The Banamala are a caste group speci fc to Bhaktapur who are responsible for gardening and selling fowers. According to oral traditions, Nawa Durga goddesses endowed the Banamala with the honour of becoming ritual dancers.
Bal Krishna Banamala started performing the Nawa Durga dance at age seven. He lives a dual life: one of an ordinary man who studied painting and another of a sacred dance practitioner. In his art, he raises the issue of being tied to tradition as a result of being born into the Banamala caste. This precluded him from having a “normal” life and education. Knowing the barriers that his community’s young members face, as well as the economic and physical hardships they endure as adults, he now advocates for more balance. In a society strati fed by casteism, the interests of subordinate identities get undermined more often than not. Through his performance and profession as an artist, he has developed a strong conviction towards rede fning the identity and status of these ritual masked dancers, starting with his own.
Orchestrated throughout the year based on the Newa lunar calendar, the Nawa Durga festival brings together the entire city of Bhaktapur. The annual festival is controlled by the main Nawa Durga dya-chen (godhouse). In their divine forms, the dancers perform in the city’s squares, transforming these sites into liminal spaces where sacred and mundane elements collide.