The Dances of the Newars

Mahakali Dance
King Pratap Malla had a dream one night in which he witnessed the three goddesses Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Kumari, battle demons who were inflicting great despair among humans. He wished his dream to be recorded for posterity through a dance recital to be held every year. Known as Mahakali Dance, It isa masked dance that enacts their fight that culminates in victory for the goddesses. It is performed during the weeklong Indrajatra festival in Kathmandu (during September-end or the beginning of October). It is a mix of many dances, some of which are described in further detail below.

Mahalaxmi Dance
Goddess Mahalaxmi comes onto the stage with a weapon in her hand and dancing around the dabali, takes her asana (pose)in the centre. Then, to the beat of the madal (a two headed drum) she purifies the site where jamara (sacred barley leaves) are to grow. The yellow-green jamara tempts the buffalo-like demons and they begin to eat the jamara. Cunningly, Mahalaxmi studies the movements of the evil figures.

Kumari Dance
It involves dancers depicting 55 animals, a spectre, two skeletons and two khyaks (spirits) along with Kumari. They enter with both hands of each dancer on the shoulders of another and stand with trembling legs. Then, Kumari performs a dance depicting self beautification (shingar). She then offers liquor to the spectre, the khyaks and the skeletons and then drinks it herself. She trembles angrily and the 55 animals do a serpentine dance. In front, the evil figures and the goddess do a war-dance. Then the goddess and her supporters retreat. The evil figures rejoice.

Devi Daitya Sangram Dance
The buffalo-like demons arrive leaping up and down. They are stunned to see Mahalaxmi who, along with her supporters, attack the demons. The demons soon begin to wreak havoc among the supporters who flee. Mahalaxmi is furious and comes forward herself which encourages her supporters to move forward. She however warns them that it is the midnight hour when the demons are at their strongest. So, they make themselves invisible.
The demons assume that they have won and dance with joy. But the next day, five of Mahalaxmi and five of her supporters reconnoiter the battlefield and the battle begins again culminating in the goddess trampling on the defeated demons. All the other gods and goddesses arrive and pay homage to Mahalaxmi while Kumari dances deliriously.

Khyak Dance
Covered in black fur, they are devoted to Goddess Mahalaxmi and are the guardians of her wealth. They accompany her in the dance.

Kawan (skeleton) Dance
The kawans (skeletons), who dance along with the goddesses, are shown drinking the slain corpse’s blood and fighting over their remains. They also portray delight at the raging battle.

Bhairab Dance
It can be of three types: the Swet (White) Bhairab dance, the Nilo (Blue) Bhairab dance and the Bhairab Kali dance. The first is performed at the end of the Mahakali dance while the second is an independent dance form performed during the Indrajatra festival. The third is intriguing.

Bhairab Kali Dance
It a depiction of the various asanas (positions) as described in the Kamasutra. In its entirety, the dance between the tantric deities Bhairab and Kali will portray 84 such asanas and last for over an hour.

Nava Durga―The Mask Dance
This tantric mask dance is in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. Mahalaxmi’s silver repousse icon, in a small chariot, leads the procession of the seven Durgas along with masked representations of the gods Shiva, Ganesh, Bhairabh, Swet Bhairabh and Shiva’s bodyguards Sima and Duma. The dancers sway to the beats of dyokhin and kanhe-baja (traditional percussion instruments) as well as the ta (cymbal). The dance is performed by Bhaktapur’s Gatha community in October every year while in Hadigaun in Kathmandu, it is held once every 12 years.

Lakhey Dance
This dance is held during the festival of Indrajatra and Krishna Astami (also in September). According to myth, the lakhey was a demon who kidnapped children from Patan for his meals. Among the kids were also some princes. The concerned kings organized a party to kill the lakhey who escaped to Kathmandu where he was caught. Then, he was kept in the Tundikhel grounds. Here, he was provided with buffalo meat and some rice everyday and ordered to dance around the grounds once every year.

Monkey Dance
This dance is performed by young men carrying sticks in their hands. It is preformed during the Nepali New Year and during Indrajatra in Kathmandu. It portrays the deeds of the monkey god Hanuman as described in the Ramayana.

Photo: Niraj Maharjan

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