Folk dance has been a favourite pastime of the Punjabis since the earliest times. Evidence of developed form of dance in ancient period is, in fact, an indirect evidence of prevalence of folk dances because sophisticated dance has always evolved out of the folk dances of an area and folk dances always continue in their own way even in the presence of cultivated forms. Description of Hall-i-Saka in Harivansa Purana is an extremely significant evidence of the folk dance tradition of the ancient Punjab. Division of dance into desi, margi, lokdharmi, and natyadharmi clearly indicates that folk dances existed in abundance in good old days as desi and lokdharmi refer to nothing but folk dances which remained in vogue along with classical dance forms. The extant dance forms in Punjab around the time of partition fall in two main categories:
- Professionals were engaged by the rich who did not dance themselves and they rather, looked down upon dancing as a pastime and occupation of the lower rung of the society. The rich, however, always patronised and encouraged the artistes with liberal offerings. Among the dances of the professionals was that of the dancing girl engaged by the people of upper strata in towns and villages at marriages and other festive occasions. Jalsa i.e. singing and dancing at nights in torch-light by boys dressed as girls was another popular entertainment. Mirasi was an all-round artiste who performed rough dances along with mimicry, pantomimes and singing. Dances of eunuchs and puppet dances are the other dance forms adopted by professional performers.
- The labouring class, peasants with no or small land holdings and religious sects kept the tradition of folk dancing alive in abundance and in genuine vitality. Folk dances of Punjab may be put into two categories as under, one for females and other for males, as there are no dances in Punjab danced by men and women together.
Female Folk Dances
Gidha has been popular in the whole of Punjab particularly in Majha, Malwa, and Doaba areas. Consisting mainly of clapping, enacting a situation and graceful dancing movements it continues to be extremely popular in the eastern Punjab.
Gidha is also danced by men in Malwa area of the eastern Punjab.
Khalla is the name given to a form of Gidha popular in the western Punjab. Particular Khalla movement is clapping by the two dancers with each others’ hands while making foot movements facing each other.
Pharuha is the fast from of Gidha popularly known in Malwa area. As the dance reaches its high pitch the dancers usually cover their faces with dupattas and produce a fricative sound of phoo phoo with their sucked-in lips. This particular sound made to the rhythm of the dance, too, is known as Pharuha.
Luddi is extremely popular dance of women in the western Punjab, it is a circular dance with graceful body movements. Dance of joy and carefree mood, it is accompanied by songs. Luddi of women is not prevalent in the eastern Punjab nor has it been revived, so far.
Sammi another major dance form of the women of western Punjab particularly Sandal Bar area. Danced in moonlight, it is a circular dance accompanied by Sammi songs. However, some migrants from Pakistan particularly Bazigars still dance Sammi in eastern Punjab.
Ghoomar is danced in the western Punjab particularly in Shahpur area and it is also known as Dhris. It is performed in the same style as Jhummir of men but is danced separately.
Kikkli is the dance of young girls. A pair of girls catch hold of hands of each other and fallback stretching their arms. Joining the toes they spin fast as their feet singing the Kikkli songs.
Dhamaal is the trance dance of Hindu women. It is danced to propitiate a goddess or any powerful spirit. Circular movement of the head along with waving of the upper part of the body is the main movement of this dance.
Dandaas is performed by Hindu women as well. It is a stick dance performed separately and also, occasionally, along with men if closely related.
Spera dancing is performed by girls expressing movements of snake to the tune of the instrument of been usually played by yogis or naaths wrapped in their orange robes roaming in Punjab.
Hulle is a dance of festivals and festivities. It is performed to the accompaniment of a folk song, the main lines of which are sung by the lead dancer, each line starts with Hulle hulare and others join her reciting hulle in refrain after every line.
Jaagran is performed in the areas of Punjab adjoining the Jammu region. A dance of family celebrations especially on the occasion of a boy's marriage, it is performed on the lines of the dance of the same name popular among the women-folk of the nearby hills.
Balloh is a popular dance of the Malwa villages and is performed on the last day of the Teej festival. The performers form two rows and keeping their hands clasped and faces towards the other row they sing balloh songs. Positioned at a distance, each of the rows proceeds in rhythmic steps to the other turn by turn. The dance is full of fun and frolic.
Bagarhi women in the areas of Punjab adjoining Rajasthan have their exclusive folk dance which is also popular in Haryana loor amongst its Bagrarhi community.
Male Folk Dances
Bhangra is the best known dance of Punjab. Traditionally regarded as harvest dance, it has been popular with the villagers in Gujranwalla, Gujrat, Shekhupura, Sialkot and Gurdaspur districts. Simple and vigorous, it is the dance of enthusiasm and gaiety. Though previously not much popular in the eastern Punjab it has gained immense popularity here, other parts of India and even abroad after partition.
Bhangra is the best known dance of Punjab.
Jhummir is the popular dance of the western and south-western Punjab from Dera Ismail Khan to Shahpur. Danced in a circle, it consists of footwork, bending, clapping and waving of arms and hands. Forthe most of the part, it is accompanied by Jhummir songs.
Dhamaal is originally the dance of pirs, faquirs, and sadhus. It is a dance of ecstasy believed to have been provided by a good soul entering into the body of the dancer. It is danced at deras, khangahs or during religious functions. Khartaal is the main instrument of accompaniment in this dance. Main movement is that of upper part of the body especially the head. Bhalwani i.e. the dance of wrestlers (bhatwans/pehlwans) is also called Dhamaal.
