Ethnography of Ghumura: A Tribal Derived Folk Dance of Kalahandi, Odisha

Ethnography of Ghumura: A Tribal Derived Folk Dance of Kalahandi, Odisha

Ethnography of Ghumura: 

A Tribal Derived Folk Dance of Kalahandi, Odisha 

Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra 

Ghumra is an indigenous dance found between the rivers of Mahanadi and Indravati 

peninsula. The tribal people of kalahandi, Koraput, Bastar, Bolangir, predominantly 

perform the dance and Oriya speaking localities of Chhatishgarh.This is a male dance in 

which the males belonging from 15 years to 40 years often participate. The seniors play 

the role of singers and drummers other than the dancers groups. The dance group is 

consists of eight members, 12 members, sixteen members. As though the ghumra dance is 

found in Dhenkanal and Keonjhar played by the Juang tribe, it is performed by the both 

the man and woman. The size of the Ghumara instrument is bigger than that of the 

Ghumras of Kalahandi and Koraput. 

Background: 

It is a male dance performed predominantly by the Gonds, the Bhatras and the Bhumia 

tribe of kalahandi and Koraput. Now this dance, after celebrating the status of gaining 

ground as a traditional dance performed in Delhi, Moscow and other cities of India, it has 

become the dance of the educated literates and semi literates who learn Ghumra dance 

and perform in stage show. By this way Ghumra has gotr a winning name in the 

traditional dance history of Odisha.presently, Mahaveer Sanskrutika Anusthan, 

Bhawanipatna is heading a Dance School of Ghumra supported by the Government of 

Odisha and Govt. of India. Again, the Anusthan is trying to sanskritize the Ghumra dance 

by regenerating and renovating the dress, costumes, dance choreography, songs, and 

music and trying to ut Ghumra in the public domain with new cultural context. 

Codification of Ghumra dance with the traditional gurus and bringing out the Texts of 

Ghumra Dance with the content, context, texture and its standardization is the present 

thought of the Anusthan which is a noble step to retain and regenerate a dance form in the 

changing scenario. 

Ghumra dance is found performed in each and every part of the district of Kalahandi. 

The villagers form a group, may be informal or formal, and perform the dance in 

different occasion. The purpose of the dance was to perform in the religious occasion, 

like fairs and festivals like Nuakhai (new rice ceremony) Puspuni, Dasahara, and some 

other occasions. The youths of the village also perform Ghumra dance during new 

occasions like playing the music during inviting a guests like ministers or VIPs. The 

Ghumra competitons in Ampani village during the full moon day after Dasahara is to 

promote the competitive spirits among the Dance group of different villages. 

What is Ghumra? 

Ghumra is a dance where three aspects have intermingled. The music, dancing and 

singing and acting are simultaneously displayed in this dance. So it is a difficult dance to 

perform. So the term sangeet is found in this dance form. 

Ghumra is the name of a musical instrument made of earthern pot. It is a two feet long 

hollow earthern pot the face of which is covered with the skin of iguana and it is tied on 

the waist and left shoulder of the dancer. When Ghumri, a round shaped earthern pot is 

used by the tender girls of the locality to fetch water from the ponds and rivers, Ghumra 

is a long sized instrument, is used for the musical purpose. This signifies that Ghumri- a 

feminine counter part of Ghumra is used by the females and Ghumra, along shaped 

pitcher used by the males for music. 

Historicity of Ghumra: 

Before going to the social context of the Ghumra dance we may consider the origin of 

Ghumra dance in Kalahandi. It was a dance found in the remote past. JP Singh Deo the 

noted historian of South Kosala mentions that the findings of terracotta from Nehna 

village signify that the musical instrument was in use by the people of thi locality since 

last 1000 years. The Natamandapa of Konark temple also depicts the image of a male 

Ghumra dancer, which indicated the historicity of Ghumra during the rule of Ganga kings 

of Odisha.Even after this, the sacred epics of Mahabharata, Chandi Purana, Ramayana, 

and many other puranas describes the Ghumra as one of the war dances of Odisha. 

Figure 1 Ghumra player in Natamandira of Konark Temple, Odisha ( 13th century AD) 

The Origin: 

Ghumra is an earthern pitcher. The imagination of preparation of such a pitcher in to a 

musical instrument is a polygenetic development .It is found in almost all parts of the 

human culture that the equipments and appliances invented for human use have been the 

foundation to the invention of musical instruments. It is evident from the musical 

instruments found in the district of Kalahandi. 

The purpose of shaping such musical instruments has been the creative ideas of the 

inventor for specific purpose. The purpose may be either entertainment, or may be 

religious, it has some social function. The objective behind using such musical 

instruments during the dances, invocations, social ceremonies, and during the 

entertainment signifies a meaning of social congregation and the message of music is 

communicative. The sounds created from the musical instruments as such has some 

phonemic effect which stimulates the user and the enjoyers body, mind and spirit with a 

sense of some feelings which may not be understood but felt. The culture of Kalahandi 

has thus given the mankind some art forms in the shape of dance, songs and music. 

The origin of such music has emerged from two sources. One is from the knowledge 

drawn from jungle culture and the other is from agrarian society. The shift of culture 

from the one to the other, or the symbiotic relation of these two cultures across the time 

and space has left some cultural symbols in the form of music and arts. 

We can examine how the dance form and the musical instruments have created from the 

imagination of the musicians and the foundations of such art is from the social life it self. 

The dance and music of Kalahandi are 

1. Ghumra 

2. Singh Baja 

3. Gaurbadi/banabadi 

4. Mandal dance 

5. Dhap dance/dhangra dhangri dance 

6. Shaman dance 

7. Dandari dance 

Each dance has its own characteristics, and if analyzed, the human and social 

dimension of such dances will be revealed. The Singh Baja dance is nominated to two 

persons who act as dancers representing the symbol two buffaloes fighting each other 

tugging their horns. The dance s exclusively displayed by the scheduled caste (Doms) 

of western Odisha. The Doms are the excellent musician caste group who earn their 

livelihood. They show this dance, and interestingly, as though the Doms are 

considered untouchables by the other castes, they have every access to the Kings, the 

Brahmins and the Gods and Goddesses. It is said that unless the musicians play the 

music the Gods and Goddesses never appear. 

Similarly the Dandari dance is performed b y the Gonds of Dharamgarh adjoining 

Navarangpur district and Bastar district of Chhatishgarh.The Gaur badi or Bana badi 

dance is also an ethnic dance only performed by the pastoral community (gaurs). 

Mandal dance is performed by the Bhunjias and the Gonds.Besides the Fag dance is 

performed by the banjaras of Kalahandi.Dhap dance is performed by the Kondhs of 

Kalahandi. 

All these dances characteristically represent the ethnic musicology of their respective 

race. They expose their creative expressions through the musical system they perform 

and try to maintain their ethnic identities. 

Besides the dances if we turn in to the shapes of the musical instruments of kalahandi 

used in the context of dance and songs, the idea of shaping the instruments can be 

clearer. Most of the musical instruments are drawn from the kitchen and the utensils. 

The interesting point is that the males for the public domain as the musical 

instruments have adopted the interior utensils of the domestic domain. 

Content: 

The content of Ghumra is based on religious texts and medieval Oriya literature 

especially the lyrics of Odissi and Chaupadi. 

It is evident that Ghumra has three phases 

I. Ghumra dance in its “ur” form- when there was no use of songs and only the 

music and dance was performed for religious purpose and group 

The Ethnography of Ghumra: 

Ghumra is a group dance performed by the men only. As though to day there is no 

caste bar in joining a Ghumra dance group, it was predominantly a dance of the 

Gonds and Bhatras of Kalahandi, Jayapur and Bastar.Even in the tradition al villages 

of kalahandi, Ghumra is a dance of all irrespective of caste and tribe. 

When this dance unites the youths of the village to bring a group identity of the 

village, it also has many social and religious functions. 

entertainment purpose. Even during the local battle the Ghumra was used as 

the instrument to tempt the warrior’s tofight against the enemies. This was an 

inspiring war music, predominantly, therefore the dance is nominated to 

males and was performed in war ground, worship place, and when in peace, 

public place for entertainment. 

II. The eulogy and prayers like Malashree and Janana are used for invoking the 

Goddesses, firstly in a shamanistic situation, when the Goddess possesses in a 

human body, and then to narrate the myth of the events of the supernatural 

deeds of the Goddess. This is to mediate the spirit with the human being and 

to wish blessings and power for the group/community. Therefore, the 

narration of Ghumra dance is found in the puranas and myths. The kali 

Purana, Chandi Purana, Sarala Mahabharata, and the jagamohana Ramayana 

signify the nomoenclature. 

III. Next phase is the changing context of performing Ghumra dance. This phase 

may be the influence of medieval Oriya poetry of both religious and erotic in 

nature entered in to the realm of Ghumra dance. This phase is also represents 

the State Formation by the native kings and Maharajas, who, tried to show 

their State identity through some music and dance, and interesting other than 

Kalahandi no other State has tried to show Ghumra as its own State 

performing arts. Mr PK Deo, The then maharaja of kalahandi, and an 

uncontested Member of Parliament in kalahandi patronized this dance as the 

State dance of kalahandi. It is found that Ghumra was a Durbari dance of 

Kalahandi by 1930 and subsequently from a folk dance it got the status of a 

durbari dance. But the dance continued in performance both in folk and 

durbari tradition. 

IV. The influence of Oriya literature in feudetary States of Odisha, which was a 

status symbol of the kings to show their taste for cultural refinement, also to 

show the neighbour States that they are no less in art, music and culture, has 

given Ghumra dance a new identity in addition to its own structure and 

function. The two major content in Ghumra dance are, a. Shakti upasana and 

the sacred mantras and jajanas of Sanskrit and Oriya poetry (Malashari) and 

b. the medieval Radha -Krishna love songs. This content led the dance to 

perform in different context. Even this dance became the source to remember 

and retain the Oriya medieval lyrics among the non- literate people of 

Kalahandi. This is also the urge of the people to master the Oriya songs and 

dance in the society, which ws considered to be the prestigious act if one, 

knows the Poems. 

V. The craze for showing the excellence in Ghumra dance among the groups 

was so much so that the Gauntias and Umrahs of the State of Kalahandi 

patronized the dance. The Gountias of ladugaon, Fufgaon, Palas, and many 

more villages were considering that if they don’t have a ghumra dance 

group it was a question of their village prestige. So they were encouraging the 

folk singers and the dance gurus to promote dance and music. It is not 

surrizing to fiud that a folk drama guru was also composing the lyrics of 

Ghumra dance. This craziness of Ghumra dance in the villages ultimately led 

to Ghumra Competetions in Ampani, Bhawani Patna, Junagarh, Dharamgarh. 

VI. The oral and writte lyrics both took its place in ghumra dance. Local dance 

gurus tried to write innumerable songs and lyrics to show their creative 

excellence to win over the other Ghumra dance group. The songs are 

Chaupadis and Oddissi. 

VII. The Ghumra competitions given rise to compose songs of questions and 

answers from the Hindu mythology. It is called pachara uchara in Ghumra 

dance. One singer of Ghumra group asks the questions and the other group 

answers the questions. The whole audience enjoys the competitions. If one 

group is unable to answer the other group’s question, then they are declared 

defeated before the whole audience. And this is certainly an insult to the 

defeated group. This situation creates a new type of songs which tease the 

other group with double meaning (slesha and chhala ukti ) songs. Thus each 

group tries to establish their knowledge on myths and lyrics to win over the 

other. 

