Dance is a form of expression. With movement, rhythm and energy a dance can be one of the best mediums of communicating both happiness and sadness. Its vitality and vibrancy transcends and flows seamlessly from the dancer to the audience, from the doer do the watcher and creates an atmosphere of musical trance.
India is a land of many classical dances. Each has a structure, style, costume and is deeply influenced by tradition and heritage. On the other hand, a lighter mode of dance is folk dances. Every region or state has its own folk dance whose origins and styles may not be scripted anywhere, nor do they acquire an almost divine undertaking. They are more about the occasion, an almost instantaneous emotion of celebration. Mostly performed in groups, it is hence a platform for bringing together people of the same village or area on occasions that matter to each other. This coming together of the community is the biggest highlight of folk dances, where though there is a definite style, costume and both regional and language commonality, there is also a strong social and cultural undertone that signifies and stresses on the facets of brotherhood and societal bonding.
Purpose & practice of Indian Folk Dances
Folk dances are usually associated with festivals or special occasions, such as birth, marriage etc. These are hence, usually more personal in nature, with the immediate and close community finding happiness in each other’s company and enthusiastically celebrating together. Because the folk dances are associated with festivals or social happenings, their lyrics and style fits the occasion. The songs are about harvest or weddings or birth etc. which resonate with the occasion. They usually are not too philosophical or rooted in scriptures and spirituality as seen in the Classical Indian Dances.
However, this doesn’t mean that folk dances are just ad hoc, instant melodies. These require practice, coordination, sync and understanding of the culture of the region. Folk dances also have specific costumes, sometimes even props and a distinct style of their own. They are also usually passed from one generation to another, or in other words, children grow up watching their community and village members perform the dances and get acquainted and attuned to them naturally. This also means that the dances are open to undergo subtle changes and variations with time and keep acquiring a modern element hence keeping them updated and in tandem with the current emotions of our times.
In fact, to break up the understanding of folk dances further, we can categorize them as cultural dances, social dances, warrior dances and seasonal dances. Each of these can be defined as one or the other purpose of the folk dances.
Folk Dances of North India
There are a number of folk dances throughout the country and thus dividing them into the northern, northeast, central and southern folk dances will give us a chance for a more detailed and varied understanding.
When we look at north India, the states that come to mind include Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jammu Kashmir and Haryana. There are various folk dances that are seen around these states of north India, and some even transcend state boundaries to integrate with the culture of the neighboring states. This is of course, extremely natural, looking at the almost similar cultural and societal dependencies of the people across states that are in proximity to each other.
Dumhal – Jammu and Kashmir
Dumhal is the most popular folk dance of Kashmir. Men with conical caps and colorful robes perform this folk dance with a drum and singing. The dance is conducted on set locations as the men carry a banner around which the dance begins. The other folk dance of Kashmir is the Rauf that is performed by the women of the valley and usually occurs during the spring season.
Nati – Himachal Pradesh
From the land of Himachal come various folk dances, such as the Nati which is also the largest folk dance. Hikat performed by women while they hold each other’s waist to move round and round and the Namagen danced by both men and women are other folk dances of Himachal. In fact, Himachal has quite a lot of folk dances that differ from region to region and are known by different names too. The Gaddis with colorful woolen costumes and the Charba during Dussehra are other dances of the region. Some of the folk dances are similar for Himachal and Uttar Pradesh, such as the Doms, Dhurang and the Bhotiyas.
Mayur Nritya and Rasleela – Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand
The Mayur Nritya and Rasleela are related to the stories of Lord Krishna and Radha. However, the other folk dances include Hurka Baul during maize and paddy cultivation, Chholiya from Kumaon region is performed during marriages and the Jhumeila and Chaunfla dances from Garhwal region.
Dhamyal – Haryana
The Dhamyal also known as Dhup is a popular folk dance of Haryana. Men or women alone can perform it. The Dhup is the drum that is played in the center of the dance. Lahoor is performed by women and is a question answer lyrical dance form, Saang, Ragini, Ghoomar, Jhoomar, Khoria and Rasleela are other folk dance forms performed here.
Bhangra – Punjab
The Bhangra is the face of folk dance in Punjab. Identified by its typical steps, style and costume bhangra is the quintessential folk dance that is associated with all things happy, loud and musical. The other folk dances of Punjab are Gidha performed by women, Luddi, Jalli and Jhoomer.
Gambhira – West Bengal
The many folk dances of West Bengal include the Alkap also practiced in the rural areas of Jharkand. Domni, Gambhira, Jhumair and the popular Dhunachi performed during Durga Puja are some of West Bengal’s best folk dances.
Bideshiya – Bihar/Chhattisgarh
Some of the folk dances of Bihar are Bideshiya, Fagua performed during Holi, Jhumri, Jhijhian, Jat-Jatin, the popular Bhojpuri Kajaria and Sohar celebrated during child birth. Chhattisgarh’s Raut Nacha and Rasleela both worship Lord Krishna.
Chhau dance – Odisha/Jharkhand
The best known folk dances of Odisha include the Chhau dance, Goti Puas who are boys dressed as girls, the Tiger Dance or Baagh Nach where the male dancers paint their bodies as tigers. The Dalkhai is performed during Dussehra, the Dhap that is also performed during marriage ceremonies, Ghumra which was originally performed during wars to encourage soldiers and Karma Nach to please the deity. The other dances of Odisha are Jhumair, Keisabadi and the Odishi Nrutya dedicated to Lord Jagannath.
Jhumar – Jharkhand
Jharkhand is also a region replete with folk dances, such as the Jhumar, Domkach, Chhau dance, Fagua, Santali dance, Mundari dance and more.
The long list of folk dances in India is not enough to fit in a single article. Let us discover the folk dances of the Northeast, central and southern India in the forthcoming parts of the continuing series.