Gaja Nach, which literally means the dance of elephant, is performed by the shepherd community called Dhangar who live in Maharashtra. Since it is considered auspicious, the dance is also performed at the time of temple festivals. The dance is performed with a slow tempo and swaying movements that evoke the gait of an elephant in a stylized way. The dancers also hold colorful scarves which when moved in a swaying manner suggest the fanning of elephant’s ears. The Pavato provides the melodic music and percussion music is provided by the Khaital and Dhol.
The women of the Kunabi (also called Kullabi) community, considered to be the earliest settlers of Goa, perform the autumnal dance called Bhadap, derived from Bhadrapad (also called Bhadrav), the lunar month corresponding to August/September. Bhadap dance is ceremonially performed on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi that falls on the fourth lunar day (tithi) of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrapad. The Kunabi women dance it informally throughout the autumn whenever they find an opportunity. The Kunabis are agriculturists. During autumn the crops growing in he fields require watching at night to save them from the predatory animals. The men folk go to the fields after dinner to watch the crops. Women find it an opportune time to dance, especially if it is moonlit night. They often dance through-out the night. Although the dancers are all women the accompanying musicians are all men. The accompanying percussion music is provided by Ghumat, Samel and Jhanj. The songs that accompany the dance depict the family life, social life and the beauty of the nature. The dancers wear their nine yard handloom saris typically attired. They wear other ornaments including the nose ring.
Another entertaining dance of Maharashtra, with dominating theatrical elements, is Vaglya-Murali. This dance too has religious associations. The dance recapitulates the tradition of Marathas to worship the weapons on the eve of Dussera festival, in the name of Lord Malhari, who is considered to be an aspect of Lord Shiva. The name of the dance is derived from the terms Vaghya, the male actor-dancers and Murali, the female dancers who used to be dedicated to Lord Shiva in the past. A duet between the Vaghya and the Murali develops into a full fledged dance to the accompaniment of percussion instruments and bells.
There are quite a few recreational dances which have pronounced theatrical elements. Therefore, they are quite entertaining. One such dance is Songi Mukhawate of Maharashtra. Although it has religious associations and connected rituals, the theatrical elements come to the fore. It is customarily performed as an integral part of the worship of Devi (mother goddess) on the full moon night of the lunar month of Chaitra (March/April). The dance celebrates the victory of truth over falsehood. The name of the dance is derived from the two lion masks worn by two dancers who represent Narasimha, an aspect of Lord Vishnu. The dancers in the role of Kal Bhiarav and Vetal also wear masks. The other dancers perform holding sticks in their hands. Dhol, Pawari, and Sambal are the main musical instruments used in this dance. The Pawari players wear green costume and peacock feathers on their headgears.
Warli, an ancient tribe of Western India, lives in the Vindhya and Satpura hill ranges. In Maharashtra, they are concentrated in western districts of Nasik and Thana with a population of about four hundred thousands. They play an interesting musical instrument called Tarpa. It is made with the thick skin of a whole gourd into which a bamboo pipe with finger holes is inserted to form a wind instrument. It is decorated with colorful threads and the fronds appear like the feather of a peacock. The harvest dance that is centered around this musical instrument is called Tarpa dance. It is performed in the month of September/October with the belief that the dance will impart necessary vitality to the growing crops for a rich harvest. Men and women both wearing colorful costumes and decorated with leaves and flowers dance usually in circular formation with, the Tarpa player at the center. Tarpa is generally played by an old man who has gained expertise in the art of playing it. Through his control of the instrument, he provides variations in the tempo of the dance.