VIII. The content is also changed according to the need of the time. It is found that 

when the Ghumra dance is performed for a certain occasion, the songs are 

also written accordingly. The dance is performed during welcoming a 

Minister or VIP, during Total Literacy Campaign, awareness campaign for 

AIDS, environmental education, and community mobilization programme. 

The dance form is used for such developmental programmes has given 

Ghumra dance in transition. The songs are for propaganda, with specific 

objective. This type of songs of course influences the people with new 

knowledge and new messages. 

IX. The action (abhinaya) was not a part of Ghumra dance in its Ur form. But in 

course of time, may be with the influence of Nritynatika the Ghumra gurus 

might have thought of inclusion of abhinaya in the dance form and 

interesting, while dancing, the dancers use to perform abhinaya during the 

recitation of poems. The themes of the songs are shown in action. After the 

singing is over the dancers again play the Ghumra instrument tied on their 

waist and hung from left shoulder. 

X. The text of the Ghumra is based on a.origin of Ghumra dance (by Poet 

Nakpala, by poet Kandarp Panda of Sagunbhadi). The myth of origin of the 

pitcher, the making of iguana skin covered on the pitcher, preparation of 

Nishan, the Neela cow-skin brought from the mountain to prepare the nishan 

etc. are narrated by the singers. The complete formula of the making of 

musical instruments, and its relation to a legendary king Chandradhwaj, and 

the involvement of potter community in preparing the Ghumra pitcher, the 

process of making the pitcher etc. are narrated in details in the myth. This is 

the later development of the poets when the mythical narratives were popular 

among the nat gurus to compose and associate them with the local dance and 

dramas. 

XI. The dance performs the episodes of epic story like Dasavatara, kaliya dalan, 

Radha Krishna dance, Droupadi Vastraharana; Hiranya kashipu etc. that is a 

later development .It is the innovation of the dance gurus. 

The songs are now available in written and oral form. The cycle of oral-written –oral 

among the singers and audience is the medium of memorizing the songs and thus the 

songs become popular. Even the non-literate singers and dancers and audience retain 

the songs in their mind. 

Context: 

The role of Ghumra dance in the context of kalahandi is two fold. One is its structure 

and the other is its socio- religious function. The performance context of Ghumra 

reveals the functions it has in its society. 

1. Ghumra is considered to be the war drum of Demon Gosimha Asura, as well 

as of the war dance of Goddess Durga. It was a war dance to provoke the 

warriors during the war. 

2. It was associated with the invoking the goddess Durga.It is believed that 

Goddess Durga never possess in a shaman unless she is charged with the 

majestic drumming sound of Ghumra.This dance was a part of ritual 

performance in the temples of Goddess like Manikeswari, goddess 

lankeswari, Goddess Samaleswari and Goddess Duarsani, goddess Bastaren. 

3. Ghumra Dance was performed in the procession of Goddess’s Bol bula- a 

huge procession of Goddesses during the Dasahara festival. This signifies the 

association of the dance with the Sakta cult. 

4. Even during the Navvana- eating of new rice ceremony, Puspuni (ending of 

harvesting- full moon of pausa- January) Ganesh Puja, and Saraswati puja, 

Kumar Purnima, in the institution of some Jajna in the village the dance of 

Ghumra is performed. 

5. During Kumara Purnima- just after 5-6 days of Aswian Purnima, the Ghumra 

dance competitions in Ampani take place, which is a grand festival. The main 

attraction is Ghumra dance competitions in which the Ghumra dance groups 

throughout the areas are invited. A panel of judges evaluates the Ghumra 

dance in the light of the content, costumes, music, and composition of songs, 

dance, gestures and innovations, if any. 

6. The performance of Ghumra is also found in the village road followed by 

the procession. In the meeting ground of the village people use to enjoy the 

dance. I n some village the dancers visit from one house to the other in order 

to earn some money for their group festivity. 

