or Karma literally means 'fate'. This pastoral dance is performed during the
worship of the god or goddess of fate (Karam Devta or Karamsani Devi), whom
the people consider the cause of good and bad fortune. It begins from Bhadra
Shukla Ekadasi (eleventh day of the brightmoon of the month of Bhadra) and
lasts for several days.
This is popular among the scheduled class tribes (e.g., the Binjhal, Kharia,
Kisan and Kol tribes) in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Sambalpur
and Dhenkanal. In Dhenkanal and Sambalpur the dance is in honour of
Karamsani, the deity who bestows children and good crops. However, the
rituals connected with the dance remain the same everywhere.
In the afternoon of the auspicious day two young unmarried girls cut and
bring two branches of the 'Karam' tree from a nearby jungle. They are
accompanied by drummers and musicians. The two branches are then
ceremonially planted on the altar of worship and symbolise the god.
Germinated grains, grass flowers and country liquor are offered to the
deity. After completing the ritual the village-priest tells the story or
legend connected with it. This is followed by singing and dancing in
accompaniment of drum (madal), cymbal etc. The dance performance full of
vigour and energy combined with charm of the youth decked with colourful
costumes in exuberance of red cloth, set in peacock feathers, skillfully
designed ornaments made of small conch shells, brings the onlookers as well
as the performers to a mood of trance and ecstasy. In this dance both men
and women take part and continue to engross themselves for the whole night.
The skillful movement of the young boys with mirror in hand indicates the
traditional pattern of love-making in course of dancing and singing. The
dance is performed sometimes by boys in group, sometimes by girls in group
and sometimes both the sexes together. The subject matter of songs
constitutes the description of nature, invocation to Karmasani, desires,
aspiration of people, love and humour.
The Karma dance continues from dusk to dawn. Group after group drawn from
nearby villages dance alternately throughout the night. In the early morning
they carry the Karam branches singing and dancing and then immerse them
ceremonially in a river or tank and then disperse.
The technique of the Karma dance varies a little from tribe to tribe. The
Kharias, Kisans and Oraons dance in a circular pattern, where men and women
dance together. It is always headed by a leader and generally the men at the
head of the line. Only the best of dancers join in right next to or near
him. Very young girls and children join in at the tail end to learn the
steps. When the dancing grows fast the dancers of the tail end drop out to
let the true dancers show their skill. The dancers hold hands in different
ways in different dances. Sometimes they simply hold hands and sometimes
hands are placed on the neighbour's waist band or are crossed. It is the
legs and the feet which play the principal part in the dance. The dance
begins lightly with simple steps forward and backward, left and right, then
gradually the steps grow smaller and faster, growing more and more
complicated, until that dance reaches its height. Then it goes gradually to
the first steps as the music leads to give dancers rest. The dancers have no
special costume for the occasion. They dance wtih their usual costumes which
they wear daily.
The dance is usually held in the courtyard of a village where performance is
arranged. In the centre of the courtyard a bamboo is fixed and it is split
into four upto a certain height and then bent to form the arches. Each split
is fixed with a pole on the outerside to form the earch. Then it is
decorated with festoons of mango leaves and water lilies giving it a festive
look. The ground is neatly plastered with cow-dung. Men and women dance
winding in an out beneath the arches.