During rush hour on the morning of October 19 (Thursday), hundreds of devotees in the queue lines outside sanctum sanctorum of Sri Durga Malleswara Swamywarla Devasthanams were enthralled by a riveting dance performance.
The devotees watched in awe as a troupe from Amalapuram performed ‘Garaga Natyam’, an ancient dance from the Godavari region, for over 30 minutes. A group of 15 — six dancers and nine musicians — performed with ‘Garagalu’ (pots, usually metal ones) on their heads.
“The challenge lies in balancing the pots,” says the group leader Prasad Mani. Wearing colourful costumes that they stitch on their own, the dancers perform a variety of steps, all while delicately balancing the pot on their head.
“Every time before performing, we decorate the garaga with flowers and neem leaves and worship it. The dance is a symbolic act of entertaining the Goddess by carrying her on our heads, like we carry children,” said Mr. Prasad Mani, who learnt it at the age of 15 from his father. Today, he teaches the dance form to youngsters in his hometown.
While he does not know how old the dance form is, he says his father and grandfather too were Garaga Natyam performers. The dance is performed during cultural festivals in East and West Godavari districts, he said, adding that each member of the troupe gets ₹3,000 per performance.
“For my family, this is our only source of income. We received ₹50,000 for performing today at Durga temple and it will be distributed among us (15 members),” he said, adding that while the remuneration is low, they cannot complain as they all come from economically weak backgrounds.
Laxmi, who was one of the two female dancers, says the dance form is a source of livelihood for widows. “Many women who perform the dance are widows and it is a major source of income for them,” she said.
Though the number of performers is on the wane, they are hopeful that there will be patrons who continue to support the tradition.