eJournal | State sponsored tribal festivals: New visibility, modernization and commercialisation of indigenous culture – Odisha

Irish Journal of Anthropology (cover) Vol 19(2) 2016 - visit the website:
Irish Journal of Anthropology Vol. 19(2) 2016
Backup (PDF, 6,8 MB) >>


In his article, Stefano Beggiora examines a funeral dance of the Soara [Sora] in Odisha, which traditionally is a renewal of the alliance between the living and the dead, but today changes rapidly on stage in the context of the contemporary performances held on the occasion of the capital’s state sponsored tribal festival (Ādivāsī Melā). Today, the funeral dance in the metropolis Bhubaneswar becomes a yearning for identity on the part of an indigenous culture that is endangered by market forces and modernization. This new visibility has brought to Adivasi art the problems of commercialisation and market demands, while attempts to include Adivasi art in modern art exhibitions have tended to perpetuate the perception of indigenous artists as exotic others.

Introduction: Some considerations on dance in tribal India (Excerpts pp. 126-127)

The symbolic and ritual use of dance in the Indian Subcontinent is so diverse and widespread that we cannot but restrict ourselves here to some general considerations. Acting as a rhythmic order, the dance of gods and mythical heroes contributes to the cyclical adjustment and the organization of the world. In a very general way, ritual dances are a means to re-establish the relationship between the earth and the sky – whether they invoke the rain, love, fertility, victory: rendering possible a synthesis between the human and the divine. […]

But can it be appropriate today to apply theories of classicism and doctrinal elements of the Hindu world to the reality of the indigenous peoples of contemporary India? By virtue of centuries of coexistence side by side both within the jungles and on the plains, it is possible to at least imagine an exchange of elements, a flexible relationship that has favoured a kind of bidirectional cultural osmosis. Dynamics existed in the past based on this interaction, which probably only in colonial times crystallized into that social marginalization of minorities, with which even today India is coping. […]

Hence the simple observation that the cycle of life, the cosmic cycle of the ages of man (yugas), symbolizes the cycle of growth and decline of the human religiosity. It is interesting to note in this context that the ritual dances of indigenous peoples of India often develop through circular movements, or in semicircles, where in many cases the men’s group stands opposite to the women and faces them with a rocking motion. Some apparently complex steps in fact, involving demanding stretches, with sweeping gestures toward the ground, in most cases symbolize sowing activities, the harvest, the work in the fields.

Source: Irish Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 19(2) 2016 Autumn/Winter
Accessed: 17-12-17

The forest was never far away from habitation. For instance, excavations of the settlements at Atranjikhera and Hastinapur, which are not too far from Delhi, have yielded evidence of a large variety of forest trees. The Buddhist Canon states that aside from the village and its outskirts, the rest of the land is jungle. Even as late as the seventh century A.D., the Chinese Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang writes of forests close to Kausambi, as also of the extensively forested areas in the vicinity of Kapilavastu and Kusinagara in the terai and north Bihar. Travelling from one town to another meant going through a forest.” | Romila Thapar in Forest dwellers in early India – myths and ecology in historical perspective >>