A veritable melting pot of art, tradition and religion, Orissa is a state rich in music, dance and festivals. Casaurina trees sway in the gentle breeze, the blue of the sky matches perfectly with that of the sea, and the sun plays hide and seek on Orissa’s golden beaches. Over the centuries, the state has nurtured distinctive styles of folk art forms. Music and dance is integral to the lives of the people of the state. Let us now take you on a journey through the many and varied folk dances of Orissa.
The Gotipua Dance emerged from the ruins of the Devadasi tradition. From the 14th century onwards, political unrest and social changes took a toll on the Mahari or Devadasi tradition. During this time, attempts were made to keep alive the beautiful tradition of dance – thus was born the Gotipua tradition. The Gotipuas were young boys who were trained in singing, dancing and acrobatics in the village clubs or akhadas. They were dressed as girls and performed at temple festivals as well as various social and religious occasions. They also performed at special festive occasions relating to Radha and Krishna, like the Dol Utsav (or Spring Festival), the Chandan Yatra (or boat ride of Madan Mohan and Radhika on Chandan Pushkar) and the Jhulan Yatra (or Swing Festival). It is believed that the Gotipuas began their performance in the later medieval period, during the reign of the Bhoi King Ramachandradev. The present forms of Odissi dance have been derived to a great extent from the Gotipua tradition. Though the dances of the Gotipuas are in the Odissi style, crucial differences exist in technique, costume and presentation. Interestingly, the Gotipua dancers are the singers too.
The word Gotipua comes from the words ‘goti’ meaning one and ‘pua’ meaning boy. Gotipuas lead a life of rigorous training and exercise under the supervision of their gurus. Boys dedicated to the Lord by their parents are trained to become Gotipua dancers. Couples pray to Lord Balunakeswar Dev to be blessed with a male progeny. If the Lord answers their prayers, the child is dedicated to the Lord at the age of six years and becomes a Gotipua. He stays with the other Gotipuas till he is sixteen years old. When small children fall seriously ill, their parents offer prayers at the temple of Balunakeswar Dev. If the child is cured, he too is dedicated to the temple.
In its present form, the Gotipua Dance is more precise and systematic in its conception. Its repertoire includes Vandana (prayer to God, or a guru), Abhinaya (the enactment of a song) and Bandha Nritya (rhythms of acrobatic postures) which is a unique presentation in which gotipuas dance and compose themselves in various acrobatic yogic postures creating the forms of Radha and Krishna. Bandha Nritya is a demonstration of physical prowess requiring great agility and flexibility. Preferably performed in adolescence, with age, this dance form becomes increasingly difficult to execute. The dancers make extensive use of their hands and feet, and one cannot help admire the acrobatics involved in this dance. Musical accompaniment to the Gotipua Dance is provided by the mardala (a pakhawaj), gini (small cymbals), harmonium, violin and flute.
The philosophy of the Gotipuas is embedded in the Sakhibhava Culture where the devotees consider themselves to be consorts of Lord Krishna.
Sambalpuri Folk Dances
Western Orissa - a land of myths, which owe their origin to the legendary Goddess Sambleswari is known for its rich and colourful folk and tribal art forms. A wide range of percussion instruments is used as accompaniments to the Sambalpuri Dances. Hundreds of quaint musical instruments like the Sanchar, Samprada, Ghumra, Madal and Ghanta Vadya are also used. A variety of dance styles like the Dalkhai, Raserkeli, Nachnia, Bajnia, Maelajhara and Chutkachuta, explore the many moods and shades of human life.
Melodious songs and lilting music characterize the Dalkhai Dance. The dance is performed by the young unmarried girls of the village, who pray to goddess Dalkhai for the well being of their brothers. The daughters of the village fast the entire day and pray to the Folk Goddess in the evening. The songs describe the everyday life of the villagers and celebrate the beauty of the young girls. The traditional costumes and ornaments worn by the dancers, add aesthetic appeal to the dance. The Dalkhai Geet (song), Dalkhai Nacha (dance) and Dalkhai Baja (music) create an atmosphere of gaiety and merrymaking.The accompanying musical instruments include the Dhol, Nishan, Tasha & Muhuri. The dance is performed on the eighth day of the full moon night of Ashtami. “Dalkhai–re” is the oft–repeated word in the songs.
