• Dang Culture

Bhawada: The Festival of Masks

Bhawada, a grand festival that takes place in south Dang, involves the folklore of Ramayan and Mahabharat’s Gods and Goddesses, told through masks, music, and dance.

The 10 day long celebration, which involves the entire village, is initiated and hosted by a family whose wishes were fulfilled. It's held to bring peace, happiness, and prosperity to the village. However, hosting Bhawada is a demanding and expensive commitment, since the same family must host the festival for 5 consecutive years.

The grandiosity of Bhawada is evident in its masks. About 90-150 papier-mâché masks, made in Dang, are auctioned for rent on each day of the festival (this happens through a process of bidding called ‘boli’). The highest bidder for each mask gets to wear it for the day and tell its story. Traditionally, only men are allowed to wear the masks.

Every mask is first worshipped at the house of the highest bidder, before being taken to the Hanuman Temple, where the process is repeated.

Each mask depicts a different deity and tells its own unique story. The person donning the mask must dance to a specific tune with specific footwork, both tailored to the story being told. An epic unfolds in the Dangi forests at night.

Characters depicted through the masks include Hanuman, Jumbad (an army of Ravan's demons), Bhavani (Goddess Parvati, Shiva's wife), Baman (Bhramin), Popat (parrot), and Waghdev (tiger god).

This dance usually occurs as the dancers make their way down a path while an accompanying person narrates the story of the mask to the audience. This sequence is repeated throughout the entire night with each dancer wearing different masks and giving different, but specific performances.

The order of all masks is predetermined on the basis of the myths attached to the masks. The first mask is always Ganas (attendant of Shiva), and the last mask is Bhavani (Goddess Parvati, wife of Shiva).

On the last day of the festival, the person playing Bhavani Mata, the Mother Goddess of the Dangis, is paraded around the villages in a bullock cart. Bhavani Mata blesses the village, and the tribespeople offer a sacrifice in her honor. As is Indian custom, villagers then eat prasad, before going home, marking the end of the festival.

Bhairavi Modi's depiction of Bhavani Mata on the last day

Musical instruments such as Sambal (sets of Dangi drums), Kahalya (Dangi windpipe instruments), Sur, and Dholki are used in the ritual.

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