These are very sad days for Nepal, the Himalayan Kingdom. Two earthquakes in the span of a fortnight have reduced most of the country to rubble, and thousands of lives have been lost. The damage to heritage sites has been extensive. As international aid teams wind up their rescue operations, Nepalese are slowly picking up the pieces and putting together their blunted infrastructure. Limping Nepal may take a few years to stand proudly on its feet once again – both figuratively and literally. Nepal’s cultural tradition, though vibrant and celebratory in nature - both spiritually and religiously - is going to find it difficult to survive the agony of this devastating earthquake. We should all pray that Dance, an indelible part of Nepali tradition and religion, does not become a casualty of this collosal disaster.
There are hundreds of Nepali dances that dot the villages of the country. They have not only been an integral part of Nepali classical and folk culture, but have even captured the international imagination. The Lakhey dance is one of them. Lakhey is a ferocious demon, depicted by a dancer known by the same name. The Lakhey dance is performed in the valley (in and around Kathmandu) as per the Newar tradition, during festivals like the Yenya. Lakhey is worshipped as a demi-God by the Nepalis. People perform rituals before the Lakhey dancer, as he moves in a dancing parade from village to village. He dances wildly and bears a scary look, with a mask made of papier-mache’ and hair made of Yak’s tail. The duel between Jhyalincha (a little boy) and Lakhey is also enchanting. During the bi-annual Sakela festival, men and women form groups, attire themselves in traditional costume, and perform the Sakela dance together. Leaders from both the sides guide the dancers as they form a large circle and move to the beats of the dhol (drum). The temple priest sacrifices a hen as an offering to the Gods. Western Nepal, home to the Magar and Gurung castes, has a popular dance called the Ghatu. The Dance is performed on the full moon night during the month of June. It is traditionally performed by two virgin girls, who depict the life of an ancient Nepali king. They are accompanied by males. The lasses orchestrate their movements to the rhythm of the modal, a type of drum. Ghatu is also known as Kauda and Chudka. The Dhimal community of Morang, Jhapa and Darjeeling (India) are agriculturists, fishermen and weavers. During the Parbwa festival, the community indulges in drinking and dancing. The Dhimal dance is performed with a fish pot. A highlight is the handmade jewellery and attire of the dancers. The boys wear a kachchad (waist garment). In Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, hardworking agriculturists (men and women) from the Jyapu community dance to the beats of Dhime (a type of drum). Their costume comprises of Haku Patasi (saree), cholo (blouse) and an artistically woven Bhadgaunli cap. The Dhime dance celebrates the harvest.
According to Tantric lore, Nepal is blessed with four Goddesses. Bajrayogini is believed to love and protect her devotees. A dance of the same name (the Bajrayogini dance) brings out the qualities of this powerful Goddess. Like Kali Mata in India, Bajrayogini depicts valour, peace and turbulence. A skillful mix of hand gestures, feet movements and quick skilful body movements are the highlights of this dance form. Jhijhiya is a beautiful dance that is performed to please Goddess Bhavani (Parvati) during the auspicious Hindu festival of Dusshera. It is believed that performing Jhijhiya helps ward off evil spirits. The villagers come out of their houses and dance enthusiastically on Bijaya Dashami (the tenth day – like Dusshera). Women carry pots made of clay, which have burning oil lamps inside, on their heads. As the women dance, onlookers count the holes on the pots - an act that is supposed to help ward off evil. As one travels towards Central Nepal, one is greeted by the enchanting dance Manjushree, which is also known as the Charya Nritya. This Dance eulogises Manjushree, the oldest of the Boddhisattvas. Manjushree is considered to be the epitome of intelligence. He is believed to have torn apart the mountains with his sharp sword. The Jhayura dance is performed by young boys and girls in groups. They express the natural feelings of reciprocity between the two sexes. The amorous and blushing looks of the dancers, especially the girls, are a sight to watch. Much like the Jhayura is another dance known as the Deuda, which is performed during the Nepali festival of Gaura. Goddess Gauri, the consort of Shiva, is invoked for the prosperity of the family. Young lovers gather excitedly at Tundikhel. This dance is popular in the districts of Toti and Dailekha.
Dances are a part of spirituality and religion in Nepal, especially in the villages, but they cannot be divested even from the popular city life. While today there is mourning, there is clearly hope for Nepal beyond the horizon. This was best echoed by a brave Nepali earthquake survivor, who looked into TV cameras without betraying any inner emotions and said, “We have suffered incomparable losses and Nepal will never be the same again. But our culture will remain in our hearts”. Amen.
The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer