Rituals of Danda Nata
The participants in a Danda Nata invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva to get blessed by a child, to fulfil certain ambition, to get rid of sickness, seeking happiness in life, good harvest or even peace and happiness to all the communities. Coincidentally, the total number of pledge takers in Danda Nata is 13 and the number of days for the festival is also 13. These vow takers are known as the 'Bhoktas'. All the 'Bhoktas' lead a very pious life for 21 days of this festival and they avoid eating meat, fish or cohabiting during this period.
Kamana Ghata carries an importance in Danda Nata. Ghata is the Pitcher, which is full of water, and it holds a very important place in the performance, since it represents the body and the water in it represents life. It represents the God invoked and hence worshipped with strong belief. After the function, the pitcher is again brought to the water of a pond or river with due care and immersed from where it had been brought.
A new pitcher is then taken to the pond or a river and water is filled in it, while the music is played with the accompaniment of drums and blowing of conch shell. This pitcher is first worshipped under a banyan 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 represents 'Hara' and 'Gouri' and they are kept near the Ghata and are worshipped with the pitcher. A sacred fire is also kept lighted in the hut from which Pata-Bhokta lights up an oil lamp. As they light up the lamp, the Bhoktas yell with the word "Rushi Putre". Then resin and myrrh powder is thrown on the lighted oil lamp, which turns a burning up with a flare and the 'Bhoktas' yell the words "Kala Rudramani Ho Joy".
The entire group of Danda Nata consisting of the 'Bhoktas' and their colleagues go in various villages in a procession with the band of musicians. There is no specific declaration about where they are going to perform "Danda" in a day. Like the 'Bhoktas', some common men also keep a vow in their mind for getting some mercy from Lord Shiva. Seeing the procession, these vow takers clean up their houses with the help of cow-dung, water, put floor designs with coloured powders and keep a jug full of water ready. All this indicates an invitation to the group. After receiving such an invitation, the group stops there. After some preliminary preparations the group lights up an oil lamp and keeps it on in the verandah of the host and return to their place of camp. At mid day, the group comes back to the same place and performs the Bhumi (Earth) Danda or Dhuli (Dust) Danda.
Performance of Danda Nata
Danda Nata distinctly comprises of three phases. The first phase is of The Bhumi or Dhuli Danda and it contains acrobatic and gymnastic steps, which are performed during daytime. The second phase is of the Pani Danda, which means the performance of aquatic feats during daytime. And third phase is The Danda Suanga, where the dance, music and drama steps are performed during the night.
(1) The Bhumi or Dhuli Danda: It comprises of a lot of physical exercises and acrobatic techniques. The theme, in short sequences, represents mainly the art of ploughing, cultivation and harvesting. A few formations through human figures like pyramids are displayed. Generally, the performance of Bhumi Danda comes to on end by the afternoon and the 'Bhoktas' yell "Kala Rudramani Ho Joy" and proceed to the village pond for the next phase.
(2) Pani Danda: This phase primarily consists of aquatic feats. Here, the group members show their performance as they swim and form pyramids in water, whereas the musicians play dhol and mohuri. Villagers gather around the pond or the riverside to watch these skills. As the performance ends, the 'Bhoktas' return to their camp and have their only meal of the day and also starts preparing for the next performance, to be held at night.
(3) Danda Nata Suanga: In a Danda Nata, every character takes entry in the dance with the accompanying music and gives his introduction, description of what the character is all about. He does this along with his costume, by even giving a description of his way of walking and make-up, while he sings or he dances. During a dialogue also the dance actions are corroborated in between the dialogues. Both the speaker and the listening character dance vigorously in a course of the performance. This pattern is a regular feature of the Danda Nata, which characterizes its identity from other types of performing arts. The presentation of the Danda Nata performance is very simple as that of any common 'Jatra' of Odisha except the stage that they do not need a raised platform in the centre. Any open space or the village crossroad turns out to be an acting area, surrounded by spectators on all the sides.
Music of Danda Nata
The chief accompanying musical instruments in a Danda Nata is the Dhol, a double-sided drum and the mahuri, a wind instrument like shehnai. The other instruments, which are used only in sequences of God characters, are the ghanta (bell metal disc), sankha (conch-shell), kahali (Clarion) and the Johanna Brass alloy clappers. Apart from these, other smaller instruments like ghungroo, ghagudi (small and big tinklers), dasakathi, ram tali (wooden clappers), khanjani, ghooduki or dhuduki are also used. The characters themselves as per requirements also play Dambaroo and bina etc. The Bina used by the character "Binakara" in Danda Nata is not the type of "Bina" (the string instrument) known popularly in case of musical instruments. The Binakara player holds the Bow in his left hand raised and gives jerks gently that brings out the jingle in the rhythm and music is played out of it.
The musicians sit at a side of an open arena nearer to the passage of artists. By playing music they also turn to the Vesha Ghara (Screen Room) to lead a character to the arena. The drummers not only play the drums throughout the performance but also illustrate their own skill and stamina by playing the drums with regular dances and acrobatics in between the sequences.
Danda Nata thus is with all its rituals, still exists as one of the attractive art forms of Odisha till date.