BERHAMPUR: Even as many traditional folk art forms have faded from the cultural scene of the State, Danda Nacha continues to hold sway among people in Ganjam district. It is performed in ‘Chaitra’ month and this year, it began on Saturday.
The rituals of Danda Nacha (also known as dance of penance) entail painful procedures for worshipping goddess Kali and lord Shiva for 21 days. Generally, the rituals begin 21 or 13 days before Maha Bisuva Sankranti. The ‘Danduas’ also pray on behalf of the people, who want their wishes to be fulfilled.
During those days of penance, the ‘Danduas’ subject themselves to painful ordeals through innumerable ways to satisfy the Almighty. They stay away from their near and dear ones and take food only once in a day, that too without spices. The dance is performed in three phases __ Pani Danda, Dhuli Danda and Agni Danda.
While performing Dhuli Danda, the Danduas have to sleep on sand during day in scorching heat and after sunset, remain inside pond for more than one hour (Pani Danda). The last and most crucial phase, Agni Danda, begins at midnight when Kali and Shiva are worshipped together.
Unlike previous years, households and bazaar committees have been inviting the Danda Nacha troupes to perform the dance.
Each group of Danduas is led by a person called Patta Dandua (bhukta) who confines himself to a Kali temple and comes out on the Sankranti day after his group has performed the last rituals. Bhukta plays the most crucial role of pleasing the Goddess. He hangs himself upside down from a bamboo attached to two poles over a fire pit till blood oozes out of his nose. After the entire ordeal is over, the ‘Danduas’ go to the Kali temple to offer their gratitude to the Goddess for surviving the ordeals.
Despite restrictions and difficult rituals followed during the dance, the number of ‘Danduas’ has been increasing every year. Of late, the ‘Dandua’ groups are taking the assistance of some opera artistes to entertain the people, who are usually shocked to witness the stringent rituals from morning till midnight. The restrictions and rituals are, however, not imposed on the artistes, who participate only with an intention to earn for survival.
Apart from Ganjam, Danda Nacha is performed in Boudh, Kandhamal and Sambalpur districts. Although not much is known about the origin of the dance, historians opine that the dance may have originated 400 years ago.
According to legends, in earlier times, the kings used to build temples with the funds collected as tax from the citizens. People who were not able to pay the tax were made to walk barefoot on hot sand and even asked to remain immersed in water. The intention was to inflict pain on the defaulters. The innocent citizens, unable to revolt, went through the ordeal while praying to goddess Kali to save them.