Nachnia, a dance usually performed by male artistes only, originated from the Sonepur district of Orissa. The dance is associated with the ceremony of marriage. The leader of the group of dancers is known as ‘gahar’ while his companions are called ‘palia’. The music, which accompanies this dance, is usually restricted to drums, and is played to a particular rhythm called Kaharba.
Bajnia is a traditional folk dance of Western Orissa. Music is an important element of this fast paced and cheerful dance form. The men use an array of musical instruments to provide accompaniment to the women dancers. Often the men too join in the dancing. The dancers wear colourful local hand-woven Sambalpuri sarees and dhotis.
Raserkeli is another folk dance of Western Orissa. In this dance too, the women are the dancers and the men provide the musical accompaniment. This dance is performed mainly during marriage ceremonies. The item begins with a musical piece called ‘Dulduli’. The player of the Dhol during this dance is called the Dhulia. The Dhulia and the dancers spread goodwill through their movements and their smiling faces.
Maelajhoda is another dance form of Western Orissa, which is performed by young unmarried girls. The technique of the dance and the musical accompaniments used are similar to the Dalkhai dance. Differences exist in the movements of the hands and feet.
The Chutkichuta Dance is also from Sambalpur in Western Orissa. This dance is dedicated to Goddess Sambleswari. Based on the various ragas of the Sambalpuri folk tradition and accompanied by melodious songs, this dance form reflects the rich culture of indigenous art forms in this part of Orissa.
Durla Nacha is another traditional folk dance of Western Orissa. The dance is an integral part of the marriage festivities of the tribal communities. On the morning of the marriage, oil and turmeric paste are first offered to the family deity and then to the groom and bride. Singing and dancing accompany the ceremony.
An ancient Adivasi tribe of Western Orissa, the Kandhas, performs the Dhap Dance. The dance is an integral part of all major festivals, especially the Nirakhai festival. The villagers gather together, as one united family, to worship the village deity. An elaborate village feast and merry making follow this. The ‘Mukhia’ or village senior also joins the dance, carrying an axe on his shoulder. Through this gesture, he symbolically promises to protect the dignity of the women of the village.
The Jhoomar is another popular group dance of Western Orissa performed by both girls and boys. Typical Jhoomar songs accompany the fast-paced dance. Characteristic movements of the hips and waist mark this dance form. It is performed during Chaitra Parva, Karam Puja and Kali Puja.
The ritualistic Karma Dance is performed in honour of goddess ‘Karma Sani’ or ‘Karma Rani’, literally meaning ‘Queen of Fate’. The dance is popular in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundergarh, Bolangir and Dhenkenal. In the month of Bhadra, a branch of the Karam tree is cut and carried to the dancing arena in a ceremonial procession. The branch is planted and the boys and girls dance around it, to the beat of drums. Different tribal groups perform the Karma Dance differently. The dance presents a fusion of colour and elegance. The women wear bright sarees with jewellery made from shells and the men wear coloured turbans adorned with a shimmering blue peacock feathers. The women dance in concentric circles and the men move with characteristic steps. The indigenous instruments used are rhythmic and melodious.
Ghumra is a folk dance of the Kalahandi district of Orissa. It is named after the main musical instrument, a pitcher-shaped drum called the ghumra, which is tied around each dancer’s neck. The dancers play on the drum while dancing. It is performed to the accompaniment of songs, the content of which is varied, ranging from stories of hunting to everyday joys and sorrows of the people. The dancers execute intricate movements, jumps and pirouettes in a fast tempo. The Ghumra is popular in Bolangir, Sambalpur and Cuttack. With love as its main theme, the ghumra is a common dance at social functions such as marriages. The Saora tribes and other aboriginal tribes mostly perform this dance.
