Folk Dances of India


This dance is performed by the inhabitants of the Umji and Indravelli forest areas of Utnoor Tehsil in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. It is traditionally performed during Krishna Janmashtami celebrations and the themes are taken from the Mahabharata. Though both men and women perform this dance, the pace is different. Women dance in slow rhythmic movements, while the men dance at a more vigorous pace. The Nagara is the main instrument used.


Bihu is one of the most colourful folk dances of India. The dance is an integral part of the Bihu Festival celebrated to mark the advent of Spring and the Assamese New Year. Bihu ushers in the sowing time and also the season of marriage. he dance has been noted for maintaining authenticity and at the same time displaying the traditional Assamese handlooms and handicrafts in their glory and beauty by the dancers.


Jhijhia is usually performed by a group of young women dancers and portrays the offering of prayers to please the King of Gods-Lord Indra-for a good monsoon and a rich harvest.


Basically performed on the occasion of marriage by Gaur Madia of Abhujmar plateau of Bastar in Chhattisgarh and is called Gaur after Bison. It may appear to be a hunt-dance with only the imitation of the frisking, jerking movements of the animals. However, a sense of ritual and deep sanctity underlies the perfect synchronization of the dance.


Kaksar is performed by the Abhuj Maria tribes of Bastar in Chhattisgarh to seek the blessings of the village deity Kaksar for a good harvest. Performed by a group of young boys and girls dressed in their best, this dance also provides a platform to young people for choosing their life partners.


Prevalent in the Kumaun region of Uttarakhand, the Chholiya dance has elements of martial craft and is associated with the Kirji Kumbh celebrations; Kirji Kumbh is a poisonous flower which blossoms every 12 years. Villagers march in a procession to destroy the flower before it sheds its poison into the mountain streams.


The metal lamps are traditional handicrafts of Goa and the Samai dance is performed with these traditional metallic lamps or deepaks. The men and women balance the samai on their heads and perform various movements. During religious gatherings the dance is performed to the accompaniment of slow singing.


Garba is one of the most popular dance form of Gujarat, which is linked with the worship of “Shakti”. The word “Garbo” has originated from Sanskrit word “Garbhdeep”, an earthen pot with circular holes is popularly known as “Garbo”. The pot is the symbol of the body and the lighted lamp inside the pot signifies the divine soul. Garba is performed during Navratri and during weddings. It is essentially performed by women, dancing in circular motion clapping their hands to the beats of the Dhol.


Ras is one of the ancient and yet most popular dance form of Gujarat. Its origin has been traced to Lord Krishna. The graceful dance of Lord Krishna with Gopis in Vrindavan is known to all as Krishnaleela. Ras is a unique synthesis of folk dance, folk art, colour and folk music. Circular movements with speed and grace are the main features of Ras. The roar of the Dhol, the colourful gorgeous costumes, speed together with vigour and gusto of dancers leaves audience spell bound.


Daangis hail from South Gujarat on the border of Maharashtra. This dance is usually performed during Holi and other festivals. Daang dance centers around the social life, feasts, fairs, festivals, ceremonies and rituals connected to worship. It is vigorous, as most tribal dances are, and highly rhythmic. Interesting circular formation is created centering around the accompanists who stand in the middle of an open space. The men hold their arms round the women’s shoulders and women clasp the men by their waists. The dance builds up gradually and acquires a fast tempo in the end. The women climb on the shoulders of men and form a human pyramid. The two and three tier formation moves clockwise and anti clockwise.


The Siddhies migrated to India from Africa about 750 years ago. They settled in the coastal parts of Gujarat like Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Surat. They follow Muslim religion and dance to the beat of drum on the eve of the Urs of their Prophet Baba Gaur. The dancers gradually pick up tempo and get into trance breaking tossed coconut on their heads. Just like their ancestors from Africa, Siddhies are master of rhythm dancing to the tune of huge drums.


Ghoomar is a dance performed by the girls of border areas of Rajasthan and Haryana at various festivals like Holi, Gangaur Puja and Teej. The girls form semi-circles and start singing and clapping.The dancers then form a circle and the tempo of the dance is accelerated. The movements are made by holding body weight on one foot and moving forward. as the tempo increases towards the end, the dancers whirl around in pairs. The accompanying songs are full of satire and humour and refer to contemporary events.


