In India we have festivals and celebrations virtually every day. This has added to the richness of Indian culture. Since every festival is accompanied by celebration, folk dances have become an integral part of our social milieu. While there are numerous folk and tribal dances, they are constantly improvised. The skill and the imagination of the dances influence the performance.
There is really no such genre as folk dancing. Rather, there is a large body of unrelated non-classical dance forms. The only thing common among these dance forms is their rural origins. Many folk dances are performed by ordinary people rather than professional dancers. It is very usual that on special occasions, the villagers will gather and sing and dance, accompanying themselves on a variety of folk instruments.
Here is a brief compilation of the different folk dance forms of India:
Gaur dance is a popular folk dance of Madhya Pradesh .It is popular in the Sing Marias or Tallaguda Marias of South Bastar. Men put head-dresses with stringed ‘cowries’ and plumes of peacock feathers and make their way to the dancing ground. Women ornamented with brass fillets and bead necklaces with their tattooed bodies also join the gathering. The men beat the drums, tossing the horns and feathers of their head-gears to the rising tempo that gives the dance a wilder touch.
The Muria tribals of North Bastar area are trained in all types of their community dances. At the start of dance sequences they begin with an invocation to the phallic deity of their tribe and the founder of the Ghotul institution. The site chosen for the dance is near the Ghotul compound. During marriages, the Muria boys and girls perform Har Endanna dance. Their Hulki dance is the most beautiful of all the dances while the Karsana dance is performed for fun and enjoyment. In the Hulki dance, boys move in a circular fashion while the girls make their way through them.
Saila dance is performed by the young boys of Chattisgarh during the post harvest time. Saila is a stick-dance and is popular among the people of Sarguja, Chhindwara and Betul districts. In this region the Saila dance is also known as Danda Nach or Dandar Pate. Saila dance comprises over half a dozen varieties The Saila dance often comes out with many variations and much buffoonery. Sometimes the dancers form a circle, each standing on one leg and supporting himself by holding on to the man in front. Then they all hop together round and round.
The Karma dance is very popular among the Gonds and the Baigas of Chhattisgarh and the Oraons of Madhya Pradesh. The Karma dance is associated with the fertility cult and is related to the Karma festival that falls in the month of August. The Karma dance symbolizes coming of green branches in tress during the spring season. There are other variants of the Karma. The songs associated with these variants differ with each pattern.
Kaksar dance is performed during the festival period. It is popular among the Abhujmarias of Bastar. Kaksar dance is performed in hope of reaping a rich harvest. To invoke the blessings of the deity, young boys and girls perform Kaksar (a group dance). Boys put on a peculiar costume of a long white robe while girls are clad in all their finery. The Kaksar dance presents a unique opportunity to boys and girls to choose their life partners.
Chhau – Bihar
Chhau is a popular folk dance of Bihar. Since masks form an important feature of this dance it is called ‘Chhau’, which means mask. All the Chhau performers hold swords and shields while performing. The stages are decorated and brightly lit by torches, lanterns and flickering oil lamps. The musical instruments used are the Dhol (a cylindrical drum), Nagara (a huge drum) and Shehnai (reed pipes). The Chhau dance is performed by men and boys. Chhau dance is full of energy and strength. It is interesting to note that the entire body of the dancer is engaged as a single unit. This body language of the dancer has to be poetic and powerful.
Brita Dance -West Bengal
Brita dance is one of the most popular folk dances of Bengal. Usually the barren women of the region perform the Brita dance to invoke the blessings of the Gods so that their wishes are fulfilled. Traditionally this dance is performed after a person recovers from a contagious disease like small pox.
Kali Naach is yet another popular folk dance of the region. The Kali dance is performed to invoke the blessings of Goddess Kali. While performing the Kali Naach, the performers wear a mask, purified by mantras and dances to the accompaniment of a sword.