The Bamsarani, literally meaning ‘Bamboo Queen’, is a popular folk dance from Puri. In this dance, little girls exhibit acrobatic movements on a crossed bamboo bar as well as on the floor with admirable accuracy.
The Naga dancers of Puri perform with a heavy load of weapons, to the accompaniment of battle drums. The dancer carries, among other things, a sword, a kukri, a whistle made of horn, an iron shield and bows and arrows. The dancer’s body is covered with rama raja (a yellow paste). The vermillion tika on his forehead and the artificial moustache and beard, imparts a look of valour to the dancer. This highly energetic dance displays the strength and skills of a warrior.
The Paika Dance is a martial art form of ancient Orissa, which has withstood the test of time. Paika Akhadas thrive in several villages of the state till today. As early as the 15th century A.D., Gajapati Raja was believed to have raised an army of Paika warriors. The brave Paikas raise their voice of rebellion against the British rulers as early as 1817, four decades before the Sepoy Mutiny broke out. Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra Bhramarabar Roy led the Paika Bidroha. The Paiks of Khorda did not allow the British to enter the region and that is why Khorda is known as the last freedom fort of India. The heroism of these warriors influenced the art, architecture and literature of Orissa. The carvings that adorn the Konark Temple depict the martial prowess of the Paikas. Many of the performing art froms of Orissa, namely the Mayurbhanj Chhau, Ghumura and Ranapa Dances have been influenced by this glorious martial tradition.
The Paikas have found pride in place in Oriya literature too. Sarala Dasa’s Mahabharat written in the 15th century describes this martial tradition of Orissa. Poet Balaram Dash narrates the institution of war fare education in his literary work Jagamohan Ramayan.
The dance involves acrobactic movement with swords (talwars), sticks (lathis) and shields (dhalis). Not surprisingly, the dance demands of it performers an extraordinary level of physical fitness. Only through years of dedicated practice do these dancers master the precision and agility that is the hallmark of the Paika Dance. The dance is often an integral part of Dushera and Kalipuja celebrations. The Chagi, Nagar, Dhamsa, Mahuri and large cymbals provide the musical accompaniment.
The Ranapa dance, which has its roots in martial arts, is popular in the coastal areas of the Ganjam district of Orissa. In this dance, the artistes walk and dance on the Ranapas or stilts. Mock fights choreographed to the rhythm of drums make this dance form unique. All through the dance, the dancers exhibit their skills in balancing on stilts.
Ruk Mar Nacha
Ruk Mar Nacha is another martial dance form of Orissa. Ruk means to defend and Mar means to attack. Thus the dance is a highly stylised mock fight. It is prevalent in the Mayurbhanj district of Orissa and is believed to be the rudimentary form of the evolved ‘Chhau’ Dance of the region. Each dancer holds a sword in his right hand and a shield in his left. The group of dancers is usually divided into two and alternately one group attacks while the other defends. The effortless leg extensions of the dancers belie the complex nature of the dance. The Ruk Mar Nacha stands out for its rhythmic intricacies. While the melodic base for the dance is provided by a double-reeded wind instrument called ‘Mahuri,’ powerful percussion is provided by a ‘Dhola’ (a barrel-shaped two-faced drum), a ‘Dhuma’ (a cone-shaped hemispherical drum with one face) and ‘Chad chadi’ (a short cylindrical drum with two faces but played on only one face with two lean sticks.)