This dance is in the veins of the Kinnauris. Their movements of the natural world around them and their music echoes the sound of the breeze blowing through forests. Important amongst the dances of the Kinauris is LOSAR SHONA CHUKSAM. It takes its name from LOSAI meaning new year. The dancers recreate movements of all the agricultural operations of sowing and reaping ogla (barley) and phaphar (a local grain). Slow movements with soft knee dips with accentuation of torso is the key step of this dance.


‘Paika’ is a typical dance of the Munda community of Jharkhand, and thematically represents rituals connected with preparations for war. With chest blades, multi-coloured headgear, anklets, bows, arrows, spears, swords and shields the dancers enact battle scenes, symbolizing the great war of the Mundas against the British. The fast beat of the madal, along with the use of other musical instruments like dhol, nagara, shehnai, and ranbheri make Paika dance performaces truly captivating. Though performed on various occasions, the Paika dance is most readily associated with the Dussehra celebrations.


Rauff is the most popular dance in the Kashmir Valley and is performed by the women folk. The dance is performed during harvesting season but the most essential occasion is the month of Ramzan when every street and corner in Kashmir resounds with the Rouff songs and dance. The girls wear colourful Phirans-Kashmir cloaks and Kasaba-the head gear. The girls form two rows facing each other and putting their arms around the waist of the next dancer. They start with rhythmic movements of the feet and weave a few patterns swaying and swinging backward. Traditionally, no musical accompaniment is used with Rouff songs as they are sung while doing the daily chores. The folk instruments like noot, tumbaknari, rabab etc are used when it is performed on the stage or in some gathering.


Jabro is a community dance of the nomadic people of Tibetan origin living in Ladakh. Jabro is performed by both men and women during Losar- the Tibetan new year celebrations- and also on other festive occasions. Because of the extreme cold, the dancers wear heavy gowns made of sheep skin, lamb skin caps and long leather shoes. Performers stand in two facing rows, holding each other’s hands, and dance gracefully with slow, gentle movements as Jabro songs are sung to the accompaniment of the Damien-a stringed guitar-like instrument and flute.


The exotic cultural tradition of Veerbhadra was brought to Karnataka by the South Indian rulers. This ritual is equally popular in some parts of Karnataka. Veerbhadra is performed on Chaitra Purnima and the Dhalo festival. The person enacting the role of Veerbhadra is dressed in a warrior’s costume. He wields swords as he dances. According to legend, Veerbhadra is supposed to get possessed by a divine spirit. The invocation of Veerbhadra is recited in Kannada even today.


Dholu Kunitha is a drum dance performed by the men folk of the shepherd community known as Kurubas. This dance is noted for its powerful drumming and vigorous dancing which is replete with acrobatic elements. The dancers during the course of performance make attractive formations of all sorts. It provides both spectacular variety and complexity of skills in the process of demonstration. The high pitch of tala, tappadi, trumpets, gong and flute reinforce the rich vibrations of dholu. This dance is popular in some parts of north and south Karnataka.


This is a bridal dance performed by Muslim girls of North Kerala and Lakshadweep on wedding occasions. There are separate dancers for the bride and bridegroom. Brides and grooms are mentally prepared for marriage and the nuptial night by their close friend through a sequence of dance and music. This is an occasion of great celebration and merriment and all arrive attired in gorgeous costumes.


Chhau dance of Purulia in West Bengal is one of the most vibrant and colourful folk art forms. Emanating from martial practice, Purulia Chhau is a vigorous form of dance-drama drawing its themes from the two great Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Masks and elaborate head gears are the ornamental apparels of the Chhau dancers. The dance commences with an invocation of Lord Ganesha before movements begin as per the story. In Chhau dance, the fight between good and evil always culminates in the triumph of good over destructive evil. Powerful movements, immense concentration, the dazzling costumes, the rhythmic drum beating and the shehnai characterize the Chhau dance form. This dance is popular in Jharkhand also.


A typical folk dance of Madhya Pradesh, Badhai is performed to thank Goddess Sheetala for safeguarding people from natural calamities and ailments and to seek her blessings on happy occasions like weddings and childbirth. Accompanied by folk musical instruments, the performers dance gracefully to a rhythm, creating a lively and a colourful spectacle. This particular rhythm is known as Badhai from which this folk dance has acquired its name. Animals also take part in Badhai Nritya and in many villages, mares (female horses) are seen at such performances.


It is closely related to the cattle-farm culture of the country, especially of the Bundelkhand region(MP). The Baredi folk songs and folk dances are presented during the fortnight commencing from Deepawali (Kartik Amawasya) to Kartik Poornima. They wear a typical attractive dress specially meant for this occasion. One of the performers with a rhythm sings two lines from the poem called Baredi and the other participants present a vigorous and sprightly performance, the Baredi dance. This dance is presented with a worship of Govardhan Parvat. It is believed that the Lord Krishna himself participated in these Baredi dances alongwith his gwal mates.


