The word "Paika" is derived from the Sanskrit word "Padatika" meaning the infantry, and hence the name of the dance battle ('Paika') dance ('Nrutya'). In olden days the powerful 'Ganga' and 'Gajapati' rulers of Orissa extended their territory from the river Ganges in the north to Godavari in the south with the help of a vast army of valiant 'Paikas'.
They were not in the regular pay-role of the army, but received huge land grants from the kings and the chieftains. They formed the rank of a peasant-militia. Though agriculture was their main occupation they used to keep themselves prepared by regular practice and training in war techniques. Several village-groups were under the command of a "Dala Behera" or group-commander.
A Dance Of Vigour & Valour
Most of the Paika villages of Orissa, spread all over the state have maintained the older tradition of "Paika Akhada" - the village gymnasium where young people assemble in the evening after the day's work. Along with traditional physical exercises, they dance with sword and shield in hand to the accompaniment of the country-drum. The primary aim of this dance was the development of physical excitement and consequently courage, in the dancing warriors. In ancient times this was unconsciously a rehearsal of battle.
During Dussera all the 'Akhadas' celebrate their annual festival. In several prosperous villages display of traditional gymnastics, acrobatics and the dance by various village-groups are arranged on competitive basis. Each group participates with great enthusiasm. For all such display special grounds are prepared with soft earth sprinkled with oil and water.
A Similarity With Chhau
The tradition of this dance carried throughout the contiguous tribal belt of Mayurbhanj. Seraikela and Purulia, with free imbibitions of music and dances of the area have developed into a magnificent dance-style of Indian called 'Chhau'. It is so called because in Oriya it means 'Guarilia war' or 'to pounce upon the enemy stealthily'. The other relative words are 'Chhauni' (Armour for the chest), 'Chheuka', that hunts stealthily (called of cats and dogs), 'Chhau Mariba', to take a vault etc.