They say that a wise woman puts God first. What if God is a Woman? What if women worship ‘God’ who is a woman? What’s the backstory?
At this point, you must be clearly longing to hear Ariana Grande sing ‘God is a woman’. Fact is, this phrase has been broken down into its literal meaning years ago in ancient Assam, long before Grande hit the Billboard’s Top 100.
*Joi dhol and khoti taal roll*
Deo-Dhani (Assamese: Deo- God & Dhani- Woman) Nitrya (dance).
Exclusively from Assam, this folk dance is women centric. The deity is a Goddess and the devotees are mostlywomen. This dance is attributed to the worship of Goddess Manasa or Maroi- Hindu snake Goddess.
The story behind Deo-dhani is that, one, named Behula (a figure from Padma Purana) had to dance for the revival of her husband’s soul.
Lakinder, Behula’s husband was the last and seventh son of Chand Sadagar, who hated Manasa for certain reasons. Goddess Manasa killed six of his sons to get an anjali from Chand. Chand was infuriated and he had vowed to save his seventh son, Lakinder, so he caused his marriage to Behula, in his iron palace which had no holes. But, on deliberations with Manasa, Bishyakarma had made it to their wedding night and created a hole through which Kalnagini, the most poisonous snake came through and bit Lakinder. Behula woke up to Lakinder’s scream and threw the jaanti at Kalnagini as she slithered away.
Mesmerised at her enchanting and beautiful performance, they had promised to return her dead husband’s life only if Chand Sadagar consented to give an anjali to Manasa with his left hand. Subsquently, Chand gave in and Manasa got a position among the Gods and Goddesses in Heaven. She accordingly gave back the lives of all the six sons along with Lakinder’s.
Keeping this history alive, people of Mangaldoi and South-west Kamrup have been celebrating this festival and dance widely. The Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati is the hotbed of Deo-dhani nitrya.
Deodhani Nirtya is, however, not to be confused with Deo- which is a trance state. The dance usually comprises of sharp head-bangs to the beats of the Joi dhol. Your goosebumps are sure to rise at the sight of the spinsters and their mane swaying to the beats.
Moving to the specifications, the dance is performed by unmarriedwomen in solo or a group of three or four. An Ojaknown as Shuknami, sing songs with joi dhol and cymbals while the dancerswork out various hand moves and intricatefoot work. The dancers look godly with their Muga Mekhela, red blouse and traditional jewellery. The hair is left open,with swords and shields intheir hands; a chivalrous war dance is performed. With the rise in the tempo of the music, the dancer moves faster spinning like a top- twisting the head,imitating a snake. The performance terminates only when the dancer falls exhausted on the ground.
With passing times, this folk dance has begun to fade away, losing its identity in the crowd. Regardless of that, perhaps the next time you hear ‘God is a woman’, you can proudly say that Assam has had that notion long before Grande had!