Raee dance is popular in Bundelkhand regions of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This dance originated during ancient times for celebrations when the armed forces returned victorious after war. This dance was performed in merriment celebrating victory. Danced throughout the year, it conveys the spirit of joy and exuberance of the people of Bundelkhand. It is primarily, a female dance, where the dancers with veils on their faces, move their feet and whirl body in rhythm to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music. Algoza, mridanga and dhapali are the main musical instruments used in this dance.


Traditionally an integral part of the Tamasha folk theatre of Maharashtra, Lavani is the most popular and best known folk dance form of the state. Although, there is no restriction regarding the choice of themes for a Lavani performance, this art form is at its best when dealing with themes of bravery, pathos, love and devotion, Music, poetry, dance and drama intermingle with such perfection in the rendering of Lavani, that it is almost impossible to separate their various components.


‘Dhol Cholom’, traditional folk dance of Manipur, is performed usually on religious occasions to the accompaniment of songs and dhol (large drum)-the most important component of this dance form. Usually performed during the Yaoshand festival (or the festival of colours), the dance expresses love and creativity, with an intricate interplay of dhols and fireplay. Dhol Cholom belongs to the Manipur sankirtan traditions.


The traditional Lezim dance is performed by the artistes on religious and social events. Specially it is having base in a Akhada (Martial Art) tradition of Maharashtra. It is performed in every corner of Maharashtra. This Lezim Dance includes Ghuti Lezim, Ghoongroo Lezim, Dakhani Lezim and Palita Lezim. This dance is occasionally performed in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat also. The instruments used in this dance are dhol, tasha and jhanj etc.


Lewatana is a folk song and dance of Hajong tribe of Meghalaya. Hajongs observe various festivities of the Hindus. The Lewatana is usually performed by the Hajong during the Diwali festival. In this dance, the young men and women form a group and while dancing and singing various folk songs, they compare man with nature.


Cheraw is a lively and a uniquely attractive traditional dance of Mizoram. Performed on all festive occasions, it is also known as the Bamboo Dance, as bamboo forms an integral part of this folk form. Two long bamboo staves are kept crosswise and horizontally, parallel to ground and the male dancers clap the staves, resultantly producing a sharp sound setting the rhythm for the dance. The female dancers, on the other hand, attired in colourful traditional costumes-puanchei, kawrchei, vakira and thinna-step in and out from between bamboo beats with tremendous skill and precise timing, maintaining all the while their elegant poise. In addition to the musical pattern created by the clapping of bamboo staves, drums and gongs are also used for effect.


Gotipuas, the young boys dressed up as girls sing devotional love songs of Radha-Krishna and perform Gotipua dance. In the present form, the Gotipua dance is more precise and systematic in its conception. The repertoire of the dance includes vandana-prayer to God or Guru, sarigama-a pure dance number, abhinaya-enactment of a song, and Bandhya Nritya-rhythms of acrobatic postures, a unique presentation where Gotipuas dance and compose themselves in different acrobatic yogic postures creating the images of Radha-Krishna. Musical accompaniment is provided by mardala-a pakhawaj, gini-small cymbals, harmonium, violin and flute.


Ranappa dance is popular in the coastal areas of Ganjam district of Odisha. This is a martial art form of dance where the dancers walk and dance on sticks (Ranappa) with special gestures on rhythms of drums. This is an imitation of mock fight. This is something unique, the dancers exhibit their skills in balance on sticks. Chaddaiya is a part of the famous ‘Danda Nata’ of Odisha. Performed in the month of Chaitra, it is associated with the worship of Shiva and akin to the Mayurbhanj Chhau. The dedicated worshipers participate in the dance holding a ‘Danda’ (Pole) and a ‘Pasa’ (Knot) symbolic of a devout Shaivite, they dance vigorously to the accompaniment of drums and ‘Mohri’ displaying various elements of martial practices.


Bhangra is the most popular folk dance of Punjab, performed by men on festive occasions, at weddings and fairs and to celebrate Baisakhi or the harvest festival. Dressed in brightly coloured plumed turbans, traditional tehmats, kurtas and waistcoats, the dancers perform to the robust rhythms of dhols, bolis-typically rustic Punjabi folk songs and other traditional instruments. Energetic and infectiously lively, Bhangra is a spectacular dance, the popularity of which has crossed the borders of Punjab.


