Bhaktapur is not only famous for its art and architecture but also master in extricating Newari culture and tradition. The old generation is passing these hundreds and more old cultures to its new generations, which includes different dance forms, music, festivals, and deportment. Some of the most popular dance is tapered below which is somehow still practiced in different parts of Bhaktapur.
Navadurga dance, also known as the most prestigious mask dance of Bhaktapur. It has the longest mask ritual continual starting from October to June. The gatha community is responsible for all the masks making procedure, where only a designated chitrakar family works on mask making.
The Navadurga dance is devoted to the nine powerful deities and is believed that they were isolated to protect the city. The names of those deities are Brahmayani, Indrayani, kumari, Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, Tripura Sundari, Barahi, Vaishnavi and Maheshwari, where Tripura Sundari and Mahalaxmi don’t seem dancing in street ceremonies. The Mahalaxmi is called the most powerful deity who surpasses the power of taleju to other deities. Taleju is the oldest form of Durga.
Although this dance is named after nine deities, there are thirteen characters and masks according to it. The other masks besides navadurga are of Shiva, Ganesha, bhairava, seto bhairava, sima, and duma. Here, the mask of shiva is carried by Ganesha, who is the elder son of lord shiva and bhairava always dances with Mahakali.
Aarati is a process of offering oil lamps to the deities. While doing aarati, few Newari girls do a dance performance, which we called aarati dance. This dance is done to gain peace and prosperity in the community. Due to our Nepali culture, we believed that every guest is the countenance of God. So, to welcome and please them this dance is done in different places.
Dhimen is a traditional Newari musical instrument that is normally played in every celebration. Whereas, pyakhan refers to dance. Therefore, a freestyle dancing on dhimen’s beats is what we called dhimen pyakhan. No rules are made for this dancing, what you have to do is move your feet according to the music.
Like navadurga dance, this monkey dance, also known as Makha pyakhan is conducted by few communities. The dance is performed in Gai Jatra, the second biggest jatra of Bhaktapur after bisket jatra that falls in august. The teenagers hold a pair of sticks, wear traditional Newari attire with jewelry and a footwear ornament full of small bells, called ghala in this dance. They start their practice after the day of the Gathemangal chare.
Most people get confused about ghintang ghisi dance and monkey dance. Despite holding on the same day and using sticks as their dancing tool, these two dances are different from each other. You can join any ghintang ghisi gang with a stick and a partner. All you need to do is follow the rhythm and hit each other stick at a point.
Khyak dance is another popular dance form of Bhaktapur. This dance is done to express the naughtiness of a harmless being, khyak but being dressed in black fur, it looks quite fierce too. It is believed that then these beings were in real life and came to frighten people. Nevertheless, today we see them as an entertaining character. As a myth, they dance to entertain god and goddess.
Kawana ( skeleton dance)
Kawana is a Newari word which means skeleton. The two kids dressed up like skeletons and performed this dance, facing each other from the opposite corner. According to the myths, Kawana is a type of ghost who has only bones left in their body, which seems quite frightening. They used to scare people and cause problems for human beings. This dance is shown in different parts of Bhaktapur like in durbar square during the festive season of Gaijatra.
Bhairav dance is celebrated in Bhaktapur nagara as well as in Madhyapur thimi. In Bhaktapur nagara, it is done as a part of navadurga dance but in thimi, it has its importance. This dance is said to be started by king Suvarna Malla in 633NS. The men from the Shrestha community practice this dance form with tantric rituals.
The dance is mainly showcased on the day after Gai Jatra for four days. The dance is so much related to cultural and spiritual aspects that it is said that it is performed to get off from the bad luck of ghosts and spiritual demons.
Radha Krishna dance
This street dance is also done in Gai jatra festive season in Bhaktapur municipality by two little kids, where the boy portrays himself as Krishna and the girl as Radha. They wear dancing costumes and do make-ups then start dancing with traditional Newari music which is played behind them.
Another mask dance of Bhaktapur celebrated during the Gai jatra festival is junglee dance. In this dance form, two of the young boys wear dancing costumes, put long hairs and hold a kind of knife. And featurely, they also put a yellow-colored mask and dance in the local cultural songs with live music.
Khicha pyakhan is another traditional dance form of the Bhaktapur city, where khicha means dog and pyakhan means dance. That is performed within the Bhaktapur municipality during the Gai Jatra festival. This dance is done by two of the participants who wear a costume representing dogs. Through this dance, they want to show us the loyalty of dogs towards human beings.
Bhalu is a Newari as well as Nepali form of a bear. While this dance is done with the characterized bear as the main attraction, this dance is called a bhalu dance, more commonly bhalu pyakhan. This dance is also performed during the Gai Jatra festival in Nasamana tole. It is a storytelling street performance where some dance and acts are presented, of course with live music and singing.
Peacock dance is also known as Mayur dance and Mahayakha dance. It is done in Madhyapur thimi but recently it is in the condition of extinction. Well, this dance is done by wearing a costume representing a peacock. It drinks alcohol during the dance and pretends to get drunk and it also interacts with audiences too.
Mahakali dance is done in both Bhaktapur Nagar and nagadesh, Madhyapur thimi municipality. Besides that, it is performed at bode too. The famous Mahakali dance is of Nagadesh. In Bhaktapur Nagar, it is performed within navadurga dance but in nagadesh, it is performed as daitya Sangram. This dance is so unique and full of fun. You can see other different characters playing with Mahakali in this dance.
Lakhey refers to a demon who used to live in the forest, later it became the protector of the town. This is also a kind of mask and street dance, where a person wears the mask of lakhey and dances with the rhythm of traditional music. This dance form is more popular in Kathmandu rather than Bhaktapur. Somehow, this dance is also performed at the Gai Jatra festival.
Devi daitya Sangram (thimi)
Devi daitya Sangram is a dance form presented in thimi, Bhaktapur. The Devi, a powerful female character and the daitya, demon danced together in this dance form.
Lusi (pestle dance) thimi
Lusi dance is a satiric street dance, originally performed in thimi. This dance is completed by the Newari girls, who wear the traditional Newari attire ie. Haku patasi, a red-bordered black sari. They also carry lusi, a traditional houseware use to make pastes of chilies and all. With that lusi, they dance in synchronized form as in monkey dance.
Bhuran jya is a street performance, celebrated by the farmer community of Bhaktapur. There is no particular dance form of this festival but people dance to enjoy the harvesting with the rhythm of traditional music. People carry ancient household utensils and grains during the festival.
There is a local story about this festival that once Bhaktapur got the war with Tibetans. So, to prevent war, the people of Bhaktapur were ordered to hide their grains underground. After the war, when they got the victory, there was nothing to eat and again the king ordered to see if the undergrounded grains could be used or not. The paddies were all blacked then, despite that they dared to cook it and as a result, they found that it was more delicious and nutritious. Since then, the festival took place in Bhaktapur.
Nil barahi dance
This dance is done in bode to celebrate peace after the victory of evil demons. There are three dances performed in bode. Among them, this dance is for peace and prosperity.