BERHAMPUR: The sight of saffron and yellow clad men rolling on the ground with others singing to the beat of drum is common in Ganjam district during the annual ‘Danda Nacha’.The festival is practised by the devotees of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti. These Danda Nacha troupes divide their performing days into two phases - one for 21 days and the other for 13 days. During the performance, which will continue till Visubha Sankranti, the troupes walk barefoot for long distances and go through physical sufferings as part of the ritual.
The Danduas or devotees believe that infliction of physical pain will ensure the Almighty’s blessings. Apart from performing a mid-day dance called Dhuli Danda, they also perform Pani Danda and Agni Danda.
While Dhuli Danda is performed at noon under the scorching sun, Pani Danda is performed inside ponds in the evening and Agni Danda at midnight. The Danduas eat only once a day at midnight and don’t sleep at night during the festivities. The Danduas greet each other as Bhakta and Rushi Putra (son of saints). The leader of the group is called Pata Dandua or Pata Bhakta, who leads a life of abstinence for 21 days prior to the festival. It is believed that Danduas seldom face difficulties due to the grace of God. The ritual is aimed at controlling the senses and making people go through physical suffering to please Gods.
During the night, stage artistes associated with various groups perform cultural programmes. More than 200 troupes perform dance in front of the houses of those who invite them. However, this year, several troupes are facing serious problems due to dry and unclean ponds. Besides, unpredictable rains have added to their woes. But devotees are undeterred by the problems. Their unwavering faith has ensured smooth conduct of the ritual.