Dungardev: An Ode to the Hill Gods
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
The Dangi people live in hilly regions, and seek protection for themselves, their families, and their crops by praying to the Hill God. Dungardev, named after their God, is a long proceeding that occurs every 5 years, celebrated for 3-15 days before the full moon. However, the eccentricity of the Dungardev lies in its customs.
One such custom is a ritual dubbed "Bhaya" where the tribesmen go from village to village, dancing, chanting, and singing, accompanied by musicians who play tribal instruments and a storyteller ('bhagat'). These men are offered grains such as rice, nagli, and urad dal by the villagers where they perform as a contribution for the festival. The villagers believe that giving these donations will bless them with a good yield, and are enthusiastic in their contributions. Bhaya combines various fields of the performing arts, and at times includes brilliant acrobatic feats.
The names of various hill deities, such as Gavalyo Dev, Kansario Dev, Divalio Dev etc. are chanted by the men during the ritual, and between each song, the sound "Bilo re sho" is made. Bilori means border, and the borders for these hill deities are marked by various stones.
These performers are known as the Bhayas. For the duration of the festival, the Bhayas live on the border of their village in a "Khali", only eating one simple, self-cooked meal a day, and abstaining from meat, alcohol, and practicing celibacy. Every night, when Bhayas return to their Khali, the women of the village perform an aarti from their homes in their direction of Khali.
The last day of the festival is a grand proceeding. First, the men climb the highest Dungar, or Hill, closest to their village, and place the idol of the Dungardev on the hill, and sacrifice a goat or hen in honour of the Hill God. There, the entire village feasts on half of the bhandara collected by the Bhayas, often inviting guests from neighbouring villages to celebrate with them. The rest of the bhandara is given to the musicians and the Bhagat who had accompanied the Bhayas to villages.
TRIGGER WARNING: BLOOD
Photos (left to right): Bhandara (alms); a sacrificed goat; the idols of Dungardev placed on the hill.
That day, the tribe truly comes alive. They sing and dance all day long, performing a collective dance known as "Bhaya Nritya" to the tunes of the Pawari (a tribal instrument). During this celebration, it is said that the spirits of the hill (Dungardev) enters some people's bodies. When this happens, the possessed men are able to achieve unthinkable feats, such as breaking stones with their own foreheads, walking on burning coal, lashing themselves, and sleeping on thorns. Their faith and devotion to the Dungardev is a large part of this remarkable celebration.
Men dancing on the last day, doing elaborate acrobatic dances in ghungroos, while playing the Pawari among other instruments.
Bhairavi's depiction of the celebrations
An interesting part of this dance and celebration is a ritual known as Thalivaadan, in which the musicians use bronze plates (thalis) to make music, in tandem with the Bhagat's narration of various stories.
Bhairavi's depiction of Thalivaadan.
The strange part is, in the entire rite, women are not allow to participate at any stage, except for offering the ‘Aarti’. Women do not sing or dance, and if menstruating during Dungardev, women must move to another village for the duration of the festival.