Dandari-Ghusadi Festival

The Dandari-Ghusadi or Gussadi festival of Telangana is celebrated by the tribal communities of the Raj Gond and Kolam tribes. The Dandari-Ghusadi season is all about a robust dance festival that is celebrated for about 10 days during Deepavli.  The festival ends on Diwali day with the Ghusadi tado taking off their attire ritualistically.

The celebrations usually begin with the tribals visiting the Padmalpuri Khako shrine at Gudirevu village of Dandepalli mandal in Mancherial district, on the banks of the Godavari river. On the occasion, the Adivasis present offerings to the river. They also end the festival at the Padmalpuri Khako as the shrine is of great importance for the people belonging to ethnic groups

It starts on the day we see a crescent moon and end on the dark moon day. We start the festival by performing the Sakshe Akadi and end it on the Devadi day. Once the Sakshe Akadi is performed, the tribals would attain the festive spirits and the entire week would witness the fervour of the fest.

The tribals’ love for music also becomes so evident during the festival time that one, if they visit to one of these villages, can find several instruments — like thudum, pepera, kalikom, dappu, ghumela, dhol, vetti and karra — that are not easily findable in our markets.

During the festive season, the Dandari and Gussadi dance troupes tour the tribal villages, stay there overnight, and perform traditional rituals. 

Adivasis celebrate Gussadi-Dandari dance festival with drums and rituals. They worship Yethmasarpe or god of soul. 

During the 10 days preceding Diwali, every Adivasi village across the four northern most districts of Telangana gets transformed into a festive arena where the Raj Gond and Kolam aboriginal tribes celebrate the exuberant Dandari-Ghusadi dance festival.  

The Dandari-Ghusadi dance festival, is an opportunity for the eligible bachelors to find their life partners and some 100 marriages are finalised in this manner in the Agency villages of Adilabad, Kumram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial and Nirmal districts, which were part of the undivided Adilabad.

The ethnic dance is an exhilarating visual display of tribal culture through which these ethnic tribes also look to foster marital alliances; it also provides a platform to promote awareness on key contemporary issues faced by the Adivasis.

The first day, we reached the village of Mallapur, where the Bhogi pooja was scheduled to start in the morning. As soon as we reached, the masks, dance sticks, peacock crowns and musical instruments, collectively known as Dandari-pen (pen meaning God in Gondi), were brought in front of the village head’s home and ceremoniously worshiped. After the rituals were complete all the men of the village came together to offer prayers and seek blessings.

Soon after, the women too gathered around the Dandari-pen and performed rituals of lighting lamps, incense sticks and breaking coconuts.

The Ghusadi-thado or Ghusarks, are a personification of the God of Creation and, as per Raj Gond mythology, are said to protect the marriage procession of Yetma, the daughter of the God of Creation. When she marries a Raj Gond, the procession travels through dense forests and hence the Ghusarks accompany her. The Dandar-Ghusadi is a re-enactment of this marriage procession in every Raj Gond/Kolam village in Northern Telangana.

Pittabongaram is another village a little over 5 km away from Mallapur. We were told that the Dandari-Ghusadi troupe from a village called Kannapur were visiting, and were guided to the scene of action. In front of the Dandari-pen, about 8 Ghusadi-thados were having their meal from the same plate. As soon as they were done, the hosts offered prayers to the Dandari-pen, and a Ghusarks donned their peacock crowns. A bugle made of the horns of an Indian bison was sounded, indicating start of the proceedings.

Ghusadi Dance
As the resounding beats of traditional percussion instruments coupled with tunes flowing out of the pepre (a smaller shehnai like wind instrument) waft around, the Ghusarks enter the arena in a line taking simple steps. With live music playing at a fairly even tempo, the dance sequences were characterised by simple repetitive steps with equally simple formations. And an energy had pervaded around leaving the entire audience eagerly waiting the next routine.

Needless to say, the performance was extremely engrossing, with the gentle swaying of the peacock crowns following the footsteps of the dancers, as well as the shadows they made on the ground beneath, all adding up to the audio-visual spectacle.

