Dhunuchi: The dance with incense, smoke and devotion to Goddess Durga

Dhunuchi dancers use a clay incense burner filled with camphor, coconut husk and dhuno – incense made using sal tree resin. Devotees hold up to three dhunuchis while dancing energetically to the beats of dhak (traditional drum) during Durga Puja

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DHUNUchi is performed by both men and women

Dhunuchi dance is performed on Maha Ashtami (the eighth day) and Dashmi (the tenth day) of Durga Puja

The five-day festival of Durga Puja originated in West Bengal but is now celebrated across the world with devotion and gaiety. Marking the victory of Goddess Durga over demon king Mahishasura, the festival is observed during Sharadiya Navratri (falling in September-October) on Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, Maha Navami and Bijoy Dashami (Dussehra).

An interesting and popular ritual accompanying the Puja is the Dhunuchi dance performed on Maha Ashtami or the eighth day and on the tenth day when the idol of Goddess Durga is taken out for immersion. 

Dhunuchi dance or naach is a beautiful and culturally rich tradition that blends art, devotion, and celebration during the Durga Puja festival.

What is the Dhunuchi dance?

Dhunuchi is one of the many ways to express devotion and thankfulness to the Mother Goddess. Devotees, artists, and cultural groups perform the dance as it symbolizes prosperity and happiness.

Also Read: Bishnupur’s 1027-year-old Durga Puja continues with cannons and offbeat customs

The dance derives its name from dhunuchi, a type of earthenware incense burner used during the performance. Dhunuchi has a flared shape held by a stem and has a large cavity at the top. 

It is filled with camphor, coconut husk and dhuno – incense made using resin from sal trees. The smoke emanating from the burning of dhuno is believed to attract prosperity and good luck.

Dhunuchi dance is performed on the eighth and tenth day (Dashami) of Durga Puja
Dhunuchi naach is performed by both women and men. Pic: Flickr

The performer holds the dhunuchi in one hand and swirls it around while dancing energetically to the beats of traditional folk and devotional music. They dance to the rhythm of the dhak (traditional drum) and other musical instruments. Graceful movements and rhythmic swirls of the dhunuchi create a spiritually uplifting experience.

Participants make offerings of fragrant smoke to the goddess by swinging the dhunuchi gracefully and rhythmically. Some people hold three dhunuchis – two in their hands and one between their teeth.

It is not easy to master the dance because there is a risk of burning incense or husk falling on the performer. The art form is learned with practice and requires skill. 

Also Read: The golden Goddess who appears from a bank vault at Joypur Rajbari during Durga Puja

In the bygone ages, only men performed the dhunuchi dance but now, women are more prominently associated with it. Amid the sprinkling of vermillion and colours on Dashmi, as the Goddess proceeds for immersion, women perform the dhunuchi dance.

three dhunuchi
Expert dancers hold up to three dhunuchis during the performance. Pic: Wikipedia 

History of Dhunuchi dance

Legend has it that when Goddess Durga was fighting with the demon Mahishasura for nine days, her devotees began to dance to bring her strength and good luck – the qualities offered by dhuno.

According to another belief, when Goddess Durga was fighting with Mahishasura, she began to perform Dhunuchi on the eighth day to chhanelise divine energies and increase her strength. The demon was defeated by her on the tenth day, which is celebrated as Bijoya or Vijaydashami. 

The dance is associated with the offering of smoke, fragrance, and fire to the goddess. Today, men, women and even non-Bengalis perform the Dhunuchi dance given its spiritual appeal and the popularity of the festival across the world. More pictures here:

practice of dhunuchi
Dhunuchi requires both skill and devotion. Pic: Flickr
Dhunuchi with incense
Dhunuchi with coconut husk, incense and dhuno. Pic: Flickr
dhunuchi being done by men
Dhunuchi performances are a sight to behold. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Kullu Dussehra: The 7-day get-together of gods and goddesses in the Himalayas

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