Naga Nritya or the Cobra Dance of the southern coastal tract of Karnataka
reminds one of the token worship of ancient India. A class of people who are serpent-worshippers have great faith in the cobra, which, like the ghosts, animates the devotees. Nagana Patri is the specialist dancer who impersonates the cobra. The way the dancer moves his limbs, the way he twists and turns his body into wave-like movements of the serpent, makes one doubt his having any rigid and brittle bones. Narayana Aital of Kota is said to be one of the past masters in the art of cobra-dance and while performing the dance, he looks a perfect King Cobra
(Kalinga) with his fast rhythmic movements and supple twists. It is said that while Naga Nritya is performed with essential animation, real reptiles come from somewhere and present themselves to the dancer awaiting his dictates.
Performance of Naga Nritya
Nagamandala is the festive occasion when the Naga dance forms a part of the worship. The arena is traditionally decorated with coloured flour rangavalli and is made up for the performance. The dancer paints himself and comes out in the well matching costume to create a perfect make-belief. Other worshippers start singing and dancing around the Patri to the wild accompaniment of drums, and then, he joins moving about the decorated ground slowly. When the beating drum, the singing voice and the dancing steps work him up to a tension, he will be animated to show the miracle of his performance, all too stupefying to the spectator who lifts up his hands in devotion to God Cobra. Naga Nritya like the Bhuta Sthana is a ritual dance-drama that is carried down from the past. The emphasis is not on entertainment in either case as the spectator is also the performer invariably. It is very likely that the Naga Nritya also has given to the other folk entertainments including Yakshagana the motif of its dance, motion and also its indigenous musical instruments. Even the costumes of some of the Naga mela resemble the ones used in Yakshagana
. Both Bhuta Sthana and Naga Nritya have remained the basic institutions of the folk theatre with their impersonations, dances, make-up and costumes. With the full play of the rhythm and its fruitful results, they initiate their devotee-cum-spectators into a wild and curious experience, make them forget themselves, relieve them of their toil and move them over to a different world thus fulfilling one of the fundamental purposes of the theatre - Dance Drama