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Danda Nachha

Posted: April 6, 2012 in Pitter Patter Toddling Feet!!

At times I feel as if I have been punished and deported to this southern town of Odisha which I loving refer to “Be- Reham-Pur!’ All exploration expeditions into the bowels of this city leaves me feeling nakedly exposed to rustic Telugu culture, which even if interesting, mostly is non inclusive. Working in the grand old bank of the country, I am left with very few young minds, to indulge in after office nightlife, if it can be called a life at all.

Last week on 3rd April, every one was glued to their TV sets watching the IPL opening ceremony. I was just not interested and preferred to explore the old part of the town and eventually got struck up in an impossible jigsaw of real life puzzle of a human and vehicular traffic jam. Frustrated, I dragged my bike over to the dry drain and climbed on a empty terrace of a closed door but occupied house and sat there watching the human melee. This is another favourite pass-time of mine where I sit back and observe humans and try to play something of a Sherlock Holmes 😉

Suddenly I realised the reason of the jam, as I was joined by the owner of the house on the steps, who graciously enough accepted my presence, stating “better you than the dirty mongrel”. There passed the main posse of Danda Nachha group, with everyone trying to seek their blessings.

Dont be alarmed! even I did not know the history and reason behind this cult and ended up in a discussion with the enthusiastic owner. Read on to know more..
They say, Spring is the season of Love. It is the season of Joy- the perfect season for laziness and restful enjoyment. Strangely, it’s the season of testing human limits and endurance too in the southern and south –Western districts of Odisha.
Spring usually arrives in the season of March-April(Roman Calendar), which according to Indian Calendar (saka) is the month of Chaitra.It is usually a pleasant season, with abundant fruits and green fresh vegetables available at rock bottom prices. With the financial year ending, and Odia New Year beginning, it can’t be more pleasant season. But then it is also the time for deepest devotion. It is the time for “Danda Naacha”. It is a roboust show of devotion to Maa Kali and Lord Shiva.
Devotees or Bhakts who wish to appease the Lord, carry out a silent pact with their Gods. These vows or pledges are otherwise known as “manasika” or Shahami (mansik/mannat in Hindi/urdu).In return of fulfillment of their wishes they offer to carry out the penance course of 13 or 18 or 21 days. They indulge in the act of “Danda Naachha” The word Danda in Odia means Punishment. The mortal pleasure seeking body is punished by mere devotion and will power to cleanse the soul and appease deity. Usually, Maa Kali is worshipped, thus making Shiv Mandirs the centre of prayers. Lord Shiva is the Lord of Power and Life taking destructions. The ultimate end and hence the truth, for truth shall always Triumph( Satyameva Jayate). His consort Maa Parvati is worshipped in her Kaali Avatar. It is believed that, if the ritual I carried out meaningfully and to the fullest, their wishes will come true, blessed by God.
The pact/ Vow so made are to be silent, and not to be uttered and divulged (like the schoolmates secret). The Dandua or the devotee, is to move around barefooted, wearing usually white or yellow and saffron ( other pure colours in Hindu mythology). He will not touch or be touched by anyone else, especially females. He will have just one meager vegetarian meal a day and consume water after sundown. He cannot shave. And the most challenging- he cannot sleep during the night. Basically, they shun everything earthly and live a monastic life. And believe me, it is tough and not for the weak willed. The season ends with the Bishuba or Meru or popularly known Paana Sankranti. The devotees undergo a lot of pain and hardship to appease the Goddess and get their wishes fulfilled while others do it to show their gratitude for the fulfillment of their wishes, or manasikha.
The journey starts at the nearest Shiv mandir, in absence of Maa Kali/Tarini Mandir. A special room is reserved for these people called the Kamana Ghara or Danda Gahra,where they all arrive and after a Yagyna(holy bonfire lit Puja), they are given a sacred thread which binds them into a singular family “Tera Budhuta”, despite their caste and creed. Every dandua is then deemed pure and blessed. His blessings are sought.
A typical Danda is of 3 phases, namely Dhuli Danda, Pani Danda and Agni Danda. After the inagrual ceremony, these Danduas leave the temple with the beat of Jhamura(Cymbals), Dholas(Drums) mahuri ( Pipe / Shenai type instrument) and Sankhas(conches) carrying multihued(usually red and yellow) flags and pictures of deities ordained in peacock feathers, into the afternoon sun to perform Dhuli Danda, which literally means “Penance in the Sand”for about the whole afternoon. They roll long distances on hot sand and carry out different extreme vigorous dances in the Tandav Style known as Parabha (illumination) and usually are lead by the leader called Bada Patta Dandua/Bhukta. After the Dhuli Danda, they then head towards a water body, to next perform the Pani Danda or the Penance in Water. It is only after this, can a Tera Budhuta have water. Then comes the preparations for nocturnal performances- which includes walking barefooted on burning embers and fire dances and mostly night long enactment of mythological plays-“Chadherya” which is done so as to help the danduas keep awake. They move around to many distant places to perform at many households who had earlier contacted and requested them for their holy presence. On Meru Sankranti , they return to their village and perform these acts for the last time, only this time an extreme dangerous act is carried out. A young willing devotee is hung upside down till he bleeds from his nose
All the above acts are, enacted and carried out in the extreme tribal and hinterland parts of tribal Odisha, while the Danda Jatra in Ganjam and Gajapati District is quite fun with Tiger and Ramayana costumed actors and artists having a gay time on the streets. The Thakurani Jatra of Old city is the most famous in the town of Berhampur.
I donot endorse these extreme acts and forms of devotion but do not want to protest these acts either, coz I believe in “each one to his Own” n “ Live and Let Live”. As long no life is taken away forcibly, every free Indian has the right to is form of devotion.