Friday, May 31, 2013

Dance In Trance

Ghatu Nach, a typical Gurung dance, is popular in the remote Gurung communities of Nepal. It is performed not only for fun and entertainment, but also for the charm and mysticism that is associated with this unique cultural show.The ghatusari’, the dancers, bodily gesture is predominant in the dance. The dancers move their body and hands gracefully in complete trance for a whole day with their eyes closed following the songs sung by guruaama, the lady teacher.

Ghatu is organized every year on Chandi Purnima, the full moon day which falls on the last week of May, in many parts of Chitwan district where Gurung community is predominant. Among them, Chandibhanjyang, some 5 hours uphill walk from the Prithvi Highway (either from Kalikhola or Jalbire), is a typical Gurung village where Ghatu is organized in full swing that attracts numerous spectators from nearby villages.

Generally, Ghatu starts from Chandi Purnima and it runs for three days, first two days in the village and last day at Chandi and Deurali Than, a shrine of Gurungs’ clan deities. This mesmeric performance captivates anyone’s imagination when these gorgeous ghatusari with all their colorful attires and makeup dance in complete trance. Their subconscious mind follows all the instructions and activities mentioned in the songs. They are also assisted by susare, an assistant assigned for each ghatusari, who help the dancers to perform the activities described in song, fix their dress and makeup, and provide them drinking water and food. The lengthy song is about the story of Ram and his consort Mayawati.

The song begins by invoking deities of the performance: Hiuchuli, Barchali, Deuchuli, Ridighat, Satighat and Gaulighat. Then song describes the series of events in seven dandi, the chapter. The verses in each dandi corresponds the particular event of the story. Ram and Laxman with a dog go to the base of the mountain to hunt for a deer. They are also assisted by ten brothers who are hunters. They chase and kill the deer by arrow in the garden of the king. Its ear and feet are offered to god while thigh is offered to king.They eat remaining part of the animal. King presents them with the crown, and horse. King plays tri-pasa, a kind of ancient gambling game. Fisherman goes for fishing with the fish-net. Ram marries with Mayawati and they have a child. Ram and Laxman fight the war at the battlefield of Palpa. Ram dies in the war and Mayawati goes sati, widow immolation on the husband's funeral pyre.

The song ends with revoking the deities who have been called upon at the beginning. The song is in Khasbhasa, Nepali language, with some Gurung terminology but it is difficult to understand. Generally first three dandi will be finished on first day which are relatively shorter. Reciting of last two dandi which will be done on last day is important as it concludes all the proceedings and also because of the risk involved with nature of its content sati. The fact is ghatusari not only do the dance steps but also act according to the events described in the song with the help of guruaama and susare. All the paraphernalia like arrow and bow, basket, dagger, comb, flute, stick, tri-pasa, rifle, horse, bird and sword are provided to them and they act using these objects, like they imitate using bow and arrow during the event of hunting deer. Each set of these items is required for each ghatusari which are normally made of wood and colored with paint.When Mayawati goes sati as described the last dandi, gatusari also follow suit. Then, guruaama immediately calls upon deities to go in their respective place that marks the resuscitation of ghatusari and they come alive opening their eyes.
In case, this important dandi is interrupted by any means, live of ghatusari will be in jeopardy. People believe that some evil spirits of forest (senamena, sikari, masan) may wield their evil power to interrupt the procedure at the critical moment. A powerful jhankri, shaman, should be there to combat with this situation. He protects the entire proceeding by conducting special ritual evoking spiritual power on the rice grains which is blended with turmeric and ash. These rice grains are given to guruaama, ghatusari, susare and other important people, that will keep them safe from the evils. No unfortunate incidents have occurred in recent times but legend has it that three ghatusari had died during Ghatu in Satidada in Dhading, long ago. There are rumors of such incidences, but nobody has confirmed the incidents taking place.

The colorful get-up (dress, jewelry and make-up) of ghatursari is other important aspect of Ghatu. Various attractive jewelries: bulaki and phuli on nose; madauri on ear; crown, ribbon and lachhe on head; tilahari, jantar, kantha, and pote on neck; rings on fingers; and colorful bangles on wrist make them look divine. They fix jharra (two hollow metal rings) or binja (a band in which small bells are attached) on their right leg to make metallic sound when they bang their leg on floor during dance steps. They wear cholo, kadheri, patuka and sari. Obviously, it takes much time for ghatusari to get ready for the dance.

