India has very rich tradition of folk dances in addition to its well-known classical dances. From Kashmir to Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) and from Gujrat to Manipur the whole rural India throbs with varied dance rhythms. There are folk and tribal dances so exclusive to almost each area that sheer spectacle of each of them is fascinating and rewarding. If Kashmiri women dance the ceremonial rouf, West Bengal has its famous Chhau. Bamboo dance of Mizoram would contrast well with Kaikottakali of Kerala. If natives of Pangi in hills dance in seclusion Manipuris have their famous Lai Haroba and Assamese have their Bihu. Natives of Pondicherry dance chindu, a stick dance, and the remote islands of Andaman and Nicobar islands as well Laccadives still have their primitive dances. If Bhangra has come to be known as national dance of Punjab, Gujratis pride over their garba and Tamils have their kuravanji. Karma of Orissa, ghoomar of Rajasthan, Jatra Lujhari of Bihar, jhum of Tripura and koli of Maharashtra are only a few names in the long list of not less than 500 varieties of folk dances of people inhabiting different areas of Indian territory. The geographical, climatic, occupational, social, religious and cultural diversity has produced piquant variety of dance distinct in choreographic patterns, movements, forms, costumes, music and gesture. As Projesh Bannerji puts it, “geographical distances of India can be measured in terms of the various folk dances almost as easily as by the political boundaries which separate the actual states, provinces and districts”. Local varieties of community dances apart, a few common features or styles as mentioned below may, however, be pointed out on close study of the plethora of Indian folk dances:
- Imitating occupational movements cf sowing, harvesting, hunting etc.
- For exorcising good and evil spirits
- Imitating animal and bird movements
- Depicting fight between good and evil through recreation of legendary figures
- To mark festivals connected with changes of season
- To mark social occasions like birth, marriage etc.
- For ceremonial purposes
- Depicting historical episodes
However, Indian folk dances are divided broadly into four categories.
- Community dances
- Tribal dances
- Dances by hereditary professionals
- Dancing in the temples
Punjab and the neighbouring states of pre-partition India had rich traditions in dance as the region represents almost every ecological and geographical variety of the world. The Punjab region of pre-partition days is surrounded by Haryana area in the south-east, Himachal Pradesh in the north-east, Jammu & Kashmir in the north, North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan on the north-west and Sindh and Rajasthan on the south. Punjabi folk dances are, evidently, bound up with the folk dance traditions of these areas.
Tera Tali Dance
Tera Tali is the dance of members of the Kamar tribe. They are the worshippers of Baba Ramdev and perform this dance as a part of rituals to propitiate their deity. Two or three women sit on the ground with manjiras tied to different parts of the body of each of the dancers. Squatting on the ground the women dance while making intricate movements of the upper limbs. The men also accompany the dance to sing to the accompaniment of iktara and manjiras.
Ghumer an extremely virile form is the most popular dance of the Bhils. It is performed in all seasons. Accompanied by songs of love and valour, men and women perform together in a circle, half of which is formed by men and the other half by women. Raika is a mixed martial dance of the Bhils. Men carrying swords and singing invocations are joined by women and they all form a circle. Jhoria is a marriage dance of the Bhils. It is again a mixed dance though men and women form separate circles and dance to the accompaniment of dhol, shehnai and nagara. Gauri is a religious dance-drama of the Bhils.
This dance belongs to the Kalbelia people, the snake charmers of Rajasthan. The Kalbelia women sing and dance while their men play music on been in accompaniment of dholak or daph. The women dancers wear dresses bedecked and embroidered with small colourful beads. The dancers present some snake like swaying and wriggling movements. Shankaria and panihari are their favourite dance forms.
It is popular dance of men in Rajasthan. The dancers stand a circle and perform with sticks in their hands. They form pairs and strike the sticks in pairs at different levels. They change pairs and the circle moves on.
This dance belongs to Ajmer and Kishangarh areas of Rajasthan. The women folk of the Mali caste perform this colourful dance on the occasion of a marriage ceremony or at the time of the birth of a male child. They perform different but dexterous choreographic patterns in many ways, squatting, reclining, jumping with pots on heads while dancing to the rhythm provided by dhol, thali, bankia and manjiras.
