Its only after 28 years of being connected to Mangalore, I finally got to see a Dakke Bali last weekend. I had not heard much about it before, which I consider negligence on my part to ignore the cultural heritage of my hometown.
What is Dakke Balli?
An elaborate form of serpent worship, unique to Tulu Nadu. There is a distinct form of dance associated with it that is akin to yakshagana. It is performed only by a group of people who call themselves Vaidyas. The ritual starts at night and continues till dawn.
Where does it happen?
At Padoobidir, Near Mangalore. Once in two years (Year when there is no Pariyaya at Udupi) and continuously for around 2 months.
My Experience –
When I heard about Dakke Bali from P’s uncle and a possible chance to view it on Feb14th, I did not want to miss it. We were at the venue at around 10:30 PM along with P’s uncle, aunt and cousin. The ritual happens at a place closer to the beach; a certain portion of land around here, since untouched looks like a dense forest. The entire place is decorated with flowers; mainly Pingara (areca tree flowers, considered auspicious to the Serpent God) and several other types to enhance the beauty. The entire place is lit by lamps and only few lanterns with absolutely no artificial lighting. This natural lighting augments the beauty of flower beds to look even more glorious. Photography is strictly prohibited.
There is no temple or shrine but for few Udbhav lingas of local deity Naga Brahma. Uncle tells me that no offerings in any form are accepted here other than the Dake Bali ritual. Unlike in other temples no dakshina of any kind is offered to the shrine or the priest. Every evening the flowers are brought to the venue and from 6 to almost 10:30 the venue is decorated with thousands of flowers.
At 10:45 the first Bali started. Two old men after taking bath in a pond, appear along with few other who play Dakke (Damroo). First, the deity is worshiped and then the two old men (Naga Patris) are now possessed by the Naga Brahma. They trace the path of a man with Dakke called Nagakannike. They also pick fired sticks and show it in several directions pointing to the sky. Uncle explains that he can see other Ganas (Spirits) in those directions.
Both men who acquire the spirit are very old; One in his mid 80’s and other mid 60’s. Their responsibility is not inherited. A genuine, eligible person should replace them approved by Astamangala Prashna (A beautiful form of astrology mix debate form of arriving at root cause of any problems; used mainly in temples) and till date there has been no eligible replacement for this community. The number of patris performing Dakke Bali has now reduced from 9 to only 2.
At 12:30 the first session is over and we are offered Pingara from the Patris themselves. Next there is a break till 3:30 AM. We try to catch some sleep after choosing a best spot for the next ritual. Some volunteers are drawing mandala (a design similar to Rangoli representing wholeness and life) with mostly natural colors. At 3:45 AM the next Bali starts. Now Nagakanike is dressed royally in traditional silk kurta, kacha and peta. He dances around the mandala in a unique way as he and three other holding damroo sing in praise of lord. The song is similar to that of Yakshagana. Patris take a holy dip in lake and appear again. After pooja the dance around the mandala continues with the Patris, now possessed, follow the nagakanike. They rub Pingara on their face which makes them look like a serpent. The music and dance makes the place more mystic. Dakke Bali and Naga mandala depicts the divine union of male and female snakes.
At 5:00 AM the Bali ends with two patri’s rubbing bundles of pingara on their face. The entire decoration is pulled apart and everything on it, including flowers, tender coconut, fruits are offered to the devotees.
The entire devotional atmosphere created there was amazing. Belief and faith can have no restrictions unless it does not effect someone else. By dawn, like several others, there was different feeling of being part of something magical.