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13 important types of Indian folk dance

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Life in these places continues to be a ritual, and dance is an integral part of it, an expression of physical or emotional exuberance. It is something more than a form of entertainment.

Folk and Tribal dances of India vary according to the region and have no specific grammar. They fit in with the scheme of festivals in each region.

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The diversity in culture and tradition is well reflected in the folk dances. All these dance forms from different states portray some expression of life and almost every dance posture has a specific meaning.

1. Bhangra :

Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance that originates from Punjab. People traditionally performed Bhangra during Baisakhi, while celebrating the harvest.

During Bhangra, people sing Punjabi Boliyaan lyrics and one person plays the dhol drum in the centre of the circle surrounded by men dressed in lungis and turbans.

While Bhangra began as a part of harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and New Year celebrations.

Moreover, during the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion.

The dance performed by the women folk of Punjab is called ‘Giddha’. It is a pleasant dance consisting of singing ‘bolis’ and clapping in a circle.

Two participants leave the circle to recite and perform the ‘boli’ with sheer abandon, while rest remains in the group and sing.

The refrain is 3-4 times, each time to be replaced with another pair who begins with a new boli.

Besides these, there are several other kinds of dances and arts, such as Jhumar, Luddi, fulli, Daankara, Dhamal, Saami, Kikli, and Gatka.

2. Bhortal :

Developed by a Asomese well-known Satriya artist, Narahari Burha Bbakat, Bhortal Nritya is an extension of Sankari culture.

Six to ten dancers equipped with symbols perform this dance and produces a good number of attractive formations displaying the symbols.

The dance can be seen during festive occasions in and around Barpeta and Guwahati regions in the State. Such occasions include harvesting, planting, marriages and religious holidays.

3. Bhavai :

Bhavai is Rajasthan’s famous folk dance comprising of a spectacular performance. This Dance form consists of veiled women dancers balancing upto seven or nine brass pitchers as they dance nimbly, pirouetting and then swaying with the soles of their feet perched on the top of a glass or on the edge of the sword. There is a sense of cutting edge suspense and nail biting acts in the dance.

4. Bihu :

Bihu is the oldest and most important festival of Asom. There are three Bihu festivals in Asom – in the months of Bohaag (Baisakh, the middle of April), Maagh (the middle of January), and Kaati (Kartik, the middle of October).

Each Bihu coincides with a distinctive phase in the farming calendar. The most colourful of the three Bihu festivals is the Spring festival ‘Bohag Bihu’ or ‘Rangali Bihu’ celebrated in the middle of April, which marks the beginning of the agricultural season.

Bihu is also the name given to the most widespread folk dance of Asom enjoyed by all, young and old, rich and poor.

The dance is part of the Bihu festival that comes in mid-April, when harvesting is done, and continues for about a month. It also marks the beginning of the Asomese calendar.

Bihu dance is performed by young boys and girls in the open, though they do not mix with each other.

The whole village participates in the dance as the dancers go from house-to-house. This form of dance is characterized by brisk stepping, flinging and flipping of hands and swaying of hips representing youthful passion.

The performers sometimes sing songs, usually of love. The dance begins in a slow tempo, which gradually quickens as the dance proceeds.

The enthralling beats of ‘dhol’, ‘drum’ and ‘pepa’ (Buffalo hornpipe) accompany the dance. It is mandatory to wear traditional attire like dhoti, gamocha and chadar and mekhala while performing Bihu.

Bihu dance, in its varied form, is also performed during various stages of cultivation and at the advent of new season.

The most common formation is the circle or parallel rows. The Bihu demonstrates, through song and dance, the soul of the Asomese at its richest.

5. Garba :

Garba is a popular folk dance from the State of Gujarat, which depicts the rich tradition of song, dance and drama.

It is a circular dance performed by women around an earthenware pot called a garbo, filled with water.

A betel nut and a silver coin are placed within the pot, called a kumbh, on top of which a coconut is placed.

As the dancers whirl around the pot, a singer and a drummer provide the musical accompaniment. The participants clap in a steady rhythm.