‘Dalkhai’ dance is a popular folk dance among the women folks of the tribal people of Sambalpur, Orissa. Dalkhai Dance is performed during the time of festivals. In the Dalkhai dance the men usually play the musical instruments. Chaiti Ghora is a dummy horse version of the Dalkhai dance and is popular in the fishing communities. The performers of this dance style are generally men.
Goti Puas -Orissa
Goti Pua is yet another popular folk dance of east India (Orissa). The credit of popularizing this folk dance largely goes to Ramchandradeva, the Raja of Khurda, (Orissa). He was an enlightened ruler and a great patron of art and culture. It was due to his initiatives that the tradition of Goti Pua (boy dancers) began. It is interesting to note that the Odissi dance evolved from a curious amalgamation of both mahari and goti pua dance styles.
North East India
Bihu – Assam
Bihu is the most popular folk dance of Assam. The Bihu dance is an integral part of the Bihu festival of Assam. The Bihu festival is celebrated in mid-April, during the harvesting time and lasts for about a month. Young men and girls perform the Bihu dance together accompanied by playing pipes & beating drums. Love forms the subject matter of the songs that are sung during the performance. The dances are performed in circles or parallel rows.
Hajgiri is a famous folk dance of Tripura. Hajgiri dance is performed by young girls who display a series of balancing skills and instruments of their kind. In Tripura dances are a part of people’s efforts and ceremony to appease the goddess Lakshmi. It is to ensure good harvest. Tribal people of Tripura and other adjoining states make use of the compounds of their own houses as dancing grounds during main festivals.
‘Nongkrem’ is an important folkdance of Meghalaya. The Khasis tribe of Meghalaya also celebrates the ripening of paddy for threshing, by dances and songs.
One of the instruments that dominate Manipuri dances is the drum. Dhol Cholom, a drum dance is one of the dances performed during Holi in Manipur. The Thang-ta dance of Manipur was evolved from the martial arts drills promoted by the kings of Manipur. The dance is exciting and is performed by young men holding swords and shields.
Dumhal – J&K
Dumhal is a popular dance of Kashmir. This dance is performed with long colorful robes, tall conical caps (studded with beads and shells). Dumhal dance is accompanied by songs which the performers themselves sing. It is supported by drums. There is an interesting tradition associated with Dumhal dance where the performers of this dance place a banner into the ground at a fixed location and the men dance around this banner.
Hikat -Himachal Pradesh
Hikat is a popular dance of Himachal Pradesh, performed by women. The Hikat dance is performed in pairs and the participants extend their arms to the front, holding each other’s wrists. The dancers keep their bodies inclined back and make round of the same place.
Namagen -Himachal Pradesh
Namagen is a dance performance usually held during autumnal hue celebrations. The most prominent dance amongst these is the Gaddis. In this dance the costumes are largely woolen.
Hurka Baul -Uttaranchal
Some of the seasonal folk dances of Uttaranchal are Jhumeila, the Chaufula of Garhwal and the Hurka Baul of Kumaon. The Hurka Baul dance is performed during the cultivation of paddy and maize.
Padayani – Kerala
Padayani is one of the most colorful and popular dances of Southern Kerala. Padayani is associated with the festival of certain temples, called Padayani or Paddeni. Such temples are in Alleppey, Quilon, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts. The main Kolams (huge masks) displayed in Padayani are Bhairavi (Kali), Kalan (god of death), Yakshi (fairy) and Pakshi (bird).
Kummi -Tamil Nadu
Kummi is a popular folk dance of Tamil Nadu. Kummi dance is performed by tribal women during festivals. Kummi is a simple folk dance where dancers form circles and clap in rhythmic way.
‘Kollattam’ or the stick dance is one of the most popular dances of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Kolattam is derived from Kol (a small stick) and Attam (play). It is also called as Kolannalu or Kolkolannalu. Kolattam dance is a combination of rhythmic movements, songs and music and is performed during local village festivals. Kolattam is known by different names in different states of India. The Kolattam group consists of dancers in the range of 8 to 40. The stick, used in the Kolattam dance, provides the main rhythm.
