Danda Nata Begins Amid COVID-19 Restrictions In Odisha’s Ganjam

Berhampur: Danda Nata, the festival of hard penance started in Ganjam on Thursday with strict COVID-19 guidelines issued by the Berhampur Municipal Corporation (BeMC) a day before.

Danda Nata or Danda Jatra, one of the most important traditional dance festivals organised in different parts of South Odisha, particularly Ganjam district, is held in the month of Chaitra every year. The participants of Danda, called Danduas (also Bhoktas), pray to Goddesses Kali and Shiva for 13, 18 or 21 days of penance. Only male persons take part in this festival.

During the period, they stay away from near and dear ones and take food once a day. Though the penance has several restrictions and rituals, there is no bar on caste. The Danduas perform various dances in three phases of Panidanda, Dhuli Danda and Agni Danda.

Historians trace its origin to 8th and 9th century durng inception of Tantrism after the decadence of Buddhism in Odisha. “Abhinava Chandrika, a literary work of 1568, mentions the prevalence of Danda Yatra”, said eminent researcher Dr Anantaram Kar Kaundinya.

The dances are performed on road in front of houses of those who invite them as per their religious vows. While performing Dhulidanda, the Danduas start the performance in the morning. As per a ritual, they endure the pain of sleeping on sand under the scorching sun and on 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 with worship of Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva together.

While a group consists of 30 to 800 Danduas, each group is controlled by a person 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 out of his nose and fall into the fire pit in the presence of thousands of devotees.

According to mythology, 13 sons of the great saint Tarani in ‘Tretaya Yug’ practiced self-inflicted ‘punishment’ to appease Lord Brahma who cursed them for their misdeed. Another legend says 13 sons of Indra and Kubera criticised the figure of the great saint ‘Astabakra’ who cursed them to be born in ‘Martya’ and suffer a lot. The son of Indra who took birth as a bird hunter died in snakebite masterminded by Lord Shiva. He helped kill the bird hunter after the birds prayed ‘Garuda’ who prayed Lord Shiva to find a way out. But the bird hunter regained his life after his two wives worshipped Maa Kali and the Goddess prayed Lord Shiva to give life to the bird hunter. Maa Kali ordered the bird hunter to propagate her dignity, sources said.

The dance originated from tribal form and music differs for each type of the Danda Nata. The songs are of different tunes for different characters. The songs are mainly devotional and based on stories from the epics.

In its guidelines, the commissioner of BeMC has directed the organisers to ensure wearing of masks and social distancing by the Danduas and devotees besides arranging hand wash at the locations of performance.

While Danada Nata should not be performed in closed areas, there should not be unnecessary gathering, the order stated. The high risk group of people like persons above 65 years, pregnant women, children below 10 years and those with comorbidities are not allowed to participate.

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