Dandari Festival: A Diwali Dance of Fire and Fury
Diwali is the time of the year when the Raj Gond tribe in the Adilabad forest area of Telangana celebrates a unique festival called Dandari. During this five-day festival, the village chieftain chooses tribesmen who sport traditional headgear made of peacock feathers and perform Gussadi dance. They dance to the tunes of unique musical instruments and visit temples and homes. The festival is a visually delightful spectacle and is now part of the cultural identity of Telangana.
The Raj Gonds: Keepers of an Ancient Flame
The Raj Gond tribe is one of the oldest tribes residing in the Adilabad forest area of Telangana. They are known for their rich culture and traditions, including the Dandari Festival. The Raj Gonds believe that the Dandari Festival is a way to appease the fire god and to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Dandari: A Festival of Rhythm, Color, and Transcendence
The Dandari Festival is a celebration of life, community, and culture. The Gussadi dance is the centerpiece of the festival, and it is a truly mesmerizing sight to behold. The dancers wear elaborate costumes made of peacock feathers and other natural materials, and they dance to the tunes of unique musical instruments. The dance is a visual feast, and it is also a powerful spiritual experience.
Gussadi: A Dance of the Peacock Gods
The Gussadi dance is a traditional dance performed by the Raj Gond tribe during the Dandari Festival. The dance is named after the peacock, which is a sacred bird to the Raj Gonds. The dancers wear elaborate costumes made of peacock feathers, and they imitate the movements of the peacock in their dance. The Gussadi dance is a way for the Raj Gonds to connect with their gods and to celebrate the beauty of nature.
Jennifer Alphonse’s Odyssey into the Heart of Dandari
Jennifer Alphonse is a Hyderabad-based International award-winning writer, independent filmmaker, and producer. She has worked with the Raj Gonds and the unique tradition of Gussadi for six years. In her study, she has drawn parallels with the African Masai Mara tribes.
Alphonse’s journey into the heart of the Dandari Festival was an eye-opening experience. She was deeply impressed by the Raj Gonds’ passion for their culture and their commitment to preserving their traditions. She also learned a lot about the spiritual significance of the Dandari Festival and the Gussadi dance.
Alphonse’s work has helped to raise awareness of the Dandari Festival and the Raj Gond tribe. She is a true champion of indigenous culture, and her work is helping to ensure that the Dandari Festival continues to thrive for generations to come.
I love telling stories, be it through Photography or Filmmaking. With a sense of adventure, and a craving to explore remote tribal places in Telangana, In, 2014 I first visited erstwhile Adilabad, to make a documentary on one of Asia’s most ancient tribes, the “Raj Gonds”. I and my small team trekked to some of the most isolated places there to document the tribal cultures, ancient traditions, and artistic heritage of these tribes. Their way of living has not changed much for many hundred years, although the world around them has changed. One day I remember Diwali was around the corner, and that’s when I stumbled upon this spectacular, centuries-old custom “Gussadi”. It completely fascinated me because of its enchantment, mythical history, and biting satire. For the very first time, I saw the Gussards performing the dance of the Gods. The rhythmic and robust movements with the accompaniment of the tribal music were mesmerizing, not just making it an exquisite sight to watch but also moving me from within. That’s when I decided that I must tell these stories, my journey started then and I had been blessed with amazing like-minded people joining me, in making this dream come true. It was such a privilege to photograph and record them, I resonated a phenomenal connection with these tribes, their ceremonies, traditions, culture, and everything around the nature they live in. I knew where we were heading and here we are today with this wonderful culmination of an exhaustive 6-years of research and hard work in the form of this book – Gussadi – Celebration of Being God! because in these years I could clearly understand that it was not just a tribal dance it’s a custom, a tradition which they follow sacredly.
When I finished my Documentary, the idea of a Coffee Table book dawned on me, a book that will speak for itself, “an aesthetic photographic document”. As a book, it would be like a window into their mystic world, the outside world could see what I was seeing, and through this body of work, I want to ensure that the legacy of Gussadi and its ancient traditions is preserved in these photographs and stories for future generations, because in these 6 years, I witnessed urbanization in their cultural lifestyles and geography, if they are not documented and preserved, then there is a huge loss of traditional insights.
So, I am really grateful and glad that we made this book! it is the first of its kind on Gussadi
These photographs are for the people in these photographs. I want them to see it and feel proud of who they are and what their true identity is so that the future generations of this tribe and students across the world can access and learn from the wonders of these tribes and their traditions.
Jennifer dedicated the book to the Masai Mara tribes
Right from my childhood I was totally fascinated by the Maasai tribe, I used to watch a lot of documentaries about them on the National geographic channel, their way of living, their culture, their traditions, totally fascinated me. Even I wanted to grow up and document tribes from my own land, and I did it. My first (coffee table book) a photo documentation on Gond tribes from my own state of Telangana – “Gussadi – Celebration of being God!” published and sold on Amazon. It was an emotional moment for me to gift my first book to the Maasai tribe, who I have always looked up to. It’s a token of gratitude for inspiring millions of people like me across the globe and help us do our bit in preserving these ancient tribal cultures for the coming generations.
They gave me a warm welcome and then I gifted my Book to the village chief. They took pride in showing their way of life and we discussed the similarities in both the tribal cultures.
It was a dream come true for me to have had this opportunity to meet this tribe and spend so much valuable time with them.
The Dandari Festival is a unique and important festival for the Raj Gond people of Telangana. It is a time for celebration, community, and cultural expression. Jennifer Alphonse’s research has helped to shed light on this fascinating festival and its significance to the Raj Gond tribe.