The Mayurbhanj Chhau is one of the three styles of Chhau Dance prevalent in the Eastern region of the country. While the other two styles, Seraikella Chhau of Jharkhand and Purulia Chhau of West Bengal, are performed with masks, the Mayurbhanj style does not use masks. Chhau dance has a very distinctive character of its own. For its evolution and growth, it has freely imbibed techniques and movements from the prevalent folk and tribal dances of the region, creating a harmonious blend of classical, traditional, folk and tribal styles. The theme of the dance centres round tales from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and legends relating to Lord Krishna. The choreography of this ancient rhythmic dance is highly stylized. This dance form flourished under the patronage of the Maharajas of Mayurbharj for over a century. It evolved out of the martial art forms of the area and its ceremonial presentation formed an essential part of the annual ‘Chaitra Parva’ festival, which is held for three consecutive nights. The dancers were divided into two competing groups, each trying to outdo the other. It has a wide range of intricate movements with acrobatic displays. The dance presents an amalgam of dynamism, precision and elegance, which is at times indistinguishable from visual poetry.
The Pasu Nritya or the Animal Mask Dance belongs to a majestic folk dance tradition of Orissa, particularly in the Ganjam district. Ma Byaghra Devi and Ma Thakurani are the popular Goddesses of this area. During festivals, when the idols are taken out on the streets (Thakurani Yatra), the masked dancers lead the procession in their colourful costumes. Pasu Nritya is also an important part of marriage ceremonies where the dancers lead the bridegroom and his family to the bride’s house. The different kinds of animal mask dances include dances wearing the masks of lions, tigers, bulls, horse, deer, goats, peacocks, ducks etc. The movements vary according to the kind of animal the dancers represent. The animal’s body is made out of a cane frame, which is richly decorated. Two dancers wear the cane frame representing the animal’s body, while their legs become the quadruped beast’s legs. The ring master (director) leads the animals around the stage accompanied by the drummers.
Chaiti Ghoda is a traditional folk dance usually performed by the Kaivartas or the fishermen community residing in the coastal districts of Orissa. The dance has three main participants – the Rauta, the Rautani and the Horse Rider. The accompanists are the drummer and trumpeteer. The Rauta is the lead singer. The themes of the Chaiti songs are culled from India’s rich mythology. Various aspects of human relations also find a place in these songs. While the Rauta and the Rautani enthrall the audience with their soulful songs and witty exchanges, the horse rider entertains with his energetic dance with the dummy horse, performed to the musical accompaniment of the Dhola (drum) and Mahuri (trumpet). The horse represents ‘Ashwini Baseli’ the presiding deity of the fishermen. The performance begins on a full moon night in the month of Chaitra and lasts for eight days, till Ashtami. The artistes wear traditional costumes complete with a turban. A bunch of feathers in the turban adds to the colour and flamboyance of the costumes. A form of healthy entertainment, this dance also serves as a powerful medium for the preservation of unity and communal harmony among the villagers.
During the 6th century AD, the King of Boudh in Western Orissa made several attempts to prevent the rise of Buddism in his kingdom. To popularise the worship of Lord Shiva among his subjects, he used a special form of folk dance called Danda Nacha. This dance, which originated as a tool to strengthen Hinduism in the kingdom, is now a very popular folk dance, retaining its religious character at the same time. Danda Nacha is performed in the month of Chaitra. This ritualistic dance to propitiate Lord Shiva and his consort Gauri, is prevalent in Dhenkenal, Bolangir, Cuttack, Puri and Ganjam districts of Orissa. The ritual is celebrated through dances, songs and physical feats. The dance derives its name from the Danda, or the pole, which symbolically represents Lord Shiva. The artistes tune their steps to the vigorous accompaniment of drums, winning for the dance form the acclaim of being one of the best drum dances of the world. The Danda is a unique performing art form, in that it is a synthesis of pure dance, song and drama, comparable to the Jatras of Bengal. This dance form attained its peak in the 16th century AD. The dancers depict sections from the Hindu scriptures through recitation of verses, singing, narration and enactment. The presentation is a whole night affair and the artistes keep their audience glued to their seats for a long stretch of 8 – 9 hours.
