Glimpses of the Dashavatar, a popular art form from Maharashtra's Sindhudurg district.
India, they say, is home to over 330 million gods and goddesses. From family gods to village gods to gods with multiple avatars, they are all worshipped with equal fervour.
Perhaps, the most popular God in this pantheon is Vishnu, also considered the preserver of the universe.
In his role as preserver, Vishnu is believed to have come down to earth at various times to destroy evil and defend mankind.
These avatars of Vishnu are celebrated in various ways.
In the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra's Konkan region -- which is well known for the sea-facing fort that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj built in 1656 -- Vishnu's 10 avatars are celebrated through an art form called the Dashavatar.
The Dashavatar is performed under the open sky or in a small pandal after the hectic harvesting season. There is generally no backdrop or a formal stage or a set for the performance, which starts at midnight and ends early in the morning.
The ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu -- which are collectively known as the Dashavtar -- are:
1. Matsya (the fish)
2. Kurma (the turtle)
3. Varaha (the boar)
4. Narasimha (half-man, half-lion)
5. Vamana (the dwarf Brahman)
6. Parshurama (the warrior sage)
7. Rama (the king of Ayodhya)
8. Krishna (the king of Dwaraka, who gifted the Bhagwad Gita to the world)
9. Buddha (the king who became a sage and began a new religion)
10. Kalki (the destroyer of evil, who is expected to appear at the end of the Kalyug).
Sanjay Sawant/Rediff.com and his camera take you backstage, to show how how the artistes prepare for their performance.
This is not a simple cane box; it's the inspiration for every Dashavatar performer.
There is no make-up department here; the artistes carry what they need in a little plastic box and do the make-up themselves.
Women are not allowed onstage. All female roles are played by male artistes.
The green room is open air as well -- just a few mats spread over a plastic sheet.
This actor is preparing to play the Goddess Kali.
Goddess Kali, just before she goes on stage.
Between performances, the artistes take a break and refresh themselves with a hot cup of tea.
Curious children pose with the artistes for keepsake pictures.
The audience sits up all night, enjoying the performance.
Everybody makes it for the show; it's a night out they all enjoy.
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Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/Rediff.com