The traditional Dhan Nach dance mirrors the culture and lifestyle of the Limbus
Dhan Bahadur Limbu aged 55, a resident of Rajarani, Dhankuta slips into his clean Daura Suruwal and carefully puts his Dhaka made muffler around his neck almost in a fashionable manner. He smiles gently and states that the attire is incomplete without the Dhaka muffler and makes him look more approachable among the ladies. He takes a last look in the mirror, adjusts his already perfect clothes and gets ready for the traditional Dhan Nach in the mela (fair). Dhan Nach is the most awaited and expected event in any mela, marriage or festival. If the feast is the appetizer in the fair than the Dhan Nach is the main course.
The people are joyous, perhaps with the help of little something, their laughter echoing in the air. The mood is perfectly set. It is an appealingly sight to see people of all ages coming together, holding hands and moving their feet in a forward and backward motion in unison often accompanied with the traditional tune of Palam. The lyrics of the Palam comprises of the repetition of ‘ha... ha...hui...hui’ the sound people use to scare crows from eating the crops in the ancient days.
But there is more to Dhan Nach than what meets the eye. It isn’t mere bellowing or merrymaking. Underneath that, its significance lies as deep as the time that it originated in. Dhan Nach or more clearly paddy dance is connected to the Agrarian nature of the Limbu society. The coordinated movement of the feet is the enactment of the threshing of paddy. Paddy was the main commodity of the Limbu people, since the time they learned agriculture and it ultimately gave birth to their culture and lifestyle. Through paddy they learned to extract alcohol. And alcohol grew up to shape their marriage system as well as their livelihood.
Although Dhan Nach is a thing of the past, it is a carefully elaborated drama to find a potential mate. This is also the reason why people of the same clan never engage in the same dance as a marriage between them is strictly prohibited. In a generation when there was no Facebook or Tinder it was a perfect time to update their profile, put up their best look and exhibit their best personality. Capture marriage and elopement was not an unusual site in these occasions. Limbu people were not the ones to hassle with lengthy customs in those days, provided it was the time of the ceremonial dance.
But as William Faulkner says ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past’, these open customs regarding marriage is clearly reflected in their perceptions about marriage and divorce. Divorce was not seen with such aversion even in the ancient time but was usually compensated with the payment of a certain amount of money to the husband. This open perception about marriage and divorce is not found in any other cultural group and has made the Limbu culture stand out on its own ground.
Dhan Nach or paddy dance goes deep as their origin in their underlying meaning, one might even lean towards prejudice at first glance. It is a commemoration of people’s connection with nature which the Kiranti Religion is based upon. It is not just a dance; it is the celebration of culture, history and myth, all carefully yet artistically compounded in the rhythmic movement of their feet.
Shuvekshya Limbu is a writer at nepaltraveller.com. An avid reader and traveller who has travelled to Hogwarts and Middle Earth and lived to tell the tale. She spends her time discussing literature and metaphors of life.