Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Dansay is one of the most important events of the Santals. Unlike other festivals that are accompanied by joy and celebration, this one reminds us of our two lost goddesses. The source of the tradition cannot be traced, but there are several stories related to it as retold over time. It is only through the tunes and lyrics of the folk songs that one understands the true nature of the event and how it doesn’t carry with it celebratory undertones. For instance, the songs of the festival usually begin with the utterance of ‘hayre hayre’ or ‘haye re haye’ etc. which is an expression of lamentation among the Santals. The words also reflect the sobriety and somber nature of the occasion.
One of the more accepted stories narrate the disappearance of two goddesses, named Naino/Aaino and Kajal. One day the two went missing all of a sudden. On hearing the news, two villagers, Debi and Durga, went out to rescue them. The rest of the villagers collected weapons and joined the girls in the search for the goddesses. The villagers dressed up as twelve gurus and their many disciples to remain inconspicuous. This prevented them from being caught by any enemies who might have been involved in the disappearance.
The villagers went from one village to another dancing and singing, always on the lookout for the goddesses. The latent function of these songs was to instruct each other about the situation and progress. However, even after many days, they could not find the missing Naino/Aaino and Kajal. Till this day, members of the Santal community observe October (Dansay Bonga/Ashwin Maha) as a month of sorrow.
In the present time, the festival is observed by men, harking back to the history of their people moving from village-to-village dancing and singing. Men don peacock feathers on their turban and some of them even dress up as women. They carry disguised weapons inside hollowed-out bottle-gourd as a symbolic gesture in case of attack by enemies. Meanwhile, the women offer a handful of grains to the dancers and exchange greetings. The men who perform in this festival are known as Dansay Koda. These performers from different villages meet at a common place where they come together at the village headman’s/Majhi’s house to worship the Gurus and discuss whose disciples they are. They also strategize about which villages to visit so that they do not end up searching for the two goddesses at the same place.
In the Santal community, Dansay enej/dance is the only dance form that is not linked to any rituals. The dancers perform in the courtyard of houses in different villages over a period of five days. This dance is always initiated by a guru, not just by any dancer or a common Dansay Koda who wants to perform. The guru must possess spiritual qualities and the power to take care of the proceedings of the event. Two of the most important musical instruments that the Santals use in almost every event are the Tumda and Tamak which are not played during the Dansay event as this is marked as a melancholic event, and Tumda and Tamak are played only during joyful festivals.
Unfortunately, the practice of Dansay is on the decline. It is the responsibility of today’s youth to research more on the ceremony, learn and teach the people around them. The revival is possible only when there is awareness of the history of the subject. It is also important to keep documenting the lived experiences of the participants and the narrators.
1. Kherwal Dahar by Prof. Dr. K.C. Tudu
2. Ganang Mala by Prof. Digamber Hansda
3. Dansay Sereng collected by Haripada Murmu
About the Author: Punam Murmu is a Research Intern at The Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. She has done her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Sociology from Miranda House, University of Delhi and Ambedkar University, Delhi respectively. She is currently situated in Delhi. Her interests are writing, research and karaoke.