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.
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
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)
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
2. Singh Baja
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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