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Baseli Puja or Chaiti Ghoda

Chaiti ghoda nata

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, known as Chaiti Ghoda, is held for a full month beginning from Chaitra Purnami (Full-moon of Chaitra in March) and ending with Baisakh Purnami (Full moon in April). During this festival Baseli, the horse-headed deity of the community is propitiated. She is considered to be the tutelar deity of the community. She may be considered as a form of Mother Goddess who was earlier formless. Latter she took various forms according to the conception and needs of the various communities living all over the country. Worship of a Dummy horse headed god made of wood is inexplicably related to the Chaiti Ghoda festival. The horse headed deity or Baseli is seated on an earthen platform. She wears a blood-red cloth in her full feminine form. In temples and places of worship, She is propitiated on each Saturdays and Tuesdays through out the year. During the festival  period where there are no such images; only the horse head made out of wood is worshipped. Peculiarly the worshipping takes place in a particular place of the house and that is Dhinkisala (the place where paddy is husked). It is because, the subsidiary profession of the community is to prepare and sell flattened rice. (chuda).

Inexplicably connected with the festival of Orissa  is dummy-horse dance of the community. On the auspicious day of Chaitra Purnami, the Kaivartas worship a Bamboo with vermillion, sandal-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. Thus the dummy-horse is worshipped till the eighth day of the dark fort-night 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 cares. 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 with people sitting all around.

Now a-days the votive dancers are not confined only to the Kaibarta community. Since the dummy-horse dance is attached to many Shakti shrines of Orissa also, people of other communities have also taken interest to join the votive dancers. The dummy-horse dance is mainly prevalent in the coastal districts of Cuttack and Puri. In Puri the dummy-horse 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 worship and use during the dance.

 

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