By Sandeep Banerjee: Odisha is one of the richest States of India as far as the varied hue of tribals and their unique culture and lifestyle is concerned. So the holding of the National Tribal Dance Festival at Bhubaneswar was deservedly justified and the rhythm, excitement and pulse racing moves with which it rocked the capital city of Odisha for three days will reverberate for a long long time.
Organised by the Bhubaneswar based SC and ST Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya(IGRMS), the Festival will be etched in history as a landmark event for Odisha ,not only for the excellent quality of tribal dances it brought to fore but at the same time for the rich congregation of diverse tribal communities in one place which in turn offered the chance to the people at large to see and savour the rich culture of these diverse interior tribes and appreciate the same.
Apart from the host state, Odisha, tribals from Gujarat , Uttarakhand, Jharkand , Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh participated in the Festival ,presenting their unique dance forms. One couldn’t have found an inch of space in the open air Utkal Mandap, the venue of the Festival, packed as it was for all the three days from the 10th to the 12th of December. The audience was swayed away by the magic of the feet in rhythm with the throbbing beats of the mellifluous tribal music. The fantastic applause received by the performers matched their fantastic dances performed effortlessly.
The Kutia Kandha sub tribe of Odisha, presented the ‘Dhangdi’ dance. Within their struggle in life, they seek relief through their ceremonies in which the typical dance form called ‘Dhangdi’ is an integral part. Dharua is a small tribal group of Odisha. They presented their ‘Birli’ dance, generally performed during the post harvest period. The Oraons of the host state presented a form called ‘Sarhul’ which is generally danced on the fool moon day in the month of Chaitra to worship the sal trees. The Parojas tribe, also of the host state, left their mark by presenting “Dhemsa’, a dance that is manifestation of love and art of warfare. The Festival also got a taste of the ‘Rinjha’ dance of the Santal tribe of Odisha, perfomed generally on the occasion of Rakhi Purnima. The ‘Khutmandar’ dance,where the Gond tribals choose their life partners for marriage, completed the fantastic platter that the host state had to offer.
The Bhutias of Uttarakhand are a hardy mountain tribe living in the extremely cold snow clad regions of the greater Himalayas. They came to this Festival with three dance forms. The ‘Bagadwal’ dance is backed by a legend that is centered around appeasement to the hostile spirit of a malevolent king that is believed to be still hovering around them. Bhutias living in the border areas of Chamoli perform the ‘Bir Vairab’ dance to invoke the God. ‘Pouna’ dance is also performed by them , armed with swords and shields, during marriages and festivals to thwart off any attempt of dacoity or theft. The Bhutias, with their dancing that can be juxtaposed to fresh whiff of serene mountain air, left their indelible mark at Bhubaneswar.
Baigas are concentrated in the forest hill tracts of the Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh. Through the ‘Karma’ dance, the Baigas choose their life partners. ‘Pardhauni’ is performed to welcome the newly married couple while the ‘Fag’ dance is performed during the ‘Fag’ festival of the Baigas. The Festival saw all these three dance forms in the best of their colour and spirit.
The Murias, from the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh ,also brought with them three unique dance forms. The Murias fix a date for the community hunt known as ‘Gaurmar Sikar’ to slay a Gaur and feast on its meat. The ‘Gaurmar Sikar’ dance is performed as a celebration for the success of this hunt. At the end of July, on the occasion of Hariali Amavasya, the Muria tribals perform the colourful ‘Gedi’ dance. The ‘Kakchhad’ dance is performed to worship their deity with the well being and protection of the whole village in mind. These three dance forms, catered with their typical style and deft moves at the Festival, revealed the simple yet courageous nature and lifestyle of the Murias.
Like Odisha, Jharkhand is also a predominantly tribal state and the Kharias are one of the chief tribes of this state. The ‘Kuanri Lousawa’ dance is performed on the Saharai festival of the Kharias. ‘Falgun Halka’dance is performed during another festival called Sarhul while ‘Jethwari Lousawa’is performed in front of village elders after the culmination of the harvesting season. These three dance forms revealed the strong linkage of the Kharias with Nature and Mother Earth. Odisha and Jharkhand being two neighbours with many bondings, particularly amongst tribals, these three presentations received tremendous cheer and response from the audience.
But it was left to the Rathwas from Gujarat to provide unbound energy and sheer joy, frolic and happiness through the uninhibited movements , wonderful choreography and clinical synchronization that they produced in the three dance forms that they presented. On the occasion of Holi, after fasting for five days, men and women both offer their prayers to God and perform the ‘Hori dance’. It is during Diwali that the Rathas perform the ‘Diwari’ dance and before starting agricultural work, they dance the ‘Diwasa’ to appease the village deity. The high octane performance of the Rathas in presenting these three dances moved everybody and carried the message that despite many ups and downs, life should be celebrated and its value should be understood .
In today’s mechanized and fast times, the National Tribal Dance Festival bought back the understanding to appreciate simplicity and the base values of being a human. Tribal art forms like their dance and music needs to be preserved as well as boosted. Platforms like the one provided by this Festival is really the right way to give fillip to the rich and fantastic Indigenous tribal culture of our country. The haunting lilt of the traditional music and the rhythm of the supple and sprightly dance movements was not only thoroughly cherished in the Festival but its resonance shall be felt and heard for long in the future.