Odisha’s folk dance Singari Nacha carves a niche among global audience

Singari Nacha is a fusion of five folk dance forms of Western Odisha. With its roots in the Kalahandi district, Singari Nacha was created in 2007 and reflects the aesthetics and culture of the tribal people 

Niroj Ranjan Misra
New Update
Artists performing the Singari Nacha

Artists performing the Singari Nacha. Pic: Rajdeep/ Prativa

It’s not often that a new dance form takes birth in today’s world where traditional dances are making way for the hip hop culture. But Singari Nacha, a mix of five tribal and non-tribal dance forms of western Odisha, has carved out a niche in the state’s vibrant cultural landscape. This nascent dance form is a result of the creative efforts of Prativa, a cultural outfit in Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi. 

Synchronised and synthesised using the folk dances of Ghudka, Ghumura, Dhap, Baje Sal (also Baja Salia), and Banabadi, Singari Nacha was born in 2007 after a rigorous practice of two years, says Prativa Music Director and President Dayanandha Panda.

The word ‘Singari’ means ‘goosebumps’ and ‘Nacha’ means ‘dance’, meaning a dance that leads to goosebumps. The new dance form wowed the audience at the first ‘Biswa Odia Bhasa Sammilani’ (World Odia Language Conference) in February 2024, in Bhubaneswar.

In 2017 ‘Singari Nacha’, sponsored by the Union Ministry of External Affairs, was staged at the International Tribal Festival in London where it earned acclaim from audiences. “Six months ago in 2023, our four artists including two women staged Singari Nacha at Odisha Utsav in Dubai,” says Chintu Prasad Naik, the secretary of Prativa.

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Singari Nacha is based on five folk dance forms. Pic: Rajdeep/Prativa

A melange of five folk dances    

“Artistes of almost all communities including non-tribal Mali, Teli and Gouda, perform the five dance forms. However, mostly tribal Gonds, and non-tribal Teli (oilmen) and Mali (gardeners) perform Baje Sal. The tribal communities of Bhatras, Bhumias and Gonds practice the Ghumura,” says Prativa choreographer and Vice-president Debesh Singh.

“Tribal Kondhs perform Dhap, while the Kela (snake-charmers) community are said to have evolved the Ghudka folk dance. Banabadi is touted to be the domain of Goudas (milkmen),” he adds.

 “Though we have assimilated all five dance forms to lend shape to ‘Singari Nachi’ a congruous and complete package, each of them retains their originality,” says Debesh.

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Music holds a lot of significance in ‘Singari Nacha’. Usually, two singers (male and female) lend their voice to lyrics, composed in Odia language and couched in local Kalahandi accents. 

The performers dress like tribal people for Singari Nacha. Pic: Prativa

The features of Singari Nacha

“While nearly 15 artists including six women dance, the orchestra of eight plays traditional tribal musical instruments -- four ‘nishans’, one ‘dhol’, one ‘tasha’, one ‘mahuri’ and one ‘jhanza’,” says Jhuni Majhi, a Kutia Kondh tribal in the team of Singari Nacha. 

If music is the soul of a show, stagecraft is its body that sets a tribal ambience, according to Chintu. “We craft huts, jungles and hills on the stage to lend a tribal touch to the show,” he adds. 

The performance of Singari Nacha for a public show requires rigorous practice. Artists undergo intense training for two to three years before they are eligible for staging. Every year, 40 to 45 young men and women are enrolled to learn the dance. Out of them only 15 to 17 well-accomplished artists in the 25-35 age group dance. 

“The women perform in tightly clad coarse multi-coloured sarees as worn by the tribal women. Their bare-bodied male counterparts are draped in ‘kachha’ (long thick cloth) worn around their waists, loins and upper parts of their thighs,” says Dayananda.

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Prativa presented Singari Nacha at the National Youth Festival (NYF) in Mangalore in 2012 and it received the third prize and a cash award of Rs 20,000. It also received the third prize at NYF in Ludhiana in 2014 and won a cash award of Rs 15,000. In 2019, “Prativa’ was adjudged first at the National Tribal Dance Festival (NTDF) in Raipur of Chhattisgarh and received a cash award of Rs 5 lakh. The second position at NTDF in Raipur also fetched a cash award of Rs 3 lakh.

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5T Chairman Pandian felicitating Prativa Music Director and President Dayanandha Panda. Pic: Prativa

“In February this year at the first ‘Biswa Odia Bhasa Sammilani’ organized by Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, Jhuni, Debesh and I were felicitated by Kartik Pandian, the chairman of 5T (Transformational Initiatives—Teamwork, Technology, Transparency and Time),” says Dayananda.

The dances behind Singari Nacha

Bhawanipatna-based scholar Jayanta Behera, who has done senior fellowship on ‘Tribal and Traditional Folk Dances of Odisha’ under Centre for Cultural Resources Training, New Delhi, says.

Baje Sal was originally performed during marriage time, Dhap was performed in the evening to entertain people who returned exhausted from work. Ghumura and Banabadi are dances performed only by men. 

“Artistes of Baje Sal dance tease girls through their gestures, postures, stretching, and bending. During Banabadi, the performers use sticks made of wood of Kendu (Coromandel Ebony) and dance vigorously, creating horrific sounds to instil fear into the opponents. Similarly, male dancers of ‘Dhap’ make sound like ‘Hur Hur’ while their female counterparts make ‘Urr Urr’ to turn their performance into sportive and spirited one,” says Behera. 

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Artists undergo intense training for 2 to 3 years before they are eligible to perform on stage. Pic: Prativa

‘Ghumara’ is also called Court Dance as it was patronized by kings during the times of yore. ‘It has been named after the musical instrument Ghumura that generates ‘ghum ghum’ sound when beaten. It resembles an earthen pot covered with the skin of iguana. Tied to a dancer’s shoulders and waist, it is placed on the bosom. Though this instrument assumes prominence during the dance, ‘nishan’ and ‘tal’ also play their role,” says Surendra Sahu, the secretary of the cultural outfit ‘Sanskruti’ in the Sambalpur district of Western Odisha. Surendra has done a senior fellowship on Marginalised Music under the Union Ministry of Culture.

Similarly, Ghudka is named after a musical instrument used in the dance. It is a wooden cylindrical frame which was originally covered on one side either with the hide of a mongoose or that of a monkey.  

A string passes through the cover, which, tied to a wooden baton, is held in the left hand, while the cylindrical frame is held under the left armpit. The artist plays the string to create its own distinct beats, according to Prahallad Bagarthi, the team leader of the troupe ‘Shining Star’ in the Bolangir district of Western Odisha. ‘Shining Star’ has been staging ‘Ghudka’ for over six years. 

(Niroj Ranjan Misra a Cuttack-based freelance writer. He writes on rural and tribal life, social issues, art and culture, and sports)

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