Dr. Kumar Prasad Darshan received royal patronage to study dance in Mumbai in 1959. He has a six-volume series called “Nepalese Classical Dance Education” and one called “Nepalese Classical and Folk Dance Collection”. In his own fraternity, he is, of course, well known and respected as a knowledgeable exponent of Nepalese dance forms. However, he gained more public fame when an article appeared once in a monthly with the title of, “Dance Guru of Crown Prince Dipendra”. He has a photo in his home in Indrachowk showing the late prince and his paramour, Devyani, both dressed in the national costume (he in daura suruwal and she in gunyo choli) taking part in a group dance.
Whatever tragic designs history was proved later to have devised for the dancing prince, it is an indicator that dance holds an important place in the country’s culture. In fact, one could say that dance is an integral part of any culture, and in a country as diverse in ethnicity and culture as Nepal, one can expect there to be quite a large number of dance forms.
The Malla period (A.D. 1200-1769) was a flourishing period for all things artistic in the Kathmandu valley, and this included dance. In this regard, one king who must especially be remembered is King Pratap Malla (A.D. 1641-1674). The dabalis (raised platforms) that you see around many of the squares in the valley were built during the Malla era; these were where dance and theater were performed regularly for the public. In the three durbar squares, too, you’ll see such dabalis; the royal members would watch from the windows of their palaces while the common folk would congregate around the dabalis. Now, coming to the dances themselves, here are some of the more famous ones: Mahakali naach (dance):
The origin of this dance is credited to a dream that King Pratap Malla once had in which he saw three goddesses fight it out with demons; it was such a vivid dream that he desired to have it recorded forever through a dance performance year after year. A masked dance, it enacts the epic battle between the goddesses Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Kumari and demons bent on destroying the valley. The shrill sound of the shehnai signals the beginning of the dance. Performed during the Indrajatra festival (Sept/Oct), a Mahakali naach can go on for about two and a half to three hours. This dance incorporates many of the dances mentioned below.
To the rhythmic beat of the madal, a masked dancer portraying the goddess Mahalaxmi enters the stage and starts dancing around the dabali, swinging a weapon in her hand. Eventually, she takes an asana (pose) at the center, and does some purification rites at the site where holy jamara (braley sprouts) are meant to be grown. Having done this, she then dances her way to the corners calling out to two khyaks (friendly demons figures) and two skeletons who join her in the dance. The luscious-looking jamara, which has now sprouted, tempts some demons (who are disguised as buffaloes).
This is a dance involving a large number of figures representing 55 animals, two khyaks, two skeletons, and a specter. They make a dramatic entrance with their hands on the shoulders of the one in front, and as they take their stand around the dabali, they do so with quivering legs. Next, Goddess Kumari leaps on to the stage in front where she is shown doing her shingar (self beautification), after which she offers alcohol to the figures around her before taking a drink herself. Then she begins to go into a wrathful fit, while the 55 animal figures perform a serpentine dance, eventually taking trembling asanas at the back. Meanwhile out in front, Kumari and the evil figures challenge each other in a warlike dance. Finally, the goddess and her supporters decide to make a retreat from the battle, while the evil figures do a victory dance.
Devi daitya sangram naach: Demons, taking on the form of fierce looking buffaloes, enter the dabali in a vigorous manner, leaping and jumping, but stop short on seeing Goddess Mahalaxmi, who along with her supporters, immediately attacks them. However, the demons regroup and begin to fight back strongly. The supporters fall back, and the goddess steps forward herself, which inspires her supporters, who then move forward. At this point, Mahalaxmi realizes that it is midnight, and this is when the demons are at their strongest. She and her supporters, therefore, make themselves invisible.
The demons think that their enemies have been defeated, and they celebrate. Come the dawn, Mahalaxmi and five supporters arrive to reconnoiter the battlefield, and soon enough, another battle begins, at the end of which, the demons are all killed, and the victorious figures trample their dead bodies. Flowers descend from the sky, showered by other gods and goddesses, who then arrive to pay homage to Mahalaxmi. At the same time, Kumari and her followers do a celebratory dance. Tika (a mixture of vermilion powder, rice, and curd) is put on one each other’s forehead to signify victory.
Totally devoted to Mahalaxmi, these black-furred friendly demon figures (khyaks) are also the guardians of her immense wealth. Their dance accompanies the other dances.
The kawans (skeletons) have an important role to play during many of the epic dances mentioned above. They add to the bloody drama of the dances, during which they are shown drinking the corpses’ blood on the field of battle, and fighting among themselves over the ghastly remains. They demonstrate grisly delight at the battle raging all around, which promises them hideous rewards.