The Garba Nritya is a circular form of dance performed by the women of Gujarat and this dance is performed during Navratri, Sharad Purnima, Vasant Panchami, Holi and other festivals.

The word ‘Garba’ derives its name after a lamp called Garbhadip, which means the lamp inside the earthen pot.

6. Kummi :

Kummi is one of the most important and ancient forms of village dances of Tamil Nadu. It originated when there were no musical instruments, with the participants clapping their hands to keep time.

This is performed by women. Many varieties of Kummi, such as, Poonthatti Kummi, Deepa Kummi, Kulavai Kummi, Kadir Kummi, Mulaipari Kummi, etc., are known.

The women stand in a circle and dance clapping their hands rhythmically. One of the women leads the singing with a favourite song while the rest take up the refrain.

Each performer renders a new line in turn and the dancing stops when all get tired. This dance is usually performed during temple festivals, Pongal, the harvest festival, family functions like the one to celebrate the coming of age (onset of puberty) of the girl-child.

7. Poikkal Kudirai Attam :

Poikkal Kudirai Aattam is the Dummy Horse Dance of Tamil Nadu where the dancer bears the dummi figure of a horse’s body on his/her hips.

This is made of light-weighted materials and the cloth at the sides swings to and fro covering the legs of the dancer.

The dancer dons wooden legs which sound like the hooves of the horse. The dancer brandishes either a sword or a whip.

This folk dance needs much training and skill. This dance is accompanied by Naiyandi melam or Band music.

The dance is mythologically connected to the worship of Ayyanar, and prevails mainly around Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

8. Devarattam :

Devarattam is a pure folk dance still preserved by the descendents of Veerapandiya Kattabomman dynasty at Kodangipatti of Madurai District in Tamil Nadu.

It was actually performed once a year near the temple and that too restricted to that community alone.

Folklore research scholars have found that Devarattam is a combination of ancient ‘muntherkuruvai’ and ‘pintherkuruvai’ of the ancient Tamil Kings.

It was performed in front of and at the chariot on the victorious return of the King and his army from battlefield.

Sometimes even the king and his marshalls would dance on the chariot deck. The soldiers and female dancers would form in lines and dance behind the chariot.

Today, this dance does not have any songs but is only danced to the beat of Urumi Melam, Thappu Melam and sometimes, a long flute. The dancers hold a kerchief in each hand and swing them as they dance. The person leading the dance wears false beard and a mask decorated with shells to look like teeth. He dances the first step, which others follow.

9. Thabal Chongba :

Thabal Chongba is a popular Manipuri folk dance associated with the festival of Holi. The literal meaning of Thabal is ‘moonlight’ and Chongba means ‘dance’, thus ‘dancing in the moonlight’.

Traditionally conservative Manipuri parents did not allow their daughters to go out and meet any young men without their consent.

Thabal Chongba therefore provided the only chance for girls to meet and talk to boys. In earlier times, this dance was performed in the moonlight accompanied by folk songs. The only musical instrument used was a dholakor drum.

It is performed in every locality on all the six days of the festival. Instead of a fire, a hut is built and then set ablaze. The next day, boys go in groups to play gulal with the girls. And in return for playing with them, the girls extract money from the boys.

10. Jatra :

Jatra is a popular form of folk theatre from the Eastern region of India. It is the enactment of a play with a cast and comprises music, dance, acting, singing and dramatic conflict. Earlier, religious values were communicated to the masses through the powerful medium of Jatra.

The origins of Oriya and Bengali Jatra are quite hazy and the historians and literary critics have widely divergent views. Nevertheless, they have drawn attention to the mention of Jatra in the ‘Natyashastra’, the bible on the arts and science of dance.

They have also attributed the beginnings of dramatic presentation in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to Jaydeva’s ‘Geet Govinda’.

Chaitanya (social reformer) and his followers contributed to a reawakening and were responsible for bringing about a national integration in many parts of India at the cultural level at a time when all Indian regions were affected by political and economic devastation.

They were the Creators, the directors of Drama and self-consciously used the vehicle of drama for religio-social purpose.

