Folk Dances of India

Pandavani (Chhatisgarh) This is popular form of story-telling prevalent among the tribals of the Chhatisgarh which serves as a means of both entertaining and educating the people. Pandavani narrates the story of the five Pandava brothers (protagonists of the epic Mahabharata) and are of two types: Kapilak and Vedamati. A team of Pandavani performers consists of one main narrator-singer and one or two musician-cum-singers, who play on the tabla and the harmonium. The main narrator-singer holds a tambura (stringed musical instrument), decorated with small bells and peacock feathers in one hand and kartal (a pair of cymbals) on the other. Kudiyattam (Kerala) Kudiyattam is one of the earliest of the theatrical arts of Kerala. Kudiyattam presents a full-fledged drama or select portions thereof. Several actors appear on the stage at the same time as in a modern drama. The actor portraying the male characters is known as the Chakiar and one who portrays the female characters is known as the Nangiar. The Nangiar also clangs the cymbals and chants Sanskrit verses which the Chakiar enacts. A feature of Kudiyattam is that there is a Vidushaka or clown who repeats in Malayalam all the Sanskrit verse being uttered by the actors. Chavittu Natakam (Kerala) This interesting art form was evolved by the church, under the guidance of the Portuguese missionaries, as a Christian alternative to the Hindu Kathakali. It presents stories from the lives of Christian saints and the entire history of Christianity. In sharp contrast with Kathakali, the actors in Chavittu Natakam not only speak and sing but also stamp on the wooden platform with their feet to the rhythm of the songs and the beating of drums. The movements of the actors are more lively and vigorous rather than graceful or artistic. Women are not allowed to participate in Chavittu Natakam. Vocal as well as instrumental music play an important place in this art form. Chhau (Bengal/Orissa) The origin of word Chhau is shrouded in mystery. According to some, Chhau might have originated from Chhaya (shadow). Another possibility is that the name sprung from dancing masks (locally known as Chhau) used by the performers of Purulia Chhau. The Chhau dance is native to the eastern parts of India. It probably originated as a martial art, which is why it comprises vigorous movements and leaps. During the 18th and the19th centuries, many of the princely rulers of Orissa evinced a keen interest in the development of this art. They maintained troupes that performed on special occasions and during festivals. In a Chhau performance, the depiction of birds and animals is a distinctive feature; there are also heroic dances with sword, bow or shield, by means of which the dancers demonstrate their dexterity. The themes often revolve around mythological heroes and warriors from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There are three recognized schools or styles of Chhau. Seraikella (Bihar) Chhau flourished under royal patronage. Its vigorous martial character made it suitable only for male dancers. The princes were not only patrons but also dancers, teachers and mask-making experts. The Seraikella masks are similar to those used in the Noh dance of Japan and the Wayang Wong of Java. Purulia (West Bengal) Chhau uses huge, colourful masks, the making of which is a highly developed craft in the region. The barren region, with a mainly tribal population, multi-layered influences of Vedic literature, Hinduism, and martial folk-lore are the influences which have all blended and fused to mould the Purulia Chhau dances, conveying the one and only message - the triumph of good over evil. In Mayurbhanj (Orissa) Chhau dancers do not wear masks. The Mayurbhanj repertoire treasures the highest number of dance items, rarely found in any other dance forms of the world. The solo items include Dandi, Mahadev, Sabar Toka, Nataraj etc while the famous group items are Kirat Arjun, Mayasabari, Tamudia Krishna, Matrupuja, Kelakeluni, Dhajatal, Bainshi Chori, Kailash Leela among others. The presiding deity of Mayurbhanj Chhau is Bhairab (a fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva).The quintessence of Mayurbhanj Chhau, is visual poetry; it is set in a style that is free, intense, tempestuous, yet lyrical. Yakshagana (Karnataka) A native of Karnataka, this theatre form is basically folk but with strong classical overtones. Unlike the stylised costumes and masks of Kathakali, Yakshagana is a true people's theatre, often staged in the paddy fields at night. It revolves around the stories from Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. Although the name literally means: Song of the celestial beings, Yakshagana is more earthy and mundane than fantastic. There is both mystery and robustness about