Danda Nata of Orissa, also known as the 'Danda Jatra', it
happens to be one amongst the most ancient form of histrionic arts of the
Associated with ritualistic services, Danda Nata forms an institution of dance, music and dramatics blended with religions, social reformation and an association of Universal Brotherhood.
Mainly an worship of Lord Shiva, the God of destruction of the Hindu mythology, who is also the Lord of histrionic arts ('Nataraj'), this theatrical form brings into its fold a harmonious feeling of co-existence between followers of different philosophical doctrines, between political principles and set of opinions.
Along with votive dedications to Lord Shiva in a Danda Nata, the greatness of other Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu, Krishna Ganesh, Durga, Kali etc are also equally invoked.
Similarly while the original participants in a Danda Nata were said to be only the low-caste Hindus people, however people belonging to all other higher castes such as 'Kshyatriyas' and 'Brahmins' also participate in this institution with equal interest.
The Word Danda Nata Or Danda Jatra
The word 'Jatra' is an indigenous term for the English word 'theatre' and 'Nata' is a derivative term of the word 'Natya', which conveys several meanings of dance, music and dramatics. The word 'Danda' denotes several meaning. Mainly it means:
(1) Staff, Club, Stick, Rod, Pole, or Sceptre
(2) (2) Punishment Chastisement.
In this Danda Nata- a scepter of the Lord, is worshipped and the participants voluntarily bear self-inflicted penance.
According to very ancient Hindu philosophy, the greatness of an individual in this materialistic world depends upon his accomplishment of self-control over his own Body ('Kaya'), Mind ('Mana') & Speech ('Vakya'). It takes tremendous amount of practice to gain this control and amounts to a lot of self-denials. Those who achieve this are known as the "Tri-Dandis" or attainers of triple chastisement.
Since this method of bringing purity of conduct involves a lot of punishments ('Danda') to self, this performance according to many is known as the "Danda Nata".
Origin Of Danda
There is however a very interesting definition given to the origin of the word DANDA. Because of the vigorous types of dances associated with the Danda Nata, it is said to have originated from the heavenly "Tandava Naritya" of Lord Shiva. It is said that once Lord Shiva was teaching a Tandava Naritya to his, son Lord Ganesh. While dancing vigorously he kicked the stage and the sound "DAN" emanated.
Simultaneously one of his 'Ghagudi' (the brass tinkler) was broken from its chain around his raised ankle, dropped and fell on the body of the 'Mardala' (the percussion instrument) emanating another subsequent note of sound as "DA". Together, therefore the word DANDA evolved to get the blessings of Lord Shiva to associate its meaning with performance of dance and music with vigor known as "Udanda".
The Time Of Danda Nata
Danda Nata commences from the 'Chaitra Purnima' and continues uptil the 'Pana Sankranti' (Vishuva Sankranti) day. These two months, 'Chaitra' and 'Baisakha' are considered most auspicious for the worship of Lord Shiva. Many religious treatises indicate that if Lord Shiva is invoked during this period of the year, the earth is blessed with good harvest, increase of wealth and all round improvement of the families and communities occur.
The invocatory performances of Lord Shiva commence from the sixth day of the 'Meena Month' (March-April). For four days from the sixth day, preliminary preparations are made (people make vows, some receive 'Hukums' ('Nostrums'), through trance. Then for eight days the "Jhamu Jatra" takes place. The rest thirteen days of the month is meant for Danda Jatra.
In Orissa like the Danda Jatra, there are other kinds of ritualistic festivals as well, which are associated with self-inflicted penance. They are the "Patua Jatra", "Chadaka Puja", "Jhamu Jatra". While in Chadaka Puja and Jhamu Jatra mainly the penances are demonstrated, in Patua Jatra, and Danda Jatra, regular theatrical performances are followed in the nights.
The participants in a Danda Nata invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva. They are all under a vow. It may be to be blessed with a child, to fulfill certain ambition, to get rid of sickness, seeking happiness in life, good harvest, even peace and happiness to all fellowmen. The total number of pledge takers are 13 and the number of days for the festival is also 13. The vow takers are known as the 'Bhoktas'.
This word Bhokta is derived from the word "Shakta" ('Devotee'). Drawn from all communities, the leader of the 'Bhoktas' is known as the "Pata-Bhokta". All the 'Bhoktas' lead a very pious life for 21 days. They do not eat meat or fish nor cohabit during this period. The Pata Bhokta does not eat rice and lives on fruit-juice and snacks. Others eat just one meal a day consisting of plain rice etc, which they cook themselves and eat at a place away from habitation. During the time of their gruel, any human voice per chance brings an abrupt end to their eating for that day. That is why at some places they keep on beating the drums until the eating is over.
During the period of 'Jatra', all 'Bhoktas' carry out different forms of services to the Lord and therefore they are named differently. They are as under 'Pata Bhokta', 'Deula Padia', 'Danda Swami', 'Nili Patra', 'Chandania Patra', 'Gobaria Patra', 'Danta Kathia Patra', 'Betua Patra', 'Dhupia Patra', 'Bhandaria', 'Chua Mali' etc.
'Ghata' is the Pitcher. In most of the religious and social functions of the Hindus, a pitcher full of water holds a very important place. The pitcher represents the body and the water is the life. It represents the God invoked and hence worshipped with due reverence. After the function is over the pitcher is again taken into the water of a pond or river with due care and immersed from where it had been brought.
In a Danda Nata this Ghata is known as the 'Kamana Ghata'. 'Kamana' means desire, and to worship the Kamana Ghata means to seek the blessings of the Lord for the fulfillment of one's desire.
The Legend Of Kamana Ghata
There is again an interesting story as to how the pitcher came to be known as Kamina. "Kamina" happened to be the name of a 'Raksyasi' ('Demoness') with whom Lord Shiva fell in love while moving in a jungle. For sometime Lord Shiva forgot his duties to the mankind. Afterwards when he realised, he wanted to leave her. At the parting Kamina asked him about her fate and the Lord consoled her saying that at least once in a year the people of the earth will be remembering her. This Ghata named as "Kamana" therefore is said to be a symbol of hers.
According to poet late Bhikari Charan, this Ghata represents "Kalika", the consort of Lord Shiva. It is through her blessings, the 'Bhoktas' are able to take up the, self-inflicted penances without any ill effect. It is she who protects all and fulfills all ambitions.
A new pitcher is taken to the pond or a river and water is lifted, to the accompaniment of drums and blowing of conch shell. This pitcher is first worshipped under a baniyan tree and then taken out in a procession through the village and then kept in a hut (made preferably in front of a Shiva's temple), known as the "Kamana Ghara".
Two pieces of cane-sticks, representing 'Hara' & 'Gouri' are also kept near the Ghata and worshipped. A sacred fire is kept lighted up in the hut from which Pata-Bhokta lights up an oil lamp. While lighting, the 'Bhoktas' yell with the word "Rushi Putre". Time to time when resin and myrrh powder is thrown on the lighted oil lamp, it burns up with a flare and the 'Bhoktas' yell the words "Kala Rudramani Ho Joy".
A staff of the length of 6 1/2 cubits bearing 13 joints (representing 13 'Bhoktas') and a piece of cloth tied to its top is worshipped. This is the "Kamana Danda".