The other forms out of the large variety of dances prevalent in Rajasthan include the dance of the Kanjar tribe of Kota and Jhaawar districts, ghoomar of various forms prevalent in different sections of society, valar dance of Garsia tribe, gher of the Mina tribe, geedar of the tribals of Shekhavari area, kachi-ghori from the eastern part of the state and puppet dances.
Dhamal dance is quite popular in the Ahir areas of Gurgaon. After the first long note on been, drums like dhol, tasha, nagara are played to set the beat and the dancers move in. Some of them carry in their hands large daphs edged with frills of brightly coloured fabric while others carry shuntis (medium sized sticks) wrapped in tinsel and tasselled at both ends. The dancers form a circle and dance to a gradually increasing tempo. Their dance consists mainly of jumping movements. The accompanying songs are called dhamaal songs which deal with deeds of valour or romantic tales.
This dance, as the name of the dance suggests, is performed to celebrate spring time in the month of Phagun. This dance, however, prominently marks the colourful festival of Holi. Men begin the dance in a circle enacting the scenes of Holi with gulal and pichkaris. They are joined by women handling koraras. The tempo-goes faster in rhythm.
Ghoomar dance is performed by the girls of the areas along the borders of Rajasthan. It is performed at various festivals like Holi, Gangor, Puja and Teej. Carrying thalis (large plates) with offerings for the rituals of worship at the temple, the girls form semi-circle and resort to singing and clapping. The dancers then form a circle while the tempo of the dance is accelerated. The accompanying songs refer to contemporary events and are full of satire and humour.
Loor is popular in women of the Bangar areas. This dance, too, is related to the Holi festival. It, thus, heralds the spring season and marks the sowing of rabi crops. The accompanying song is generally an arrangement of questions and answers. Dressed in lehngas the dancers divide themselves into two groups. While performing, the dancers hold each other by the waists and move in pairs forming rows and semi-circles.
Other dances of Haryana include khoria which is quite similar to ghoomar and is performed only by women at weddings and festivals, chaupaia which is a devotional dance and is performed by men and women carrying manjiras, deepak dance where men and women carrying earthen lamps express their devotion through night long performance and Gugga which is a ritualistic dance performed by devotees carrying varied musical instruments in processions taken out in memory of Gugga Pir.
This highly popular and famous dance of Kulu is performed at festivals and fairs. The dancers, men and women, attire themselves in the traditional dresses. To perform, they enter making single file separately. They step around performing supple and gliding movements. They form half concentric circles, full concentric circles and inter-locking patterns in the formations known as mala-nafi. As the other dancers pause for a while, two dancers move suddenly into the centre and start brandishing swords making dexterous dance movements. Musical instruments like ransigha, karnal, shehnai, dhol and nagara are used for accompaniment.
Thoda is a dance of archery and marks the Bisu festival which is akin to the Vaisakhi in other states. The players handle the bows and the arrows swiftly in extremely skilful manner to create an illusion of a real battle which symbolizes the inevitable struggle between the good and the evil. The accompanying instruments viz. karnal, ransingha, nagara and dhol are so played as to create a martial impact during the performance. This dance is popular in the areas of Shimla and the upper Mahasu in Himachal Pradesh.
This male dance of the shepherds of Bharmaur in Chamba area district is usually performed at Jatras – the fairs. The performance may last for long hours. The dancers, in their traditional Gaddi dresses, carry small sticks or handkerchiefs and move in a circular pattern. The musical accompaniment is given by playing instruments like nagara, shehnai, dhol and ransingha.
This dance is confined to the women of Chamba area and is performed on the occasion of the Jatras. The dancers stand in a circle and then divide themselves into two groups in order to sing. The tempo is quite low in the beginning but soon the body movements turn into whirling-around in fast pirouettes. The dancers wear their traditional loose shirts as basic garment and gotnus as head cover with dora around the lower waist. The songs of Rani Sui and other love themes are performed as accompaniment of ghurehi dance.
Shiva Badar Nati
This dance belongs to the upper hills of the Mandi region. Men and women perform it together during the fairs and festivals. The dancers, while performing present bold actions of sword fighting and feats of attacking and defending. The female dancer puts on a special type of small round cap which is fixed on the head with braids of the hair. Silver ornaments are very popular with the dancers. A male dancer wears a woollen chola, pyjamas and a pattu in a peculiar way to cover the waist. For musical accompaniment instruments such as nagara, dhol, karnal and ransingha are played.
