Monday, August 10, 2009

Nawadurga Dance

An Introduction to Nava Durga Bhaktapur, the city of devotees, is famous for its temple architecture and its magnificent representation of gods and goddesses created by anonymous Newar craft-masters during the reign of the Mallas. Among the various gods and goddesses of Bhaktapur, Nava Durga, the mask-deities is mobile, dramatic and mysterious. As a matter of fact Bhaktapur is renowned for Nava Durga.

Nava Durga means nine Durgas composed of Mahakali, Kumari, Barahi, Brahmayani, Mahesvari, Viasnavi, Indrani, Mahalaksmi and Tripurasundari. Durgas are the various demonic representation or manifestation of Parvati, the Sakti of Shiva, in tantric tradition. In Bhaktapur Nava Durga is a set of masks with a ritual continual life force which begins from Dashain in October and ends in Bhagasti in June. Since the day of Bhagasti all the deities in Nepal live not in the land but beneath the water until Gathamuga Chare, a little less than five weeks later. On the day of Gathamuga the gathas take some black clay from the field and erect a linga of Shiva. Some of this soil is left and preserved in order to be added to new masks. The gathas, i.e.; mask-dancers, musicians and leader of the god-house go to Taleju with the new set of masks ritually made of specially clay mixed with the ashes of the previous masks and of the black clay, the remains of the Shiva linga made on the day of Gathamuga Chare. It is at the night of Dashain when the Karmacharya gives life-force, to the masks with the mantra. Therefore, these masks have tantric significance. Since the time the masks have life force, they are considered gods and goddesses. The role of Taleju is great, though she is not presented within the Nava Durga Pantheon. The new set of masks is exhibited in the celebratory Brahmayani Pitha beside the Hanumante River. This happens on the day of the Vijaya Dashami. Brahmayani Pitha which is in the eastern side of the city is also the Pitha of Nava Durga; Brahmayani is/was the guardian deity of the people and the king of Bhaktapur.

Though there are nine Durgas, only seven, Mahakali, Kumari, Barahi, Brahmayani, Mahesvari, Indrani and Vaisnavi are represented in the mask-dance and her icon is kept in Nava Durga god-house at Gachhe tole. Mahalaksmi, i.e. Shifo-dyo also is not present there in the form of mask. She is always in a small chariot that is kept on the ground during the public performances of Nava Durga. She is more abstract, important and powerful. She is regarded to be the Nava Durga's own goddess. A vessel with Maha Lakshmi icon contains ambrosia and other tantric things. It is enshrined in the god-house. The 'six-armed image framed by lions at her feet and a large aureole of flames has no face. The face, if it was ever represented, has been carefully cut out from the surface plane'. So she is concerned with cemetery as well. She is of tantric concern. She leads the procession of masked Nava Durga. Apart from seven Durgas in Nava Durga dance, there are other six masks. They are of Shiva, Ganesh, Bhairava, Sveta Bhairava, Sima and Duma. Sima and Duma portrayed roaring, an expression of their fierceness, are the messengers of death. Also they are the bodyguards of Shiva. They rarely dance in the group-dance. Theirs is a police function. Children taunt them. If a child is caught by either of them, it is considered an evil omen. Therefore, some parents often pay them beforehand that their children may not be caught. This belief reflects their role as messengers of death. Shiva's mask is smaller and it is not worn. Ganesh carries it in the group-dance. He fishes in the public performances.

The Nava Durga dance proceeds according to the beatings of Dyokhin and the performances of Taa (a pair of thick, small cyambals) and Kanhe-baja. The dyokhin, taa and kanhe-baja have symbolic meaning. It is said that the ringing sound of the musical instruments of Nava Durga dance not only gives the rhythmic signals to the dancers but also removes the people's troubles and obstacles caused by the evil beings. The tantric version is that it gives peace, prosperity and happiness to the people. For this purpose, this dance is performed in every tole of Bhaktapur. It is also taken to Deupatan, Banepa, nala, Dhulikhel, Panauti, Srikhandapur and Chaukot every year and in Hadigaun every twelve years. The people of these places devotedly offer puzas to the deities. "King Suvarna Malla of Bhaktapur introduced the dance of the Nava Durga, having heard that they had been seen dancing at night".

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