Unearthing Sambalpuri dance among Odia diaspora in New Delhi

Unearthing Sambalpuri dance among Odia diaspora

in New Delhi



Sambalpur is a district in the western region of the Eastern state of Odisha in India. As varied as the languages occur to be in the state, equally vivid is its culture. The region takes pride in the invention and evolution of some of the biggest cultural achievements of the state, including its folk dance, music, and most importantly the Sambalpuri saree, all of which have now become the face of Odisha for the world.

This shall be a journey focusing solely on the folk art from this region of the state and its evolution in the multi-cultural expanse of New Delhi.




Sambalpuri dance, an indispensable part of the culture of Western Odisha, connects the community by a beautiful amalgamation of rituals, customs, spirituality, and folk art forms. The name of the art form derives itself from the city of Sambalpur in Western Odisha that has its own distinct cultural identity and has also become the face of Odisha around the globe.

The community takes pride in a variety of dance forms including Dalkhai, Karma, Humo and Bauli, and Koisabadi. The most popular of all being Dalkhai. Others include forms like Rasarkeli, Maelajada, Chutkuchuta, Sajani, Nachnia, and Bajnia.


Dalkhai, the most popular of the variations of Sambalpuri dance is ritualistic folk art, with namesake songs sung on the occasion. Popular among the Binjhals, Mirdha, and Soura tribes this dance is performed on festival occasions, not just by the tribal society but also within the mainstream society who participate in these rituals.

Dalkhai is traditionally associated with puberty rituals for unmarried girls preparing young women and girls for their social and biological maturity.

The Dalkhai dance is often performed during the ‘boil’ ritual, held during the nine days of Navratri in parts of rural Western Odisha signifying the embodiment of the goddess in the village head priest. The priest becomes the dancing goddess himself while the Dalkhai patterns are integrated into the performance of goddess worship. The dance patterns indicate the dialogue between the trance medium and the goddess as observed by the head priest of the village in the allegiance of their village deity. The erotic power of the dance symbolizes the power of fertility ascribed to all ‘boil’ rituals.

Along with the music played by the Ganda musicians, the dance takes the form of a procession followed by the musicians and the priest in a trance as he goes around the village blessing people, especially women suffering from fertility issues.

‘Boil’ ritual including Sambalpuri music and its instruments

Source: Youtube 13

Offerings made during Bhaijiuntia
Source: Twitter

The dance is also a major part of the festival of ‘Bhaijiuntia’ celebrated during ‘Maha Ashtami’ of Dussehra with the spirit of sisters observing fasting for the long life and prosperity of their brothers. Sisters offer their prayer to the deity Durga and Mangala.

Dalkhai is performed during the festival after sisters offer their prayer to the deity, dance, and sing together for the prosperity of their brothers and matrilineal families.


Other forms of dance under the realm of Sambalpuri are:

Karma Dance is a tribal form performed in the honor of the ‘ Karam Sani’- a deity who grants children. The rhythmic steps are matched by dancers dancing in two rows generally.

Humo and Bauli are generally performed by unmarried girls on special occasions. This dance form is not as fast-paced as other Sambalpuri dances and is often accompanied by slow movements.

Koisabadi is prevalent among the Gonds and Bhuyan tribal communities wherein the male dancers perform the act while holding two sticks. The songs are usually based on the stories of Radha and Lord Krishna.



Of the 3.1% of the Indian population is Odia-speaking, out of which a sizeable amount resides in the capital city of New Delhi. Delhi, being the melting pot of cultures and languages, has gladly accepted and welcomed migrants incoming from other states in search of better life and opportunities. People from Odisha too, have found their significant place in this multi-cultural delta.


An otherwise, under the radar state, that is often mistaken to be a part of Bengal, without any distinctive identity of its own, it is rather surprising to see that Odia residents of Delhi have managed to create their own niche for the promotion of their culture outside their hometowns and unite Odia people in their own ways.


