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India being an agriculture dependent country, harvesting time is the most significant event and time for celebrations. Most of the regions have their unique way of celebrating harvest time woven in with folk dance traditions. Tusu Dance is one such harvest celebration of West Bengal, the eastern state of India. The folk dance is part of an entire month of festivity called Tusu Parab or Tusu festival. The festival is observed during the Bengali month of Poush, which is month of December and January. The festival culminates on the day of Makar Sankranti, around January 14, with grand fanfare. The Tusu Dance of Birbhum district is the most famous. It is also performed in Purulia, Bankura, Mednipura, Sundarbans and some other regions of West Bengal.

Significance of Tusu Dance

Tusu dance is mainly performed by unmarried women and also young boys at some places. It is performed to worship Goddess Tusu, considered as goddess of fertility. According to folklore, the goddess is named after a girl named Tusumoni, who had sacrificed her life for love of the local people. Goddess Tusu is revered by unmarried women for getting a good groom and happiness in their marriages.

The goddess is represented by small clay figures made of cow dung or mud. The figure is kept in the households and treated as a family member through out the month, much like West Bengal’s most popular festival of Durga Puja. The deity is offered simple rice delicacies as mark of reverence.

Through out the month of Tusu Parab, women sit around it and sing beautiful traditional songs and perform the dance.

Traditions of the Tusu Dance

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On the last day of the month on Makar Sankranti, the village women take out a procession and go to nearby water source or river with the clay figurines. Young women perform the Tusu dance with much fiesta during this procession. They dress up in colourful traditional sarees and deck up their hair with flowers. In Sunderbans, the native tribal women deck up their hair with feathers and adorn themselves with intricate tribal jewelleries.

In some villages they build a ‘Chaudal’ a rectangle structure made of bamboos and coloured papers, in which the goddess is carried to the water sources, usually made by virgin girls. The dancers are made to take bath in the river before the performance. The women, who take part in Tusu also fast the day before the final festivities.

bengal dance photo

Photo by Dipanker Dutta

In some places even men perform during the procession and it is called ‘Bhaduriya Saila’. Young women and men dance in circles in traditional steps accompanied by enriching folk songs. Men are to dance in clockwise direction while women do the same in anticlockwise direction. The dance is simple, yet a graceful affair done without accompaniment of any musical instrument. The words of the Tusu songs are mainly in praise of the goddess, about the village women’s life and about fertility of the land.

There is much fanfare in the villages when they celebrate the Tusu dance on the day of Makar Sankranti.  Crowds gather to cheer the girls and boys performing the traditional dance, creating a festive atmosphere. At the end of the celebration, the goddess, made out of the cow-dung or mud is then immersed respectfully into the water source.

When to go and How to reach for Tusu Parab Festivities

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Tusu Parab is a month long affair, but if you want to see the most extravagant celebration it is best to go on the day of Makar Sakranti, which is January 14th, every year. Since, the Tusu dance is performed in many regions of West Bengal, one can go to any district. However, the Tusu dances of Purulia and Birbhum districts are very famous and one can get the true local feel here. It is very easy to reach any of the districts from Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal using public transport or hiring a private cab.

Tusu: West Bengal’s Very Own Folk Dance

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