forming a single row, never hesitate to cover miles together to perform the dance. Currently, they are taking assistance of some opera artistes to entertain the people and provide them relief from looking at shocking rituals. However, the artistes are free from the restriction and rituals. The Danduas spend all their income for development or construction of Kali temple. The Dandua groups consist of persons from various sections of the society. They generally undertake the ordeal to get their wishes fulfilled.