Akhara or Bhalwani is the dance of wrestling bouts which are always marked by drum beating and dancing movements by the wrestlers before and after the bouts. This dance is also called Dhamaal. It has been very popular in the western Punjab before partition. After partition, this dance of wrestling bouts called Chhinj has not maintained its popularity in the eastern Punjab.
Luddi is the dance traditionally described as a dance of joy performed to celebrate a victory. It consists of no fixed steps or actions and there is no accompanying song. Originally a dance of the north-western part, it has also been popular in the central Punjab. In the eastern Punjab it has not been accepted for an independent dance performance so far.
Jalli is the trance dance of Muslim faquirs who dance at mazars (tombs) along with their chelas (followers). The dance has almost disappeared in Indian Punjab after partition.
Dandaas is the name of the stick dance which has been popular in Hindus of Bahawalpur and Multan areas as also in the north-western Punjab. Each dancer holds two small sticks which are struck against each other, as also against the sticks carried by other dancers. Dancers perform many body actions also, while moving onward in a circle. This dance is also known as Dandkra or Tipri.
Phumnia is actually a folk dance of Jammu area, which consists of movements of making phuman (tassel) with hands during the dance. A particular movement in Sialkoti bhangra for shaking tinklers tied at the waist is also known as Phumnia. A few movements included in Bhangra presentation on stage have been named Phumnia.
Pathania is actually no folk dance of Punjab. It is only a devised movement named after the dance of Pathans and included in Bhangra usually presented on stage in the eastern Punjab after partition.
Hibo is a dance quite similar to Jhummir known in the south-western (Multan) area. In Jhummir, arms and hands are not raised as high as in Hibo. Dance of this name is not known to many people in the eastern Punjab. However, Jhummir, too, is now danced with hands raised above head and can be called Hibo style.
Bagha is the dance consisting of thumping the ground with feet and raising the arms alternately. A circular dance, it is quite popular in the south-western and western Punjab.
Baghi is an important action of dancer when dancers shaking their shoulders vigorously would strike the sides of the chest with upper arms and closed hands placed near the chest. A clapping like sound is produced when the dancer keeps his chest naked. Sudden jumping by the dancers is also called Baghi.
Martial dance is the sword dance which has remained extremely popular in the central Punjab before partition. Two types of fencing actions are popular – Gattka, the swords play and Bhulatha, the wielding of stick. As in Bhalwani the player would take dancing steps before picking up the sword or the stick and would play the sword or the stick to the rhythm of the drum.
Gidha is also danced by men in Malwa area of the eastern Punjab. It consists of body movements singing of bolis and playing of folk instruments together.
Hemri is a variation of Bhangra and is danced by the tribe known as mussalis passing through the streets of villages beating the drum, singing and dancing. One of the male dancers acts as a bhangi (the one under the intoxication of bhang) and a woman acts as a bhangin and they beg for wheat-flour. Later in the evening they cook and share the supper.
Namdhari dance of Namadhari Sikh sect (Kukas) of Punjab is a trance dance of wild movements accompanied by shouting and shrieking. Literal interpretation of the line naach re man gur ke aage (dance thou, O my mind to propitiate thy lord), seems to have served as basis for this dance form. Being a dance of a particular community it could not become popular as a folk dance.
Langoor dance is a communal dance of Hindus danced by young boys in langoor (monkey) make-up in temples of Hanuman to propitiate the deity.
Markat dance is performed before the dead body being carried for burial. This dance has gone almost extinct now.
Suthra dance is the dance of the people who believe in transience of worldly things and live a life of joy and detachment. They would often dance to express their carefree attitude.
Gugga dance is performed by followers of Gugga Pir (snake deity) at places of worship particularly during Gugga festival.
Jangams who are Shiva devotees and can be seen singing to the tinkling of bells and collecting alms from house to house, have dances enacting Shiva episodes.
Jhanj dance is a Hindu trance dance performed in temples to the beat of big cymbals (jhanj).
Muharram dance of Muslims known as sazda toli (group) and taazi, is performed enthusiastically on the occasion of Muharram festival associated with Mohammedan ‘martyrs’ – Hasan and Hussian.
Bharang (the one dressed and dabbed like a joker) dance is also a well known dance of this occasion.
Saal is a dance performed to the accompaniment of procession arranged at the occasion of Saal festival performed annually in the month of October by members of chamar community to propitiate Lord Shiva to protect the cattle of the village and by jheers (watermen) to propitiate Khwaja Khijar, their water deity.
Bhagat is Hindu dance performed during jagraatas, the nightlong singing and dancing performed collectively to propitiate deities usually Devi Maata – one of the seven goddesses.
Chhai consists of dance movements performed by the members of two opposing groups while singing chhai songs which are a type of taunting folk lyrics. The dance movements are performed alternatively by the two groups to create fun and frolic. This dance mostly forms a part of Holi celebrations.
Vaishnav dance is performed by the male members of a peculiar sect of Sikh-Vaishvav combine based in Hoshiarpur district. They perform this dance to please the soul of their guru. The dance, sometimes named Bhangra, has no fixed movements and it is accompanied by singing of specific religious couplets and drum beats.
Bhangra, the famous dance of men in Punjab, being the dance of the central Punjab before partition, enjoyed great popularity. After partition, again it was Bhangra which came to be recognized as the representative male dance of Punjab. Similarly Gidha which has been extremely popular in the central as well as eastern Punjab gained immense popularity on the stage and came to be accepted as representative female dance of Punjab. Another female dance Sammi has also been quite popular.