nestinari dances

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Nestinari Dances

Nestinari DancesNestinarstvo

Nestinarstvo is a fire ritual originally performed in severalBulgarian- andGreek-speaking villages in the Strandzha Mountainsclose to theBlack Seacoast in the very southeast ofBulgaria.It involves abarefoot danceon smouldering embers performed bynestinari. It is usually performed on the square of the village in front of the whole population on the day of Sts. Constantine and Helen or the day of the village's patron saint. The ritual is a unique mixture ofEastern Orthodoxbeliefs and older pagan traditions from the Strandzha Mountains.

Traditionally, the right to perform the ritual would be hereditary and the headnestinarmay be succeeded only by his or her son or daughter, and only when he or she is too old or ill to continue performing it. The headnestinar's house is sacred, because it houses thestolnina a small chapel where icons of several saints are arranged, as well as a sacred drum used specifically for the ritual and believed to cure the drummer if he is ill.Nestinar tradition

On the day of the ritual the villagers would go to thestolninaled by the headnestinarand the priest, where they would watch himthurifythe icons and the othernestinari, symbolically transferring spiritual power and inspiration to them. The people would then head to a holy spring carrying the name of the saint, where they would eat an offering ofmutton.After sunset, the crowd would build up a large fire and would dance ahoro(a traditional round dance) until the fire dies and only embers remain. TheNestinari's barefoot dance on embers that follows as the climax of the night is accompanied by the beat of the sacred drum and the sound of a bagpipe. It is popularly thought that some of the dancers reach a religious state of trance while dancing, explaining why their feet don't burn and they allegedly don't feel pain.


TourismIn the 20th and 21st century the ritual became largely commercialized and is now performed for the foreign tourists all over the seaside resorts of theBulgarian Black Sea Coastby people who have little to do with the original tradition. A few Bulgarians still perform the ritual in its more authentic form in the villages of Strandzha.The ritual is also preserved among the population of several villages in northernGreece, which once lived together with the Bulgarians in the interior of theStrandzha Mountains, but moved to Greece after the Balkan Wars.

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