this dance form, in which singing and drum-beats merge with the dancing, and words with gestures. The colourful costumes and the dancers’ contours blend in with the rest of the elements. Kalbelia Dance (Rajasthan) This fascinating dance is performed by the womenfolk hailing from the Kalbelia community, who pursue the centuries-old profession of catching snakes and trading snake venom. Hence, the dance movements and the costumes have an uncanny resemblance to the slithery creatures. The dancers clad in black swirling skirts (with ethnic designs), sway sinuously to the accompaniment of pungi (an ethnic trumpet), dufli and the been – the wood-wind instrument used by the snake charmers. Two or three women sing in a shrill, high-pitched voice, while the others are engrossed in dancing. The combination of vigorous, zestful and perfect movements synchronizing with the enchanting musical is indeed a treat to both eyes and ears. Ghoomar Dance (Rajasthan) This is basically a community dance performed by groups of women on auspicious occasions. The name is derived from the word ghoomna (pirouetting). This dance has simple basic steps where the ladies move gently, gracefully in circles. The Ghoomar is the characteristic dance of the Bhils - a tribal community inhabiting various parts of Rajasthan. Men and women sing alternately and move clockwise and anticlockwise, affording free play to the numerous folds of the swirling ghagras (gathered skirts), donned by the women. Bhangra (Punjab) Though the historians of culture opine that the dance may have originated at the time of the wars with Alexander, no one is sure whether it existed until about five hundred years ago. It has come to light that during the 14th and 15th centuries, the farmers in Punjab danced and sang songs about village life while working in the fields. Gradually it became part of harvest as well as New Year celebrations (Baisakhi, April 13). Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance. While performing Bhangra, people sing Boliyaan (lyrics or couplets) in the Punjabi language. Some of the dancers play the dhol (a large drum), beating it with a stick while others play the flute and dholak (a smaller drum).Bhangra eventually became a part of social occasions including weddings. Giddha (Punjab) This dance form has its roots in the Punjab region, now split up between India and Pakistan. It is a folk dance performed by women and girls and is considered to be the female counterpart of Bhangra. As a part of the dance, women of all ages form a circle, clapping their hands and sing small couplets. Two or three women come to the centre and dance vigorously while responding to these couplets. The embroidered dupattas (stoles) and the chunky jewellery of the participants further enhance the tempo of the dance Raibenshe (Bengal) Among the various martial dances of Bengal the Raibenshe folk dances are remarkable for their expression of military energy and discipline and the atmosphere of martial excitement they create. The vigorous and manly movements of the body, together with the stirring notes of the drum, incite courage and daring. They afford a significant reminder that Bengalis, now believed to be a non-martial race, were once renowned for their military prowess. This dance was performed by a low-caste community of Bengal called Bagdis, who were professional guardsmen of the erstwhile feudal lords of Bengal, and were trained in the use of sticks, staves, daggers, short swords, This dance displayed the acrobatics of a quarterstaff master- (raibansh, a long wooden staff) made with bamboo. Bihu (Assam) It is the most widespread folk dance of Assam and is enjoyed by the old and the young alike. The dance performed on the occasion of the month-long Bihu festival that comes in mid-April, when the harvesting of crops is over.The participants are young men and women, who gather in the open, in the daytime and dance together in circles or parallel rows. Placing their hands on the small of their backs, the dancers move their shoulders backwards and forwards, while swaying from side to side. The dance is supported by drums and pipes. Intermittently, the dancers sing, usually of love. Bihu demonstrates the soul of the Assamese at its richest. Jhumur (Bengal) The dance gets its name from the cluster of bells worn round the ankles, which make a clanging noise.There are many variations of Jhumur. This dance is some times performed as a ritual worship of gods and goddesses, sometimes for courting and lovemaking, and yet again as a prayer for rainfall. This dance incorporates songs and dialogues, which depict the joys and sorrows, yearning and aspirations of the everyday lives of the common people. It is believed that Jhumur was originally a means of recreation between phases of tedious agricultural