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Pala

Pala

Pala is a long musical narrative punctuated with explanations, rendered by a singer (gayaka) accompanied by a band of four to five persons. As a form of art, Pala is completely unique to Orissa and is found nowhere else in the country. One person plays on a drum (mridanga) and the others play musical instruments like cymbals. Pala is essentially an elucidation of mythological and religious acts. As such the entire theme of the Pala is drawn from episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana or other Puranic Texts. The Gayak or the lead singer describes one particular episode of a religious text while the accompanying musicians join him at appropriate moments in a chorus or semblance of rudimentary dialogue. The tale is interspersed with loud music of drums and cymbals. The singer and his accompanists dance using very simple rhythmic stepping as they sing.

This dance form is generally associated with the cult of Satyapir which evolved as a result of the adaptation of the Satya Narayan cult of Hinduism with that of the Pir cult of Muslims. Significantly there are two types of Pala dance in Orissa. The Baithaki Pala, which is practiced in a sitting posture while the Thia Pala is a form of Pala that is practiced while standing upright. The Thia Pala which is the most widely used form of Pala is a derivative and developed form of Danda Nata where six performers form a group.

As a rule, the Pala starts with the invocation to Satyanarayan and extracts from Puranas and famous poets. The singers dance, enact and explain the meaning of the verses. As the Gayak thus continues his performance, another singer asks him questions or requests him to elucidate a point. Generally, the pala songs are taken from the rich repertoire of Oriya poetry and literature with appropriate references to relevant Sanskrit poetry. The Pala singer not only sings out the narrative song but has to be highly innovative to establish rapport with his audience. He is dressed in glittering robes and wears an ornate headgear. The Gayak holds a chamara (whisk) in his hand and a pen which he keeps on waving in the air according to the needs of the songs and also as sign of divine blessing. Thus he combines drama, song and dance and as a narrator remains detached from the main events of his dramatic song. The singer also uses prose now and then to lines of verse in order to make the narrative simpler.

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