Giddha is the favourite dance of Punjab in which women dance at weddings, at the time of birth of a child, the Teej festival and other happy occasions. The dance consists of singing, clapping, enacting the Boli as well as pure dance. The dancers form a circle and participating in pairs, take turns to come centre stage and perform a Boli. Towards the end of the Boli they dance vigorously in sheer abandon, while those in the circle sing and clap in unison. The refrain is sung 3-4 times, then the performers withdraw to be replaced by another pair and a new Boli. The Boli deals with the day–to–day life situations of rural folk. Giddha is accompanied by the dholak (drum) or gharah (earthen pot).


This fascinating dance is performed by the women of the nomadic Kalbelia community whose primary occupation is rearing snakes and trading in snake venom. On festive occasions, as traditional songs are sung to the plaintive notes of the ‘been’ and the ‘daf’, the dancers belonging to the ‘Nath’ sect dressed in their traditional black swirling skirts perform this dance. The dance highlights the unparalleled virtuosity of the dancers often reminiscent of the graceful and supple movements of the snake.


The Chakri dance is performed by the women of the Kanjar community of Rajasthan. The dancers whirl around in circles in colourful skirts appearing like spinning tops thus deriving its name Chakri, which means moving in circles, or spinning. Usually performed at weddings and on festive occasions, Chakri is accompanied by the rhythm of daph, manjira and nagara. Most famous Chakari dancers come from Baran Kola district in Hadauti area of Rajasthan but is popular in district of Kota and Bundi also.


Tamang Selo is a Sikkimese folk dance of the Tamang community. It is also known as Damphu as it is performed to the accompaniment of a native musical instrument called damphu. Usually performed during Dasain or Dussehra, it depicts the colourful lifestyle of the hill people, amply reflected through their lavish festive celebration and dances full of fun and vigour. Tamang Selo is performed by traditionally attired young men and women.


This dance was supposed to be performed by a giant named Idumban – with a pole slung across his shoulder. At the two ends of the pole he was supposed to carry the favourite hills of Muruga, the popular deity of Tamil Nadu. The carrying of Kavadi by pilgrims is symbolic of Idumban with the hillocks poised on the pole. There are several kinds of Kavadis. Under the spell of the hypnotic music provided by the drums, nadaswaram and thavil, the devotees proceed to the shrine by singing the song “Kavadi Chindu” with quick and vigorous movements. The Kavadi is never touched by the dancer while dancing.


A folk dance of Tamil Nadu, Kadagam originated as a ritual dedicated to the worship of Mariamman, the Goddess of rain and health. The ritual is performed during the month of August when the idol of Mariamman is carried in procession. A ritual pot filled with water is adorned with beautiful decorations, several feet high, and is carried by the priest. The colourfully attired performers carry decorated vessels vertically on their heads and dance to the tune of nagaswaram, thavil, muni, udukkai and pambai and also perform acrobatic feats as they follow the procession. The Kadagam dance is very popular in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.


Hozagiri dance is the most popular and spectacular dance of the Reang community of Tripura. The occasions in which Reang women perform Hozagiri are known as Mailuma and Maiktah, signifying the festival of new harvest and worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The Reangs believe that when the goddess is pleased by entertaining with dance and songs, she blesses them with bumper crops. Thus, the theme of this dance is mostly connected with cultivation. Standing on the pitcher, they move the metal plates while dancing on it while keeping the bottle on the head atop which is a oil lamp alight or pick up a flower from the ground bowing their body back. All along the dance they twist their waist with much finesse.


The Dhobia dance is performed on the occasion of birth, marriages and festivals like Dusshehra and Holi, The dance is popular among the dhobi (Washermen) community of eastern Uttar Pradesh in which only male dancers participate. The dance is basically in the form of a dance-drama. It usually begins with the recital of a couplet in praise of the Almighty. Amongst the dancers, one person wearing a royal costume enters the arena riding a dummy horse followed by other dancers. The group of musicians also stand behind the dancers playing their instruments. The dance begins with the music provided by drums, cymbals and ghunghroos which are tied on waist and ankles. A traditional wind instrument, called ransingha, which is the centre of attraction plays a significant role in boosting up the tempo of the dancers. Hori, Kajri, Chaiti, Kaharwa, Lachari, Thumari, Dadra and Nirgun songs are adopted in Dhobia dance. The dance is accompanied by Bhojpuri and Awadhi folk songs.

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