This is the dance of the lower and plain areas of Himachal Pradesh. It is performed to worship Gugga Pir believed to be the protector of snakes and other animal life. The dancers perform in sheer abandon to invoke the blessings of the deity. They even beat themselves with iron chains and also show feats of swallowing flames.
Other prominent dances of Himachal Pradesh area are natis of different areas; nuala, chaurahi, til-chauli, pangawali, chhinj, ghoraee of the Chamba areas; laldi and nat of Kulu; luddi, mandiali, gidha of Mandi area; the mask and marriage dances of Spiti and Lahaul; birsu, maala, munzara dance of Shimla area; the mask dances of the Lamas; the ritualistic kayang dance, jabro and karloo of Kinnaur area; and pandwa, ras and Holi dances of Bilaspur and Kangra area adjoining Punjab.
Jammu & Kashmir
It is dance of the nomadic people of Tibetan origin living in the high hills of the Changthang area of Ladakh. This community dance is performed by men and women at all festive occasions especially the new year celebrations of Losar. Linking their hands, the dancers out themselves into two rows facing each other. Moving their hands and feet to a slow graceful rhythm, they dance and sing Jabro songs to the musical accompaniment of flute and damian which is a guitar like stringed instrument.
This dance belongs to the Dards, the people of Aryan origin, settled in Dras and Gorkhan areas of Ladakh. These settlers being nomads, are also called Drugpas. The dance opens with a ritual salutation by creating jingling of bangles. The women dancers move in circles and with soft and simple movements of the hands and arms they bring out the meaning of the verse sung during the dance. A big drum called damman and surma are played as musical accompaniment of their dance.
It is the most popular dance in the valley of Kashmir. Restricted only to the women folk, the dance is performed during the harvesting season but the most significant occasion is the month of Ramzan. The girls adorn colourful phirans – Kashmiri cloaks and kasaba – the head gear having a cap and bandage of cloth. They form two row facing each other and each putting her arms around the waist of the next dancer they form a sort of chain on each side. The dance is always performed to the accompaniment of rouf songs which have a variety of themes.
This devotional dance is performed by me in Kashmir to invoke the blessings of the gods. The occasions for the dance are ceremonial ones the most popular being the one when the pilgrims proceed to ziarat. The dancers form a circle around a pole. They start from slow and solemn movements and break into whirls jumps and twisting movements of the torso culminating into a trance. The dancers dress themselves in colourful costumes comprising salwars, long gown type shirts, jackets and turbans with kullah caps. When the dancers perform martial feats with sticks in their hands their dance is called ras dhamali. Big drums and cymbals are played to give musical accompaniment.
This form is folk version of hafiz nagma, a dance meant for the sophisticated and initiated audience. Instead of hafiza, a woman dancer, a boy wearing the costume and jewellery of a woman performs a bacha nagma. He sings and dances to the musical accompaniment of instruments like sarangi, rabab, shehnai, tumbknari, dholak etc. This dance has an immense entertainment appeal for the common masses.
It is a community dance of the middle mountain ranges of Jammu. During the rainy season, when the maize crop is harvested the villagers come down from the nearby hills and gather in the vicinity of the temple of the local deity – the Gramdevta. The farmers dance to express their gratitude for protecting their crops cattle and children from natural calamities. Men, women and children attire their best, gather around a bonfire to join the nightlong festives. The musicians play ransinghas, bansuris, tallis etc and a variety of songs on different themes are sung as accompaniment to the kud dance.
It is an in vocative dance performed to express gratitude to the deity Gagaihl. The villagers dance and pray to the deity to protect their cattle and children from natural calamities. The dance is performed only by the menfolk. They gather at a common place and then, led by a drummer take, the image of the deity out in a procession to place it at some specified sathan (site). There they place the deity and start dancing around it. A drummer gives lead to the group. This dance gives forceful expression to vivacity and gusto of the Dogra people of Jammu region.
Other dances include hikkat, a playful dance of the young boys and girls, jaagran of women folk, a night long performance at bridegroom's house, chhakari which is a solo performance, yak dance and different religious and social dances of inhabitants of Ladakir.