7. A Badi Ghumra- competition of two Ghumra group in showing their 

excellence in performance is one of the most important contexts where the 

performers and the audience participate. When the Group performs physically 

the audience involve themselves mentally and emotionally supporting the 

group they like. This competition helps the groups to form the best efforts to 

grow up their performance to get recognition. 

8. The social identity and the collective creation of the Ghumra help the group 

to develop their self-image. Take the example of Asiad –82 and Moscow visit 

of the Ghumra dance, where the educated youth of kalahandi were tempted to 

undergo Ghumra training and became dancers for their self-exposure instead 

of the deprivation of the traditional dancers. (This trend is not only found in 

Ghumra but in almost all popular dances where the patronization is from 

cities or other foreign countries. The cultural context of Ghumra in 

changing situation is alarmingly away from its traditional context and has 

adapted to a new platform in which neither the religious context nor the 

traditional Oriya lyrical imagination is visualized.) 

9. With the changing scenario, the performance context of Ghumra has grown its 

height of fame in the Republic Day in New Delhi, in many cities of India in 

cultural exchange programmes. The growing popularity has developed a new 

cultural context for Ghumra dance, and this transition is inevitable. So, the 

traditional cultural context and the transformational cultural context have its own 

place for sustenance and survival. 

10. The temporal and spatial dimensions of Ghumra dance is as simple as the 

context it self. The religious context of Ghumra is, in course of time has 

secularized. It has entered in to the towns and cities. The shift of performers from 

villages to the towns has found. The calenderic religious and social function of 

Ghumra in the villages has been replaced by the modern performance context, 

and the function of Ghumra dance is changed accordingly. 

11. The emergence of electronic media has disseminated the Ghumra dance in 

wider audience. The radio and TV programmes, the use of Ghumra in 

development context. Accordingly the dress, costumes, theme of the songs has 

been changed. 

Texture: 

The composition of Ghumra musical instrument is consists of three instruments. 

The Ghumra, Nissan and the cymbals. The rhythm of the Ghumra sounds like: 

Ghumra: Taktini taktini, tak tini tini 

Nishan: Kidgadi gidin, Kidgadi, kaidgadi gidin kidgadi 

Tal: jham jham. 

There are steps of Ghumra performance, which needs study by the 

ethnomusicologists. Even the musical notations of Ghumra songs, music and 

rhythm are also needs documentation. 

Costumes: The dress and ornaments, the style of using the dress and the 

headwear, armlets, tahiyas etc., are analyzed elsewhere in this volume. 

Ghumra dance in transition: 

In course of time Ghumra has achieved a glorious history of its growth and 

development. The transition is due to modernization and use of the dance in 

different cultural context other than traditional context. The sacred dance of 

Sakta cult is lost its serenity and now it is as secular as any dance in the locality. 

One can use the dance in any time and in any space they like and by this way 

Ghumra dance has become the popular dance. It was a traditional dance and will 

continue to be. But the change in its context, content, costumes, and use of time 

and space in different purpose in Ghumra dance has given a new meaning to the 

dance form. 

Further Actions: 

Presently only one ghumra dance academy is running in MSA. This may be 

extended to the villages, which is more accurate in retaining dance form. Actual 

dress, music, dance form may be retained from the dance Gurus in Video film. 

The research activities on the Structur e and function of Ghumra dance may be 

conducted. The songs written for Ghumra dance by the local poets may be 

compiled. The Historical development of Ghumra dance may be codified taking 

help of the Gurus of Bhawanipatna and also of the other villages of the district. 

Memoirs of Ghumra Gurus may be tapped in audio video form. Relating to the 

anecdotes and the thrill of competitions. The local terminology of Ghumra dance 

and music may be codified and its Oriya and English counterpart may be 

published. Some cards on Ghumra dance may be printed for popularizing the 

dance out side kalahandi. 

——————————————————————————– 

106, Manorama Manor 

Rasulgarh 

Bhubaneswar 751010 

Odisha, India 

E mail: mkmfolk@gmail.com 

URL:http:// www.asgporissa.org/mahendra 

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