work. This dance form has also been adopted by the Santhals. Probably the most entertaining form of Jhumur is the Bhaduria, performed as thanksgiving for a bountiful monsoon. Losar Shona Chuksam (Himachal Pradesh) Performed on the occasion of Losar (Tibetan New Year) this is basically an agricultural festival dance performed by the local people of Kinnaur valley; in this dance the movements depict all kinds of agricultural activities from sowing to the reaping of ogla (barley) and phaphar (a local grain). Naati (Himachal Pradesh) Performed by the inhabitants of Kullu district, this dance is immensely popular. The menfolk clad in swirling tunics, churidaars, sashes and colourful caps link their hands and move in step to varying rhythms, dancing for hours on end. This dance has now been modified so that women can take part in it too. The musical instruments accompanying these dances include damane (a huge bowl shaped drum played with two drumstricks), anga, dhol (a large drum slung across the neck, rests on the chest and played with two thin sticks), dholak (hand drum), karnal (clappers), khanjiri (tambourine) and jhanja (large cymbals). Bhotiya Dance (Uttaranchaal) This dance is performed by Bhotia (a mongoloid race with the majority living in Bhutan) community living in this area and is connected with their death and funeral ceremonies. These people believed that the soul of a dear departed resides in the body of a goat or sheep, and it can be liberated by means of dancing. Chiraw (Mizoram) A highly colourful dance from the north-eastern state of Mizoram, it employs a grid of bamboo poles in its performance. The dancers move by stepping alternately in and out of the pairs of horizontal bamboos, held against the ground, by people sitting on either side, facing each other, who tap the bamboos open and closed in rhythmic beats. The bamboos when clapped produce a sharp sound which provides the rhythm of the dance. The dancers step in and out of the squares formed by the bamboos with ease and grace. The pattern and stepping of the dance resemble the movements of birds, swaying of trees and so forth. Gaur Dance (Madhya Pradesh) The most popular among the Madhya Pradesh dances are associated with the Bastar district, which has a predominantly tribal population.The Gaur dance of the Sing Marias or Tallaguda Marias (bison-horn Marias) inhabiting south Bastar is a spectacular dance, depicting the hunting spirit of the tribe. The word 'Gaur' means a ferocious bison. The call for a dance is given by sounding a bamboo trumpet or a horn. Wearing head-dresses decorated with strings of cowrie shells and plumes of peacocks, menfolk equipped with flutes and drums assemble at the dance venue. Women adorned with brass fillets and bead necklaces over their tattooed bodies soon join the assembly. They carry dancing sticks (Tirududi) in their right hands which they tap to match the drum-beats. They dance in groups besides the menfolk. The men with drums usually move in a circle and create a variety of dancing patterns as the dancing gathers momentum. As a part of the dance they attack one another and even chase the female dancers. This dance incorporates the movements of a bison namely charging, tossing of horns, hurling wisps of grass into the air, to name a few. Dhimsa (Andhra Pradesh) This dance is popular among the members of Valmiki, Bagata, Khond and Kotia tribes inhabiting the Araku Valley region of Vishakhapatam, in Andhra Pradesh. It is generally performed in local fairs and festivals of the area. Women attired in tribal dresses, finery and ornaments dance form a chain dance to the beat of typical tribal instruments like Mori, Thudum and Dappu which are played by the menfolk. There exist eight different categories of Dhimsa. For instance, in Gunderi/Usku Dimsa a male dancer while singing sends invitations to the females to dance with him. Thereafter, the male and female with firm steps move forward and backwards, while standing in a circle. Potar Tola Dimsa depicts the picking up leaves. Half of the dancers stand side by side in a row, while the rest stand behind in same manner, keeping their hands on shoulders of dancers in the front row. Turning their heads to right and left the two rows march forward and backward. Bhag Dimsa demonstrates the art of escaping a tiger’s attack. Half of the dancers form a circle holding hands. They stand on their toes, bowing and raising their heads. Moving round swiftly, the rest of the dancers enter the circle and form a serpentine coil.This is repeated several times. The Dhimsa dances by and large conform to the rhythm of either Aditala (8-beat cycle) or Rupakatala (a seven-beat cycle that is subdivided into 3+2+2).Tala literallay means a rhythmical pattern that determines the rhythmical structure of a composition.