Where To Perform
The entire party consisting of the 'Bhoktas' and their colleagues go around the village in a procession with the band of musicians. No specific declaration is made as to where they are going to perform "Danda" in that day.
Like the 'Bhoktas', some villagers, male or female also keep a vow in their mind for getting some mercy from Lord Shiva. Seeing the procession, these vow takers pour water and clean up the frontage of their house with cow-dung water and hurriedly put up floor designs with coloured powders and keep a jug full of water. This indicates an invitation to the party. Having received an invitation thus, the group stops there. After small preliminaries, the group light up an oil lamp and keep it on the verandah of the host and return to their camp.
At mid day, the party comes back to the spot and performs the 'Bhumi' (Earth) 'Danda' or 'Dhuli (Dust) Danda'.
The Phases Of Dand Nata
Danda Nata, distinctly comprises of three phases:
(1) The Bhumi or Dhuli Danda (Acrobatics & gymnastics) at daytime.
(2) The Pani Danda (Aquatic feats) at daytime
(3) The Danda Suanga (Dance, Music & Dramatics) at nighttime.
These three are the main, however, while taking out the procession or the beginning of the night performance the 'Agni Danda" (or the performance with fire) is also displayed.
The Bhumi or Dhuli Danda: This consists of a lot of physical exercises and acrobatics. The themes enacted in short sequences represent mainly the art of ploughing, cultivation and harvesting. A few formations in human figures, pyramids are also displayed. During these performances one Bhokta asks "How much paddy?" And the other 'Bhoktas' give a figure, which denotes the ensuing result of harvest during the coming year. This performance of Bhumi Danda is over by the afternoon and the 'Bhoktas' yell "Kala Rudramani Ho Joy" and proceed to the village pond for the "Pani Danda".
Pani Danda: Pani Danda consists of aquatic feats.
While the groups put up their performance as they swim and form pyramids
in water, the musicians play 'Dhol' & 'Mohuri'. Men, women and
children gather around the pond or the riverside to watch this show.
After this performance of 'Pani Danda', the 'Bhoktas' return to their camp to have their only meal of the day and to prepare for the nights performance.
Danda Nata Suanga: The word 'Suanga" corresponds to the Sanskrit word "Swanga" which means graceful acting. Dance is always based on music. Any dramatic performance consisting of Dance and music therefore is known as Suanga in Oriya language.
In a Danda Nata like any olden Suanga, every character enters dancing with the accompanying music, gives his self introduction, description of what the character is wearing or supposed to wear, even a description of his gait and make-up and while singing he dances intermittently. During a dialogue also the dance actions are corroborated in between the dialogues, both the speaker and the listening character dance vigorously. This pattern is a regular feature in every sequence of the Danda Nata, which distinguishes its identity from other types of performing arts.
The presentation style of Danda Nata is absolutely simple as that of any common 'Jatra' of Orissa except the fact that they do not need a raised platform in the center. Any open space or the village crossroad turns out to be an acting area, surrounded by spectators on all the four sides. Only a narrow path amongst the spectators wends its way to a distant improvised green room where the participants do the make up, costuming and rest. Sometimes a canopy is also put-up over the central acting area.
The main accompanying musical instrument in a Danda Nata is the 'Dhol' (the double-sided drum) and the 'Mahuri' (the wind instrument like 'Shehnai'). The other instruments, which are used only in sequences of God characters, are the 'Ghanta' (the bell metal disc), 'Sankha' (the conch-shell), 'Kahali' (Clarion), the 'Johanna' (Brass alloy clappers).
Besides the above, other smaller instruments like 'Ghungroo', 'Ghagudi' (small & big tinklers), 'Dasakathi', 'Ram Tali' (wooden clappers), 'Khanjani', 'Ghooduki' or 'Dhuduki. Dambaroo' and 'Bina etc are also played by the characters themselves as required.
The "Bina" used by the character "Binakara" in Danda Nata is not the type of "Bina" (the string instrument) known popularly. Here it is not a string instrument played by twangs. It is a Bow decorated with peacock feathers and in its string seven tinkle bells are tied. The player Binakara holds the Bow in his left hand raised and by jerks brings out the jingle in rhythm.
The Place of the Musicians
The musicians take their positions at a side of the open arena nearer to the artists passage. Sometimes they move to the "Vesha Ghara" (Screen Room) to lead a character to the arena.
