For about 2,000 years, Odisha had been a traditional ground for Natyashastra and Bharata Muni. Stretching to both the Eastern as well as the Western Odisha, there are varieties of dance forms that reflect its cultural identity. One such small but unique land in Western Odisha is Sambalpur which abounds with lush green forests, colourful wildlife, captivating waterfalls, rich tribal culture, folk songs and dances and a variety of monuments. The region is also well known for its folk dance-Dalkhai. The most popular form of traditional folk dance of the Adivasis of Western Odisha, it is performed during the common festivals of Bhaijiuntia, Phagu Pune, Nuakhai, etc. The word ‘Dalkhai’ in every stanza is addressed to ‘girlfriend’. Its songs are a representation of the love story of Radha and Krishna as well as the episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata. It has various forms such as Mayalajada, Rasarkeli, Gunjikuta, Jamudali, Banki, Jhulki, Sainladi, etc. Considering its style, theme and performance, it is a secular form of dance.

How did Dalkhai originate?

The word ‘dalkhai’ means a stem from the branch of a tree. According to some, the dalo branches are symbolically planted as Goddess Durga associated with Shakti, the female power. Also, the branches stand for brushwood, which evokes the picture of young shy girls dancing in the bushes. Most of the people opine that it is performed during Dusshara to prevent the paddy from insects. However, some local narrations relate the dance to stories of the seven brothers and seven sisters venerated in the Dalkhai or sula kutti. This legend, though a complex configuration of the ritual sequence, are general narrations about the dalkhai dance. However, some say that the Dalkhai dance is performed to celebrate autumn and is associated with a ceremony ‘Bhaijiuntia’ observed by women wishing longer life for their brothers. 

How is it performed?

Dalkhai is usually performed by unmarried girls. The drummer, also called as the Dhulia, beats the Dhol at the beginning of the performance. Young girls, standing in a line sing Dalkhai songs. After singing for a while, they start dancing by bending forward in a half–sitting position. Hands are moved forward and backward alternately by the girls and during the dance, they place a cloth of red or pink colour on their shoulders. Primary importance is given to different movements of hands, legs, knees and hips. The dance sometimes goes slow and fast depending upon the sound of the dhol. Also, as the dance proceeds, the dancers make circles in clock–wise and anti–clockwise direction.

Which musical instruments are used to perform Dalkhai?

The dance is performed by the females whereas music is provided by men who are drummers and musicians. There is a rich orchestra of folk music accompanied by the dance along with a number of instruments. These include the dhol, nisan (a giant drum made of iron case), tamki (a small one–sided drum played by two sticks, tasa (also a one–sided drum) and mahuri. However, the tempo is controlled by the dhol player as he dances before the girls. 

Is there a peculiar costume to this dance?

Women and girls wear a colourful printed Sambalpuri saree. They also tie a scarf on their shoulders holding the ends in both the hands. Various traditional jewelleries such as the necklace, bangles, etc. complete the look of the performers. 

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