This dance form has a varied repertoire which includes:
The Parbha serves as the prelude to ‘Danda Nacha’. It is performed in the ‘Prathama Prahara’ of the night as a sanctifying gesture to set the stage for the main pole dance. No songs are sung during the Parbha Dance. The main Parbha dancer, assisted by two supporting dancers, move to the rhythmic beats of the Dhol and Ghanta. The main dancer personifies Lord Shiva through this performance, which has some similarities with the ‘Tandava Nritya’ and ‘Biravasa’. The dancers fast since morning until they complete the performance in the evening. The rigorous stepping movements and acrobatic feats are the characteristic features of this dance. This exhausting dance can only be performed for about ten minutes at a stretch. The fragrance of sandalwood and incense sticks adds to the atmosphere of holiness.
Chadheya Dance is also a component of the Danda Nacha tradition of Orissa. The leg extensions of this dance form are similar to those of the Mayurbhanj Chhau Dance. Like the Chhau, this dance form contains elements of martial art. The accompanying music too, resembles that of the Chhau Dance. The dance depicts a tribal tradition of hunting and selling birds. The Chadeya or bird catcher carries a stick in one hand and a noose in the other. He and his wife, the Chadeyani, perform the dance to the accompaniment of enthralling music.
This is a popular dance form of the nomadic tribes of Koraput district and is performed during festivals like Dushera, Poush Purnima, Chaitra Parva and Gatar. The Gadaba women dance with unusual steps using their heels. Men playing the Dhol, Tamak, Khiridi and Mahuri provide the musical accompaniment.
The members of the Koya tribe perform this dance during Chaitra Parva (March – April). The Koya girls wear elaborate jewellery made of beads and sport decorative caps. The Koya boys wear traditional costumes and jewellery. The head gear is fitted with a bison’s horn. Koya drums and the flute are the main accompanying musical instruments.
The Gond community of Koraput district performs this dance. Silver jewellery and decorative turbans form an essential part of the costume of the dancers. The Gond dance is not restricted to any particular time of the year.
Both boys and girls perform the dances of the Oraon tribes of Sundargarh and Bolangir districts. The dance, with its own characteristic features, is performed by artistes wearing heavy tribal jewellery of the region.
The dance is performed by unmarried boys and girls of the Kond community. Dressed in special costumes, the intricate movements of the dancers resemble the movements of serpents. This dance is fittingly called the ‘Snake Dance of Orissa.’
Folk music abounds with songs that celebrate the harvest season; so do folk dances. The Harvest Dance of Orissa is a prayer dance performed by men and women in separate groups. They pray to Mother Earth, seeking her blessings for a good harvest. The dance is accompanied by songs sung in chorus to the rhythm of drums and cymbals.
The Bay of Bengal that bathes the golden sands of eastern Orissa has had a beautiful impact on the lives of the people of the region. The Blowing of Conches or Sankha Badan during festivals and religious ceremonies (like Ratha Yatra and Chandan Yatra) is a very common ritual. In the olden days, conches were also used as bugles in the battle fields. The exponents of this art form can blow two conches at a time for five to six minutes without a break, simultaneously performing intricate body movements.
Community dancing is spontaneous and often based on local legends or life styles of the people of different areas. The songs and dances are laced with humour, to make them more enjoyable. As all members of the community participate in these dances, it plays an important role in binding them together in bonds of brotherhood.
The Kandhei or Sakhi Nacha, is a rare and unusual type of stylised indigenous dance drama based on mythological stories. This ancient art form is performed even today in various parts of the state. The puppets usually represent various characters of a particular story. The puppets of Orissa can be classified into three categories; hand, string and rod puppets.
Prahalad Nataka, as the name implies, is the story of Prahalad, who was born in a family of demons, but was a devotee of Lord Krishna. The story of the play is taken from the Nrushingha Puran. The language used is a mixture of Oriya and Sanskrit. This highly spectacular and dramatic presentation includes loud music, vigorous dancing, dialogues and acrobatics. In this unique folk theatre form we see the combined tribal folk and classical traditions of Orissa.