The Perini Thandavam is a male dance of the warriors. As a part of tradition, the warriors performed this dominant dance in front of the idol of Nataraja or Lord Shiva, before leaving for the battlefield. This is popular in some parts of Andhra Pradesh. In earlier times the rulers of the Kakatiya dynasty patronized this form of dance. The Perini dance is performed to the accompaniment of the beat of the drums.
Thapetta Gullu -Andhra Pradesh
Thapetta Gullu is a folk dance form of Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh. In the Thapetta Gullu dance more than ten persons participate. The participants or performers sing songs in the praise of local goddess. While performing the Thapetta Gullu dance, the dancers use drums, hanging around their necks
Dandiya is a popular folk dance of Rajasthan. Dressed in colorful costumes the performers play skillfully with big sticks in their hands. Dandiya dance is accompanied by the musical instrument called the ‘Meddale’ played by the drummer in the centre. The Bhil tribal of Rajasthan perform a variety of dances. All these folk dances correspond to the agricultural cycle. The Ghumer dance, Raika and Jhoria are some examples of this type of dance. The Gher dance is a favorite and popular dance of the Mina tribe who are similar to the Bhils while Valar is typical dance of the Garasias of Rajasthan.
Tera Tali is another famous folk dance of Rajasthan. It is performed by two or three women of the ‘Kamar’ tribe. The women folk sit on the ground while performing the Tera Tali which is an elaborate ritual with many other rituals in it. An interesting part of the Tera Tali dance is tying of metal cymbals (Manjiras) to different parts of the body, mostly on the legs. The Tera Tali dancers hold cymbals in their hands and strike them in a rhythmic manner. On many occasions the women clasp a sword in between their teeth and balance a decorative pot on their head.
Dindi And Kala
Dindi and Kala are devotional dances of Maharashtra. In these dances the playful attitude of Lord Krishna is presented. Dindi is a small drum. The musicians, comprising ‘Mridangam’ player and a vocalist, stand in the center and give the dancers the necessary musical background. Men and women folk perform the dance on the rhythmic music. This dance is usually performed on the Ekadashi day in the Hindu month of Kartik.
Garba is the leading dance of women in Gujarat. The Garba dance is associated with the fertility cult. The Garba dance is performed throughout nine nights of Navaratri, an autumn festival. Women folk come out into the open and with perforated earthen pots holding lighted lambs poised on the head sing, clap and dance a simple, circular dance, in honor of the Goddess Amba. When men also dance by singing and clapping the dance is known as Garbi.
It is a popular folk dance of Saurashtra. Tippani is performed by women laborers in parts of Saurashtra.
The Dhangari Gaja Dance
It is performed by Dhangars of Maharashtra to please their God for blessings. The Dhangari Gaja dance is performed in the traditional Marathi dresses – Dhoti, Angarakha and Pheta, accompanied by colorful handkerchiefs. Dancers move in a group of drum players.
The Koli dance derives its name from the Koli tribe of Maharashtra. The dances of Kolis incorporate all elements of their surroundings. The Koli dance is performed by both men and women – divided into two groups. The main story of the dance is enacted by the smaller group of men and women. In this dance the Kolin or fisherwoman makes advances to the Kolis or fishermen.
Folk dances are performed for every possible occasion, to celebrate the arrival of seasons, birth of a child, a wedding and festivals. Indian folk dances are full of energy and vitality. Some dances are performed separately by men and women while in some performances men and women dance together. On most occasions, the dancers sing themselves, accompanied by artists with instruments. Each form of folk dance has a specific costume and rhythm. Most of the costumes, worn for folk dances, are colorful with extensive jewels and designs. Our country is a land of varied cultures and traditions. Diversities in all spheres make the Indian culture quite unique. Indian folk and tribal dances are product of different socio-economic set up and traditions. They are simple and are performed to express joy.