Danda Nata

Danda Nata of Orissa is a tribal way of welcoming the New Year which begins with the month of Vaishakh. It is a festival of ritualised performances believed to fulfil the desires of partic- ipants.

It took shape as performing art with ritual overtones during 9th-10th century in the tribal belts and in course of time it has embraced non-tribals, even brahmines, into its fold. Verbal and non-verbal symbolic enactments in Danda Nata performances have inspired a few playwrights to adopt its style in modern plays.

In the districts of Sambalpur, Bolangir and Boudh-Phulbani tribal groups participate; in Gadajata (a former princely state) areas of Ganjam, Dhenkanal and Puri artisans and other socially and economically backward classes participate. In Nayagarh and Odagaon areas of Puri district, Kayasthas and Brahmins join in this festival. Danda Nata has elements of both Desi and Margi Styles (little tradition and great tradition). The theme of Danda Nata is at times taken from Sanskrit literature, the style of performance has a tribal and folk accent.

Danda Nata is celebrated during the month of Chaitra marking the end of one agricultural cycle and the beginning of another. Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali are worshipped. Some say that the period from Chaitra Purnima to Vishuva-Sankranti is the proper time for Shiva and Shakti worship. The festival is celebrated for a eight/12/18/21 days as per their convenience, but it ends on Vishuva Sankranti.

The spring festival is similar to Chaitra Parva of the tribals, Meghnad festival of the Gonda (Madhya Pradesh), Chadak Puja of Bengal, Manda festival of Chhotanagpur, Jhamu Jatra/Patua Jatra of other parts of Orissa. Some elements of Mayurbhanj Chhau dance, like Uflis, can be seen here.

The participants meet at the Kamana ghar (house of wishes) on the first day with their wishes say, for a child, and they are initi- ated with a sacred threat. All caste and class distinctions disappear. They now belong to one class worshippers of Shiva, called Danduas or Bhoktas. A minimum of thirteen people consti- tute one Danda Nata unit. There can be as many as 100 bhoktas in a team.

Danda means pole or stick and also punishment. Nata means per- formance. Shiva is represented with a Danda of thirteen knots, Parvati with a cane called Gouri Betra. A stick also stands for Bina, a musical instrument. Prava is the emblem of the team. A Danda could have meant a totem in the early phases of tribal Danda Nata. Dhol is the main percussion instrument used on all occasions. The Bhoktas exhibit self-restraint through strict vows keeping a Danda as the objecdt or worship.

Danda Nata has two aspects -- one is performed during the day, the other at night. Daytime activities include acrobatics and rituals, night performances are crowd pullers. There are five units of performance -- Bhmuni Danda, Pani Danda, Bana Danda, Agni Danda and Danda Suanga. The first three units are performed during the daytime, the other two after dusk. The Suanga or Jatra is performed during the night to keep the participants awake. This Suanga has all the ingredients of a Jatra, melodrama and abstract theatre.

Dhooli Danda is sheer acrobatics on land, Pani Danda is a water sport. Bana Danda is a noisy procession. In Agni Danda, the Bhoktas walk on burning charcoal and thorns. These four Dandas and Jatra are performed each day of the festival and with pag- eantry and improvisations on the last day, called Meru Sankranti.

In Danda Suanga or Jatra, tribal and folk themes and episodes from the Ramayana (having tribal links, like Sita Haran) are enacted through rituals, dances, songs and comic actions. It begins with Ganesh Vandana, Hara Parvati dance, Prabha Nritya, Chadheya (bird hunter) Nritya, Patra Saura Nritya, Radha Krishna Nritya and subsequently takes on other themes.

There are few fixed items (Ganesh Vandana, Hara Parbati Dance, Prabha Nritya, Chadheya Nritya, Binakar Nritya) universal to all the Danda Nata teams. Besides this each team chooses its theme of Jatra -- it can be a single story running through the entire duration of the Jatra or several bits of dance-drama all directly or indirectly linked.

For example -- the Chadheya and Chadheyani (his wife) dance sequence can be linked to the next presentation of Kela (snake charmer) and the Keluni (his wife) dance. The Chadheya is bitten by a snake while hunting birds. The villge doctor cannot cure him. Chadheya dies and younger brother offers to marry the widow. Finally the Kela arrives, sucks the poison out of Chad- heya and he comes back to life.

Most of the characters in Danda Jatra are aborigines. In recent years, Muslim fakirs, havildars even judges are seen on stage as characters. The characters normally appear as a husband-wife couple, gorgeously dressed. The play theme is secular; acting is comicaland satirical. The traditional musical instruments like dhola, mahuri, hadibaja, jodinagara are played along with the harmonium and these days a casio organ by teams nearer to urban centres.

The Danduas (performers) transform themselves into different objects, situations, characters. Ten Danduas form a field, two become oxen, the other (normally the Pata Bhokta or leader) acts as a farmer. Twelve Danduas join hands and legs to form a stone slab, the other acts as a grinder, rolling over them. A team has a minimum of 13 Danduas. Teams having more than 40 participants can enact most of the tribal and rural activities symbolically during Bhoomi Danda (daytime show).

In the plains and coastal areas, the Patuas perform a few acro- batics and magical rites similar to Danda Nata: walking on live coals, rolling on thorns, standing on swords with arrows pierced in their body.

The mode of performance in Danda Nata has influenced some of the theatre personalities. Experiments made to assimilate the Danda style into theatre by Ramesh Panigrahi and Gopal Rath have been well received at the regional and national levels. Panigrahi's play `Jaha Sabu Bujha Pade Nahin" (things not understood), the story of which is based on the infamous Kalahandi drought got the best script and production awards at regional level short play competition in 1990.

The play opens with ploughing and sowing in Bhoomi Danda style and continues to use other Danda performances accompanied to the beatings of the Dhol. It ends with a Binakar song.

Panigrahi's other play "Rasta Sabu Bund" (all roads closed) used Binakar as sutradhar, and Chadeya appears as a character. Bina- kar introduces the theme and the characters are dressed in Danda style. This play was adjudged the best at the National Festival of Drama in Delhi in February 1990. "Nimitta Matram", a play written by Gopal Rath depicts the story of Danda Nata festival in detail. There are a few more playwrights who are experimenting with the Danda Nata theme and style. Danda Nata, originating from hills and mountains has flown to the plains in course of time and in the process it acquired new dimensions and rhythm.


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