The drummers not only play the drums through out the performance but also demonstrate their own skill and stamina by playing the drums with regular dances and acrobatics in between the sequences.
Themes Of Danda Nata
Danda Nata is not a performance of a complete story drama. It has a chain of loosely connected conventional episodes with a central theme of complete faith in God. It is He who can rescue the earthly beings from the clutches of evil. It is He who can grant happiness in life. Nothing happens without the will of providence and so one must surrender to Him always.
The Characters And Roles In Danda Nata
Since Danda Nata does not contain a full story in its totality, each sequences has its own characters. So there is a series of sequences in which the characters appear in different 'Veshas' and 'Upaveshas'.
While slight variations are seen amongst the Veshas and Upaveshas of Danda Natas of the North, South and West Orissa, the main Vegas like the 'Prava', 'Kalika', Shiva, 'Chadheiya', 'Chadheiyani', 'Patra Saura', 'Sauruni', 'Parvati', 'Kela', 'Keluni', 'Sabara', 'Sabaruni', 'Bai Dhana', 'Binakar', 'Karuani' etc are mostly common every where.
The other characters, which are introduced at some places but not included at other places, are 'Nandi', 'Narada', 'Gunia', 'Baidya', 'Jambaba'. 'Dwari', additional wives of Chadheiya or Kela, son of Chadheiya, 'Bana Durga', a brother of Chadheiya, son of Saura, 'Baishnabas', 'Gudia', 'Gopalunis', Krishna, 'Gopis', 'Brahmin', old man, 'Dandasi', 'Dumbura', & his mother, 'Jamadar', 'Hadi', 'Hadiani', 'Saheb', 'Daroga' etc.
From amongst the characters of Danda Nata, it will be seen that except the characters of Gods or Goddesses, all others are the most ancient human species, nothing to do with the so-called modern civilization. They are from the lowest cadre of the society and the most down trodden. They have no materialistic belonging but yet have their biggest belonging "the deep faith in God".
One of the main characters that need a mention is the "Pata Bhokta". The Pata Bhokta is not a regular character in the Danda Nata, but he in plain clothes is there through-out, not only as the chief of the 'Bhoktas' but a sort of Mediator between the characters and the spectators. He may be termed as the "Sutradhara" or the Master of ceremony in a Danda 'Jatra'. On behalf of Spectators, he asks questions and talks to the characters. Sometimes he also recites a story to the masses. He also leads the first "Vandana" the invocatory songs in praise of all Gods and Goddesses.
A Danda Nata mainly consists of songs in Oriya. At places Sanskrit verses are also recited. Prose dialogues are very few and at many instances, they are spoken extempore.
Beautiful ornamentation's are made in the composition of the verses. In most of the cases the writers choose to keep the first letters of the subsequent lines in an alphabetical order from "Ka" to 'Kshya". Songs for inferior characters are in local dialects. It is seen in many cases that characters like the Lord Shiva, Narada, watchman etc, speak in Hindi or Urdu language, which can be traced, to the impact of 'Mughal' & 'Maratha' rule in Orissa.
In humorous sequences, mixed languages and dialects of Hindi, Telugu, Bengali have also been seen used.
On the whole, in a Danda Nata, the language is fluid, simple and easily understood by all.
Elements Of Humour
In a Danda Nata of Orissa a high sense of humour prevails almost in every sequence. There are battle of wits, mutual admiration, quarrels and compromise between the different couples in all sequences.
The satires on fake 'Sadhu' who makes a living on the religious sentiments of the people, on the 'Vaidya' who administers wrong medicines, on the not so pious holy man letting off wrong blessings, the gags etc. cause roars of laughter amongst the spectators. The peculiar styles of vigorous dancing by Sadhu, the 'Chowkidar' and other characters also provide a lot of amusement.
Elimination Of Superstitions & Untouchability
To eliminate odd superstitions and untouchability, Danda Nata has been a very powerful medium of mass communication.
The Number 13 has at some quarters been associated to be a bad omen. In a Danda Nata there are 13 'Bhoktas'. It continues for 13 days, the pole worshipped has 13 joints indicating that 13 is a lucky number.
Danda Nata - An Institution Of Learning
Danda Nata thus, not only provides clean entertainment to the masses, it also teaches them the art of living, broad thinking and simple living. It inculcates a deep faith in God, the creator of this universe with a sense of devotion and duty.