We are a country with numerous folk traditions, not all of them are cradled and nurtured by the State: much of its sustenance depends on its practitioners. Diwari pai danda, a folk dance form from the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh has been through this. With no state patronage and a limited performance period in a year, the popularity of the art form diminished drastically. Ramesh Pal like a few others didn’t give up on it. Belonging to the cow-herding community (Pal), that had been practising it over several generations, Ramesh created troupes and troupes of diwari pai danda dancers across the region. “I would walk from village to village performing to inspire and motivate others and also create awareness. Then I approached the government to first evaluate the dance form and our performance and then give us programmes,” says Ramesh. The artiste now travels across India with his group Ramesh Pal Natraj Jan Kalyan Samiti formed in 1990 to participate in cultural festivals. At the ongoing Bengaluru International Arts Festival too, Ramesh and his group of 17 artistes in the age group of 10-70, came from Banda, a city in Uttar Pradesh to showcase the traditional dance.
Diwari pai danda traces its origin to the life and times of Krishna. It is said that when Krishna lifted Govardhan mountain on his finger to protect people from the wrath of a heavy downpour, people danced in joy. Besides other objects and props, the performers also hold peacock feathers referring to Krishna. “Shishupal of Chedi Kingdom was Krishna's cousin and he used to visit this area in his childhood. They would play with sticks and that's how it came about. The dance is a metaphor of life and you need to protect yourself from various things," relates the artiste.
According to the custom, the performances start happening around Deepavali and go on till Sankranti in January but now the dancers perform it through the year at various cultural fairs and festivals in different villages and cities. “Earlier, we used to get one government programme a year, we do about 12-13 now. The governments at both the state and centre have really pushed it, which ensured more visibility and promotion of the art form."
Male dancers are attired in bright coloured clothes, ankle bells, decorative belts, mock fight with sticks on the beats of dholak and nagaria, both different kind of drums. The main dancer holds the peacock feathers. High energy, joy and precision of attacks so as to not hurt any artiste in the process are the hallmarks of the art.
Training starts early in order to perfect these moves. There are different teams for different age groups starting from 12 and according to the nature of the performance, the team is sent accordingly. Ramesh has not only mentored people in his own village to form troupes but also travelled to other villages in the region to encourage and train others. Today, because of efforts of committed art practitioners like him, 100-200 troupes thrive in the Bundelkhand region. Ramesh also tries to reform young unemployed youth by initiating them into the form.
The journey has been replete with obstacles. "It was considered very lowly and uncouth kind of dance. The performers were also not respected. We didn't face discrimination because of our caste but due to this dance. My forefathers have suffered a lot but thankfully things changed after we started getting more and more programmes. In 2005, during the Republic Day Parade in Jhansi, diwari pai danda was showcased and late President APJ Abdul Kalam sahab also felicitated us. It really gave the art form a boost."
None of the artistes depend on it for livelihood. Through the year they work as agricultural labourers, carpenters, mechanics and are also farmers but perform the dance form at fairs and events. The oldest member who accompanied them on their Bangalore trip is the 68 year-old agricultural labourer Badkahuna, who plays nadariya and dhol. The new generation in the area is also learning the dance form but is interested in education as well. Both of Ramesh's sons who are 12 and 16 year-old are studying and also performing diwari pai danda.
The scope for an ageing artiste diminishes drastically so Ramesh wants to urge the government to start the artistes' pension at the age of 40 itself and also introduce a quota for artistes in jobs and railway reservation etc.
(Bengaluru International Arts Festival is on till October 7. For more details visit www.biaf.co.in)
Bundelkhand - a treasure trove of folk traditions
Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh divided into two states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is rich in folk art traditions. Ravala, Badhaiya, Raai, Horse dance, Pahunai, Jawara etc. are some of the other dance forms