Later that evening, we revisited Mallapur, where the Ghusadi–thados were getting ready with help from para-poriks. Para-poriks are young adolescent boys who are also part of Dandari-Ghusadi troupe, but dressed in women’s clothing, as they are said to represent Yetma. Madavi Babu Rao, a Ghusark , was busy getting into his elaborate costume. His legs, hands and torso are smeared with ash and designs are also made. At times, Ghusarks also wear false moustaches and beards, but Babu Rao wasn’t going to sport them. Large strings of beads are placed around his neck and bells are tied around his waist as well as feet.

In addition to hundreds of peacock feathers, his extraordinary headgear also had a pair of ram horns, a small mirror and was decorated with colourful shiny flecks all around.

Throwing light on his role during the Dandari-Ghusadi festival, his mother explains, “This ritual is like a deeksha. He leaves home today and will probably return only after five days (at least). He will travel to the designated villages and during this period he must sit or sleep only on the deer-skin and will not even take a bath.”

“The Ghusarks are an embodiment of God and because God is pure and omnipotent, what is the need for a bath” Pusam Anand Rao, an elder reasons out why Ghusarks are not expected to sleep or wash themselves.

The entire village assembled around Durva Shambhu Patel’s home as they reverently wished the Ghusarks and the Dandari troupe the best for their onward journey. As the mood of celebration spread around, a few dances were performed first by the Ghusarks, and later by the women of the village.

The next morning, we headed to Pittabongaram once again, this time the arena shifted as another Ghusadi troupe from the village of Marutiguda was visiting.

The dance moves of the Ghusarks are but an imitation of the movement of the wild animals and cattle, more specifically the deer, peacock, rabbit, nilgai and bison. Having dwelt in the forests and sharing the habitat with wild life as well as domestic animals, these have also become an integral part of their rituals.

After the Ghusadi dance, the stage was cleared, and Mesram Raju and a group walked in to perform a skit. It revolved around a conversation between an elderly Adivasi couple and some officials from the revenue department, peppered with doses of humour that had the audience in splits.

The play was about the impact of the Purification of Land Records, an ongoing programme undertaken by the Telangana government for making necessary correction in records pertaining to agricultural lands. The performers tried to drive home the point that the correction of the land records will reveal the Adivasis as the true owners of the lands which had been encroached upon by non-tribals.

“We hope to get justice through the land record purification. The exercise should reveal the extent to which the lands of our gullible ethnic people is under encroachment,” Raju sounded optimistic. 

Dandari Dance
It was now the turn of Dandaris to take centre stage, as they stand in a large circle with sticks in their hand. The lilting music is dotted intermittently with the dancers tapping each other’s sticks.

The Ghusarks make an inner circle while the Dandaris dance in the outer periphery. When a routine is soon to change, the leader hums “Cha-choi Cha-choi” and the rest of dancers respond by humming “chaah-ve”, in acknowledgement.

It is noteworthy that both the Dandari-Ghusadi troupes (host and visiting) dance together effortlessly as if they had rehearsed sufficiently. No dancer in either troupe misses a step or a beat nor does he move out of a formation.

The Dandari dance offers the eligible bachelors of the visiting troupe an opportunity to impress and draw the attention of the parents of unmarried girls with their dancing skills. A girl watching the courtship dance, which runs for a night and a day, can inform their parents if a boy catches her fancy. After the conclusion of the festival, the families of the girls and boys follow up on the nuptials mutually.

For about ten days before Diwali, the Dandari-Ghusadi troupes in every tribal village make it a point visit as well as host troupes from other villages. The villages they visit are where their sisters or daughters have been given in marriage. All these visits are decided before hand and the troupes from other villages are welcome with great fanfare. The Dandari-Ghusadi festival is a fine example of how the tribal men keep in touch with the women from their family even after she leaves after marriage. These rituals of the forest dwellers help them stay interconnected and also underscores the importance they attached to fostering marital ties and maintaining kinship.


Raj Gonds – Reflections in a Peacock Crown