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Baseli Puja

dummy horse dance ,an important ritual of Baseli puja

Baseli Puja is also known as Chaiti Ghoda. In the month of Chaitra there is an exclusive festival for the bona fide fishermen community of Orissa who are popularly known as "Keuta" ('Kaivarta'). This festival is held for a full month beginning from Chaitra Praba (Full moon of Chaitra in March) and ending with Baisakh Purnima (Full moon in April).

During this festival of orissa, Baseli, the horse-headed deity of the community is propitiated. She is considered to be the tutelary deity of the community. She is considered as a form of Mother Goddess who was earlier formless. Later she took various forms according to the conception and needs of the various communities living all over the country.

Inexplicably connected with the festival is the Dummy-Horse dance of the community. On the auspicious day of Chaitra Purnami, the Kaibartas worship a Bamboo with vermillion, candle-paste, butter-lamp etc. Then the bamboo is split ceremonially into pieces out of which only twelve are taken out for preparation of the frame of the dummy-horse. The frame is dyed red with red clay and then covered with a 'Pata' (indigenous silk cloth). Then a painted horse-head made out of wood is fixed to the frame. A garland of 'Mandara' (Hibiscus) flowers is placed on the neck during worship. This particular garland is always intended for mother goddess. This dummy-horse is worshipped till the eighth day of the dark fortnight after which it is taken out for dance. A man enters the cavity and hangs the frame on the shoulders and then dances to the rhythm of 'Dhol' (country drum). 'Mahuri' is the only wind instrument played during the dance. Songs are sung intermittently in votive dedication to the deity. Sometimes the dancer gets possessed and falls in to trance. Then somebody else replaces him.

Two other characters "Chadhua-Chadhuani" or "Rauta-Rautani" also sing and dance. The male character dances with a long staff in his hand symbolizing the profession of fishermen's rowing of boats. The female character is played by a man. Both of them sing songs of love and daily household chores. Then a song combat ensues which lasts for the whole night. During this portion of the dance the dummy horse is ceremonially placed in the centre and the performance is held in front of it, people sitting all around.

The dummy-horse dance is mainly prevalent in the coastal districts of Cuttack and Puri. In Puri the dummy-horses are profusely decorated with flowers and the 'Tahia' (Archaic head-gear of flowers) presents a magnificent show during dance. When the festival ends the horse-head is taken out ceremonially from the frame and is preserved in a temple. Next year during the festival it is again brought out and repainted for the ceremony.

 

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