The most important of all these, is birbat, a paper strip where different images are drawn and name of deities and respective ghatusari is written that is fixed around the crown. This strip of paper where 'Hiuchuli Barchuli Devta Aawaila' is written, is capable of casting spell upon ghatusari. So birbat is not shown to them prior to the show.

The guruaama train the ghatusaris for a week or so prior to Chandi Purnima. During the practice session, when guruaama recite the mantra 'Hiuchuli Barchuli Aawaila', ghatusari fall into trance. But during the Ghatu, when the barkat is thrown in front of them, they fall into trance at once.

The Ghatu was organized in Tallo Dhugre in Chandibhanjyang of Chitwan. After the elaborate preparation and make-up of five ghatusari, they sat in a row on floor. When barkat was thrown in front of them, they instantly fell into trance, closed their eyes and started to swing their body rhythmically. (I was ready with my camera to snap this moment, but I was stunned momentarily and completely forgot to take the photo.) Then susare and others helped them to wrap barkat around the crown. The dance began with slow and steady song sung by two guruaama with support from other women. In harmony of song, ghatusari performed their class. Only musical sound was from jharra and binja that were attached in their legs. The verses were sung with repeated pattern with many breaks in between and ghatursari took a breather to get prepared for next step. Necessary objects were put in two baskets, that were handed to ghatusari by susare. Susare provided them drinking water covering their head by shawl. Starting from 12 noon, the show went till 8 evening. The young dancers fell into complete hypnotic state for some 8 hours among the crowd and commotion, the phenomenon is not easily comprehended. Local people call it sat, the divine intervention. Three dandi was finished on first day. With the conclusion of the dance, ghatusari washed their face sprinkling water and their eyed opened. On first and second day, they come out of trance by washing their face but on third day it will be done by mantra recited by guruaama. Then the show was followed by Chudka dance performed by Gurung boys and girls at the tune of khaijadi, a kind of drum, that went on till midnight.

On third day, ghatusari are carried on the back of their relatives with umbrella to take them to Chandi and Deurali-Than, where they circumambulate the Chandi, their clan deity. The crown of ghatusari is offered to Chandi while rest (daggers, arrow, bow etc.) are offered to Deurali. When guruaama sing the important dandi of sati on this occasion, ghatusari collapse and sit on the floor with support from susare, and they are virtually dead. They gradually recover and open their eyes when guruaama sing the last song about revoking of deities. They are very attentive to the song. Guruaama also perform this important task swiftly and precisely. After they come out of the trance, they run towards home without looking back to shrines. On the way, the hurdle of horizontal sting is placed for each ghatusari. A chick has been provided to each of them and they have to snap the neck of chick and the string at once and run towards home. This concludes the main part of Ghatu.

Ghatusari now perform normal dance and their family and relatives offers them daan, donation and achheta, rice. Other people also offer them money. Then, grand feast, Chudka and fun follow all day and night with flow of stream of jaad(local beer) and rakshi (millet alcohol). (I was not there on the last day, unfortunately.) Each Gurung families worship their clan deities Chandi and Deurali on Chandi Purnima by sacrificing hen and offering egg, rice and incense at the shrines. Some close families do this ritual collectively. Ghatu is popular among youth but people of all ages equally participate and contribute to organize this grand event. Generally, girls dream to dance in Ghatu while boys love to go for hunting in the jungle. The essence of Ghatu's song has influenced the culture of Gurung community. This rich cultural tradition is disappearing in many Gurung communities mainly in urban areas.The Ghatu is diminishing even in rural areas. One of the reasons is lack of experienced guruaama, whose guidance is prerequisite in Ghatu. In Chandibhajyang, some women were singing and practicing along with two main guruaama. As there is no written tradition, practicing by singing is only way to learn and memorize the song. They should be perfect for all the verses before they become guruaama to lead the Ghatu. Ghatu symbolize the richest cultural tradition of Nepal that should be well preserved. Many Gurung communities are actively involving to give continuance with their age old traditions. They deserve the appreciation and support for their effort.



  1. One of the best read! Nicely written and great pictures! Love your work Rupen.

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