Paikali dance which now survives in northern Orissa, especially in the districts of Mayrubhanj and Keonjhar, is a much stylized form of dance. It is marked for its leg extensions and stylized gaits which are very much similar to those of the widely known Chhau dances. Each of the Paikali dancers hold a sword in the right and a shield in the left hand. While dancing they also sing in a recitative style. They smear their bodies with a whitish kind of earth called Kaimati. A major segment of the dance is mock attack-and-defense called Ruk-maar-nacha which is the foundation of the Chhau dances. The orchestral music that accompanies Paikali is as rich as appealing. The orchestra consists of three kinds of drum, such as Dhol, a barrel shaped drum that dominates the music, Dhumsa, a huge kettledrum made of wood and Chadchadi, somewhat like snare drum. The melodic music is provided by Mahuri, a reeded wind instrument like Shehnai but with a sharper timber. The much evolved Chhau (see our Recreational Folk Dances) comprises the same musical instruments. Watching Paikali one will be convinced that it is the precursor of Chhau dances.
The word paika is derived from the Sanskrit word Padatika meaning the infantry, and hence the name of the dance battle (paika) dance (nrutya). In olden days the powerful Ganga and Gajapati rulers of Odisha extended their territory from the river Ganges in the north to Godavari in the south with the help of a vast army of valiant Paikas. They were not in the regular pay-role of the army, but received huge land grants from the kings and the chieftains. They formed the rank of a peasant-militia. Though agriculture was their main occupation they used to keep themselves prepared by regular practice and training in war techniques. Several village-groups were under the command of a Dala Behera or group-commander. Most of the Paika villages of Odisha, spread all over the state have maintained the older tradition of Paika Akhada – the village gymnasium where young people assemble in the evening after the day’s work. Alongwith traditional physical exercises, they dance with sword and shield in hand to the accompaniment of the country-drum.
The Ghumra is another interesting drum dance prevalent in Orissa in the districts of Sambalpur, Balangir and Kalahandi. The dance is named after the pitcher-like drum. Its body is made from terracotta. The neck of the drum is like a hollow cylinder. On its mouth is tautly tied the skin of Godbi, a lizard-like reptile. The drum is slung from the neck of the dancer and tied at the back so that its face is near the chest. The dancers play on the face with both their hands. The dance is performed only by men. The dancers wear colored dhoti tightly and colored jackets. They wear turbans clipped with peacock feathers. A belt with jinglebells called ghaagudi is fastened to each dancer’s waist and ghungroo on both the ankles. One dancer, without the Ghumra drum holds two bunches of long peacock feathers in both of his hands. He dances with the group making funny movements and sounds that add a humorous element to the performance. In the beginning, the dancers stand in two rows and play on their Ghumra drums. Then they dance playing on their drums. After that, they stand in rows and the accompanying vocalist sings a couplet from the repertory of songs specified for the dance. At times, he may sing couplets composed or improvised by him. While the vocalist is singing, the dancers remain standing and play softly on their drums. As soon as the couplet is complete, the dancers play on their drums loudly and dance vigorously. Although the dance is performed on some festive occasions, customarily it is danced on the day of Gamha Poornima that falls on the full moon day of the lunar month of Shravan (July/August).
Karma dance is performed by many tribal communities living in Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, in varying forms and styles. One factor is common that the ceremony of Karma is performed to bring prosperity to the community and a branch of Karma tree is brought and planted around which the dance is performed. Although it is basically a tribal ceremony, a few non-tribal communities also observe it. Invariably a legend is associated with each style of Karma dance. The karma legend associated with the dance prevalent in eastern Madhya Pradesh runs as follows : Once upon a time there was a very benevolent king by name Karmachand. When he was defeated by the army of the neighboring kingdom he fled to the forest. One day he saw some lamps burning at a distance. The king was surprised and went near the lamps. He found that a god was sitting on his throne and young girls are dancing before him. The moment they saw the king they vanished. Karamchand went and fell prostrated at the feet of the god who asked him what he wanted. The king begged the god to return his kingdom to him. The god said that if the king performs Karmapooja he will get back his kingdom. As advised by the god, Karmachand sent unmarried girls to bring a branch of the Karma (kadam) tree which was planted on a sanctified place. The branch was worshipped and the Karma dance was performed throughout the night. In the morning the branch was ritually floated down the river. Immediately the king got the news that his enemies have fled the kingdom. He thus got back his throne. Those who want to avert their misfortune should observe the Karma ceremony exactly as the king did.
The Karma ceremony is held in the lunar month of Ashwin, corresponding to September/October. In the eastern Madhya Pradesh it is performed thrice. The first is held on third day of Ashwin. In this only unmarried girls take part. The second is held on the eleventh day in which both unmarried girls and boys participate. The third is observed just twelve days after the second in which women also take part, irrespective of whether married or unmarried. The rituals and dance remain the same for all the three observances. The Karma observed by the tribal communities of Chhatisgarh is associated with a legend which is different and has some similarity with that prevalent in Orissa. Both tribal and non-tribal communities living in the district of Sambalpur and Phulbani in Orissa observe the Karma festival. Here the ceremony also includes some entertaining items. The legend associated with the Karma of Orissa is as follows : Six sons of a rich merchant set sail in a ship for trade, leaving the youngest at home. When they returned they found that their wives are dancing Karma dance and the youngest brother is playing the drum. Enraged they drove away their wives. The karma god was angry and the wealth of the six brothers vanished. They went to the god and prayed that their wealth may be restored to them. The god said that if they take back their wives and continue to observe the Karma they will regain their vanished wealth. They did exactly as the god wanted them to do and they got back their wealth. From that day Karma festival is being celebrated every year in the month of Ashwin.
In Bihar also a few non-tribal communities like Mahato, Malah, Chamar, etc observe the Karma ceremony like the tribal, but it is held during the rainy season and related to transplanting of paddy.
Counterparts of Bachcha Nagma are found in Orissa, Assam, and among the Tharu community of Uttar Pradesh. In Orissa the teenaged boys who perform the dance are called Gotipua. The Gotipua dance evolved around 17th century. In southern Orissa especially in the district of Ganjam, the dance is called Sakhi Nacha. The tradition evolved around 17th century. The temple dancers called Maharis could not get the enthusiastic patronage of royal court. As a result, their dancing started declining for lack of proper training in dance. The Raj-nartaki class of dancers who were dancing at the royal court and also for the public during festivals like Vasantotsava, also disappeared owing to lack of patronage, since the royal nobilities preferred more sensual dance of the courtesans called Baiji.
To cater to the general public the tradition of Gotipua evolved. During 17th and 18th century a number of talented Oriya poets wrote countless lyrics and poems suitable for singing, on the theme of the love between Radha and Krishna. Although lyrics were written in a simpler language, the poems are highly ornate. Generally, the Gotipua sing these songs and poems and present expressional numbers with highly stylized gestured acting (abhinaya). During the later part of 19th century and early decades of 20th century some kind of decadence crept into the Gotipua dance and it became more sensual than sensuous.
In the 1940s, when the Odissi dance was revived much was offered by the repertoire of the Gotipuas. Following the classicism of the revived Odissi dance, the Gotipuas discarded the decadent elements.At present, their dance has been much influenced by the revived Odissi dance. Musical accompaniment is provided by Mardala, a Pakhawaj like drum with two faces; Gini, small cymbals and Harmonium. The dancer sings the song which is repeated by guru and a supporting vocalist when the dancer elaborates on the meaning of the song or poem through gestured acting.