Organizations have been established along with cultural centers that are responsible for the promotion and presentation of Odia culture for the non-Odias and as an attempt to keep the migrant population closer to their home state. The Odia Samaj, Juhar Parivar, New Delhi Odia Association, Odia Cultural and Welfare Association are some of the many cultural groups set up by Odia residents in the capital in an effort to bring a piece of their home here and contribute to the plurality of culture in the metropolis. These organizations, mostly non- profitable, ensure the celebration of Odia-specific festivals such as Nuakhai, Raja-fair, and Boita, which may not be common to the non-Odia diaspora.

Odisha Parba 2017 leaflet

17Source: eOdisha.org

Jagannath Temple, Hauz Khas
Given the popularity of Odisha’s central deity Lord Jagannath, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, and owing to the religious sentiments attached to the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri, several individuals and groups have also led to the replication of the temple model at various places in the city- the main one being the Jagannath temple in Hauz Khas and a secondary one in Lodhi Colony. Apart from serving the purpose of a common Odia community space, these temples are also central locations of lip- smacking Odia cuisine being served at reasonable costs and a stage for a celebration of religious and cultural events.

The Odia diaspora in the city has managed to create a home away from home, with similar efforts to replicate the festivals from back home- one of the major annual events, also being backed by the Ministry of Culture, Government of Odisha is the ‘Odisha Parba’. The occasion opens an arena for not just the community to celebrate and cherish their culture, but also provides an opportunity for people from other cultures, to interact, engage and appreciate the Odia culture.

Glimpses of Odisha Parba


Efforts by the Odia community and the state government have led to a considerable expansion of Odia culture, especially in the form of Sambalpuri folk dances. A significant opportunity to showcase the art form also comes in the form of the Republic Day annual parade, wherein Sambalpuri dance, and its different indigenous forms have gained much popularity, owing to their peppy beats and relatability. The foot-tapping beats are alluring and enticing enough to become playlist regulars even if one does not understand the language.

Sambalpuri dance in Republic Day Parade

Source: Sambad English



Apart from the central government’s efforts, the Odia communities in Delhi have also taken it upon themselves to make Sambalpuri dance a regular presentation item at all cultural events and religious festivities. Both Odias and non-Odia participate with equal vigor in these events that are meant to celebrate the Odia New Year- Nuakhai, Raja Sankranti– the celebration of womanhood, Ratha Yatra– the holy chariot festival dedicated to Lord Jagannatha, and others.


The dance that has made its place even in Paris, is now a common sight to behold at non-Odia cultural fests too such as the Surajkund Mela. The dance form has also been recognized and rewarded by the Sangeet Natak Academy, New Delhi, and actively performed by artists in the renowned cultural circuits of the capital.

As a part of an initiative to keep the folk tradition alive, Odissi dance schools in New Delhi have attempted at incorporating more of these folk and tribal forms of art along with the widely recognized classical ones.

Due to their incongruence with the scriptures and detachment from written records, folk traditions like Sambalpuri have not yet been fully optimized to their maximum potential. But there are people like Dr. Samaru Meher, who have taken upon themselves to popularize and patronize folk traditions too and bring the

Source: Nrityanjali LinkedIn

true essence of their soil to the capital city.




The legacy of this art form is credited to villages and their tribal artists in Western Odisha. However, in a multi-cultural space like Delhi, where it is very easy for any form to lose its essence, keeping the art form true to its integrity and keeping it alive is a challenge. But, the dance has managed to enter the hearts of people by reminiscing the art form into popular culture. The infamous attempt by Coke Studio to recreate the most iconic Sambalpuri song- Rangabati did garner a lot of suspicion from the Odia public, but also managed to successfully plant the Odia culture in music-loving people.






The dance form is no longer an alien concept. By realizing the true essence of the dance form that is to say it is a dance of the masses, the idea of taking it to the masses in Delhi through Durga Puja pandals and other community festivals has been the easiest and fastest way of increasing awareness about the performing art.


While Delhi is a hub of activities and cultures, and adaptability is the key, migrant communities strive to safeguard their cultures and keep their homelands closer to themselves in a foreign land. In an attempt to do so, families, especially young Odia parents encourage their children to learn a part of their culture in the form of Sambalpuri and keep the ball of legacy rolling. This aesthetic expression of life gives equal opportunity for men and women to engage with their culture in the most fulfilling way.