Bhangra is a traditional and the most popular folk dance of Punjab. It is both the folk dance form and the folk music that originated in the Majha area of Punjab. This dance form is extremely energetic and full of life. It is usually performed by Punjabi farmers during the Vaisakhi season that celebrates the harvest. It was for the most part performed while the farmers did the agricultural tasks. They would do the Bhangra on the spot as they carried out each task and did their farming activity so that, they could finish their jobs and chores in a pleasurable and fun way. Once they harvested their wheat crops, they used to attend cultural festivals and perform Bhangra to demonstrate and exhibit a sense of accomplishment and also to welcome the new harvesting season.
The dance form represents the liveliness and the enthusiasm of the people and it involves both men and women, dancing to the fast and rapid beats of the drum and music.
The History and Origin of Bhangra
Although the origins of the traditional folk dance form, Bhangra are tentative and uncertain, it is said to have originated in the 14th or 15th century by the Punjabi farmers to celebrate the harvesting season. However, the folk dance of Majha originated in Sialkot, Pakistan. The historical records around the late 1800s show the first mentions of Bhangra as a dance. The present style of the Bhangra dance form formed in the 1940s and it has been evolving since then. Bhangra uses an instrument Dhol which gives large beats and rhythm. Short sets of lyrics describe scenes or stories from Punjab through boliyan.
These lyrics generally are based on the themes of love, strength, patriotism, and celebration.
Bhangra started to gain popularity worldwide in the mid 20th century and it emerged as a regular element of celebrations like weddings, functions, birthday parties, local events, etc. The folk dance spread beyond Punjab and is now performed mostly on all the celebrations and is also included in popular music and DJs, competitions, school dance programs, and even exercise.
Free Form Traditional Bhangra
In 1953, the Maharaja of Patiala requested a stage performance of Bhangra and he patronized it. This is how, the 1950s saw the growth of the free form of traditional Bhangra in Punjab, India. A dance troupe led by brothers from the Deepak family of Sunam, Punjab (Manohar, Avtar and Gurbachan) and Bhana Ram Sunami, the dhol player, were the first significant developers and introducers of this style. The stage performances which featured traditional Bhangra moves as well as other Punjabi dance forms like Luddi, Jhummar, Dhamaal, and Gham Luddi, developed the free form of traditional Bhangra.
There are many Bhangra competitions help all over India, especially in Punjab for several decades. This dance form symbolizes the imagination, potential, talent, and charisma of the people performing it.
Bhangra has been established all over the world and is performed by both men and women. It takes place mainly in the Punjabi culture and people nowadays tend to perform and exhibit it as a source of joy and entertainment at weddings, functions, events, parties, and all types of celebrations. A lot of people also do the bhangra as a source of exercise as it is perfect for someone who wants to stay fit and have fun as well.
Nowadays, many colleges, universities, and community clubs have started their bhangra groups which include men and women from various backgrounds. There are bhangra clubs for the younger children so that they can learn the dance form, stay fit and stay connected to the culture of bhangra and the culture of Punjab and India. The very first woman who created the bhangra fitness workout was Sarina Jain. Her bhangra fitness workout is now known as the Masala Bhangra Workout. Her workout has taught a lot of people all over the world, some basic steps associated with the Bhangra dance form. This has helped many people learn the dance form by sitting at their own house.
Bhangra has also made its way to global platforms like America’s Got Talent (AGT) and the London Olympics and even the White House. Raaniyan Di Raunaq is India’s first all-women bhangra competition. It is made only for women and also for those who identify themselves as transgender or nonbinary. This competition is a safe space for women to showcase their talent, compete, and be judged equally. This is because the bhangra dance form is dominated by men, even though there is an abundance of female performers. Still, many people look at this dance form as only masculine.
The Instruments and Props Used in Bhangra
Dhol is the most famous instrument in Bhangra. It is a double-sided barrel drum and it creates the beat to which Bhangra is danced. The Dholi is the person who plays the Dhol. She/he plays various beats and creates different Bhangra segments like Dhamaal and Jhummar. Dhol’s one side is thicker and the other side is thinner. The thicker skin creates a deeper sound while the thinner side creates a higher-pitched sound. Two sticks, usually made of wood or bamboo, are used to play the dhol. The thicker stick, known as dagga, is used to play the base side whereas the thinner stick, known as the tilli, is used to play the treble side.
Algozey is two wooden flutes played simultaneously by the artist using three fingers on each side. The music created is more rhythmic than melodious. A small stringed instrument, tumbi, consists of a small wooden stick attached to a hollow, gourd-like shell to create its acoustics. It has an only string that is plucked continuously to create a rhythm.
The Chimta is like a large pair of metallic tongs. Each side of the tongs has bells attached to it that when struck together, ring loudly. The one who plays the Chimta can either accompany other instrumentalists or can even dance with other dancers while playing the instrument at the same time.
The Dhad is a much smaller, double-sided, high-pitched drum. Its body is like an hourglass and one can only beat one of its sides with their hand. The other hand squeezes a cord around the middle of the instrument that controls the pitch of the sound as it is being played.
Saaps or Shikke
These are wooden instruments consisting of small X-shaped parts that expand and contract. These instruments are used by the dancers. As one uses both their hands to play the instrument, it produces a loud clapping sound that is meant to sound like thunder. There is also a long, heavy, decorated stick and it is used in numerous ways by the dancers.
The Bhangra outfits are very vivid, bright, and colorful. The style of clothing for both men and women is different when doing Bhangra. However, both of their clothes have similar colors and fabrics. There is variety in a color scheme. Sometimes, the clothes of the men and women don’t match in the group and sometimes, the top wear is in a completely different color from the bottom wear. Even if the performers wear different colors, their dance will be very vibrant and lively.
The traditional Bhangra costume includes men wearing long silk-buttoned shirts, also known as a kurta which is loose to wear, and lungi or tehmat that is a decorated cloth tied around their waist and jugi – a waistcoat with no buttons. The men wear a turban (pudgee) with torla – a fan-like thing that can carry a rummal – colorful scarves tied onto the fingers. The Jugi is one of the most heavily embroidered elements in the entire outfit.
The Bhangra outfit for women includes a Ghagra – a long skirt and colorful veils known as Dupattas. They wear a kameez which is a type of shirt and sometimes salwar which is loose-fitting pants. With a tikka on the forehead, they wear jhumka – long earrings with Paranda – tassles worn in the braid and Suggi-Phul, a type of jewelry worn on the head. They also wear a Baazu-Band that is a cloth worn around the upper arm and Haar – Hamela, a gold necklace studded with gems, and finally, Pazaibs that are anklets. The overall attire for both men and women is very vibrant, bright, and attractive.