Nacha: Dancing Troupes of Madais

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Published on: 12 July 2018

Anubha Sinha

Anubha Sinha is an MPhil Action Research Fellow in Development Practice. She started working in a village called Dokal in Dhamtari district, Chhattisgarh, India since January 2016. During her work, she interacted and engaged with the members of the rural community and attempted to trigger critical discussions amongst groups of women around ‘domesticity’. Apart from that she also engaged deeply with young men and women from the village and tried to inaugurate various discussions around ‘gendered activities’ and practices which constituted their everyday.

The nacha party or nacha, as it is popularly called, is an amalgamation of folk music, dance and play. It is one of the major sources of attraction for the people during the event of Madai. Very often the success of the event is founded on the quality of the performance of the nacha party. Madai, a cultural festival in Chhattisgarh, begins after the harvest season from November end and continues till the end of March and sometimes upto the first few weeks of April. Celebrated in the form of a fair (mela), Madai begins with various ritual ceremonies  performed as offerings to ancestral deities; the first day often culminates in a scintillating performance by a nacha party. Thus, villagers spend a day with their friends and families and enjoy the festival with their loved ones.

Samar Sen Netam of Dokaal (Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh), who has been a member of the Jai Maa Chhattisgarhi Nacha Party for more than a decade, explains how nacha should not only be seen as a source of entertainment limited to Madais; rather, it is a platform that provides livelihood to many while establishing a practice rooted in the cultural, social and political life of the area. One may find a variety of nacha parties across Chhattisgarh—they may vary from village-level groups to bigger dance troupes that are often invited to bigger towns and cities. He goes on to explain how a nacha party is primarily comprised of instrumentalists, singers, dancers and drama performers. The total number of performers in the troupe may vary from 20 to 25 people. However, it is not necessary that all the performers belong to the same village. Oftentimes, the group is an ensemble of performers from different villages across a certain region, thereby bringing in a palpable variety to the performances.

As villages prepare to host the Madai, troupes and dance groups are booked for an evening of musical performance for the guests and the members of the village. Before the night of the performance, nacha parties often come together to rehearse in a designated area in the village often known as the rangmanch. The play that gets performed in the nacha is called gammad. A gammad is played for around one and a half to two hours and the performances are scripted on the basis of certain true stories often laced with social messages, such as dowry, domestic violence, corruption and child abuse.

The nacha (as the performance is indigenously known) starts with a song and a dance performance prepared by the nacha members. Earlier, the songs were written and composed by the members themselves but today they also perform on popular Chhattisgarhi movie songs to cater to the taste of a larger group of audience. The tradition of folk culture is now being diluted by incorporation of new fantasies and desires created by the commercial world. Earlier, the gammad used to have short stories or comical acts based on humorous incidents from everyday life; but now the scripts have been moulded to incorporate stories that condemn evil social practices. However, in spite of the serious nature of the message, the acts are performed with an element of humour to hold the interest of the audience and to maximize on the entertainment quotient for the spectators. It is to be noted that nacha parties have always been a great source of entertainment during the Madais, and even though they have started incorporating scripts with social messages, the essence of bringing joy to the spectators has not been lost.

A single performance by a nacha party can last for about six to eight hours. People attending Madais often look forward to this whole night of performance with utmost enthusiasm, and enjoy the theatrics infused with folk dance and songs. The performances usually start at around ten or twelve at night, after most shops have been closed in the mela and it goes on till six to eight in the morning. The success of a nacha, as Gautam Suryavanshi of Dhamtari shares, depends on the energy of the team. Spectators find commendable the level of energy a party invests in performing the act, and the way instrumentalists cope with performances. Nobody sleeps the entire night of the Madai. The energy level never declines and the most interesting part of the nacha is the impromtu synchronization of the acts with the instrumentalists. Though they practise prior to the performance, the live act requires synchronization between the music and the performers’ dialogues; their facial expressions must match the tunes of the different instruments. Mostly, the instruments that are part of the nacha are the banjo, harmonium, jhanjhar, tabla,  ghunghroo and dholak.

The nacha is organized by the village where the Madai is taking place; so, the responsibility of lodging and boarding of the nacha group is with the villagers. They set up the stage and make arrangements for the group’s stay. The entire night, the party members are served with tea and paan so that they stay awake. The amount that is received by a nacha party varies from place to place based on their popularity. But, the income of each individual of the party remains low as the group pays extra to the performers who come from far-off places, as the team does not always have the members from the same village.

Yet, Samar Sen Netam adds that the love for the art and the joy of performing keep the members of the nacha party going in spite of low levels of income.

Nacha is an integral part of the Madais in Chhattisgarh. During Madai, people spend their days at the fair and hope to spend their evenings at a good nacha performance. During the times when televisions were still not the part of daily life, people used to wait for Madais to watch actors performing, recalls Gautam Suryavanshi, another veteran member of a village nacha party. With the coming of television sets, mobile phones, and internet interests have declined. Yet, Madai remains incomplete without the pomp and the show that a nacha party brings to it. Both during and after Madais are over, the nacha party remains a source of livelihood for many and a reason for entertainment for all.

This content has been created as part of a project commissioned by the Directorate of Culture and Archaeology, Government of Chhattisgarh, to document the cultural and natural heritage of the state of Chhattisgarh.