History owes them the first definite presentation of theatrical spectacle where Chaitanya himself played Rukmini.

This then was perhaps the beginning of the ‘Krisn jatra.’ So he is, undoubtedly, the predecessor of the contemporary Jatras of Bengal and Orissa.

Today, the style of writing plays for jatras has undergone changes. Jatra plays are now, no longer limited to the mythological, historical or fantastical subjects.

They include social themes to suit modern taste. The Jatra forms are an important branch of the parent tree of Indian literatures, languages and theatre forms.

Its survival appears to have thrown seeds, which have given modern Bengali theatre a ; new direction.

11. Yakshagana :

Yakshagana is a uniquely traditional form of dance theatre of the State of Karnataka, with a formidable classical background.

Having a strong foundation of around five centuries, Yakshagana holds commendable status as a form of folk art, similar to Kathakali of Kerala.

The main essence of this form of dance drama is its attachment with religion, which provides the most common theme for its plays.

Yakshagana, being a theatre of the masses, the plays in it witness the coherent amalgamation of artistic elements of Sanskrit drama, traditional music played in temples and village squares, and battle themes from epics like ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, which are usually performed in the paddy fields at night.

The strong hold of religious countenance in rural areas has led to an immense growth in its popularity, complimented with a highly respected status that the artists of the plays enjoy in such places.

The dramatic presentation thus evident is an utterly splendid concoction of the best of classical music, polished choreography, and primeval transcripts applied to give shape to one of the most astonishing dance dramas of India.

Another unique feature of Yakshagana is the totally unrehearsed and unwritten use of dialogues, which makes it so special.

12. Cheraw :

Cheraw is a very old traditional dance of the Mizos. It is believed that the dance had already existed way back in the 1st Century CE., while the Mizos were still somewhere in the Yunan Province of China, before their migration into the Chin Hills in the 13th century CE., and eventually to the present Mizoram. Some of the tribes living in South-East Asia have similar dances in one form or the other with different names.

Men sitting face-to-face on the ground tap long pairs of horizontal and cross bamboo staves open and close in rhythmic beats.

Girls in colourful Mizo costumes of ‘Puanchei’, ‘Kawrchei1. ‘Vakiria’ and ‘Thihna’ dance in and out between the beats of bamboo. This dance is now performed in almost all festive occasions. The unique style of the ‘Cheraw’ is a great fascination everywhere it is performed. Gongs and drums are used to accompany the dance. Today modern music also complements the dance.

13. Chhau :

Chhau dance is an expression of a mood, state or condition. Three styles of Chhau exist, originating from the three different regions of Seraikela (Jharkand), Purulia (West Bengal), and Mayurbhanj (Orissa).

Martial movements, strong rhythmic statements and dynamic use of space are characteristic of Chhau.

The dance is an excellent culmination of enormous vitality and virility. As it is difficult to dance for long with a mask, the dance does not last more than 7-10 minutes.

Seraikela Chhau flourished under royal patronage. Its vigorous martial character makes it suitable only for male dancers.

The royal princes were not only its patrons but also dancers, teachers and mask-making experts.

Purulia Chhau uses masks which is a highly developed craft in the region. The barren land with its tribal inhabitants, multi-layered influences of Vedic literature, Hinduism and martial folklore have all combined to shape the Purulia Chhau dances which has only one message-‘the triumph of good over evil’.

Mayurbhanj Chhau has highly developed movements, no masks and a more chiselled vocabulary than the other two styles.

Like Seraikela Chhau, it had also thrived under royal patronage and is considered a link between the earthy Indian dance movements and the flying, springing elevations of Western forms of dance.

Unlike other Indian classical dance forms, vocal music in Chhau hardly exists. Instrumental music and a variety of drums like the Dhol, Dhumba, Nagara, Dhansa and Chadchadi provide the accompaniment.

In recent times, Mayurbhanj Chhau has become popular at both national and international platforms as a medium of choreography, with its wide range of postures and movements that adapt well to modern as well as traditional treatment.

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