Folk Dances of India

Dumhal of Kashmir is a dance performed by the menfolk of the Wattal tribe of Kashmir on specific occasions. The performers wear long colourful robes, tall conical caps which are studded with beads and shells. The party moves in a procession carrying a banner in a very ceremonial fashion. It is dug into the ground and the men begin to dance, forming a circle. The musical accompaniment comprises a drum and the vocal singing of the participants. Dumhal is performed on set occasions and at set locations.


Folk dance of Kashmir: Rouff

Rouff is also a folk dance of Kashmir. It is danced solely by women on festive occasions. Rouff displays simple footwork.

Hikat of Himachal Pradesh. This is danced by women, and is a modification of a game played by children. Forming pairs, the participants extend their arms to the front gripping each other's wrists and with the body inclined back, go round and round at the same spot. With wide range and variety of the ethnic groups, Himachal Pradesh is blessed with natural beauty and artistic history. People living in this natural beauty, adorn themselves for the dance at all times of the year, in all regions, and continue to express themselves through music and dance.

In the Kulu Valley of Himachal Pradesh the festival of Dussehra is celebrated with great pomp and show. Images of Raghunathji are brought from the different shrines to a central place, and then there is singing and dancing. Dances of the region are collectively known as Natio, though each may be meant for a different purpose. No festive occasion, including wedding and similar social ceremonies, is complete without dancing. All regions of Himachal Pradesh have their own dances. Mostly men and women dance together, close to each other in the formation.


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Namagen dance is performed in September to celebrate the autumnal hues. The costumes are largely woollen and richly studded ornaments of silver are worn by women. The most picturesque amongst these are dances of Gaddis. The dances of the Doms and the Bhotiyas in Uttar Pradesh range from simple performances of rejoicing to ritualistic dances. The most spectacular amongst these is the Dhurang which is connected with the death ceremonies. Its objective is to liberate the soul of the dead person from evil spirits. All the dancers hold swords and dance in a circle. The movements are virile and reminds one of the hunting dances of the Nagas on the eastern borders of India.

The Jhumeila, the Chaunfla of Garhwal and the Hurkia Baolof Kumaon, Uttar Pradesh, are seasonal dances. The Hurkia Baul is performed during paddy and maize cultivation. On a fixed day, after preliminary ritual, the dance is performed in different fields by turns. The name of the dance is derived from hurkia, the drum which constitutes the only musical accompaniment, and baul, the song. The singer narrates the story of battles and heroic deeds, the players enter from two opposite sides and enact the stories in a series of crisp movements. The farmers form two rows and move backwards in unison, while responding to the tunes of the song and the rhythm of the players.

A famous dance of Kumaon, Uttar Pradesh, is the Chholiya, performed during marriages. As the procession proceeds to the bride's house, men dancers, armed with swords and shields, dance spiritedly. Amongst the occupational groups, the most enthusiastic dancers are the dhobis, the chamars and the ahirs. The dhobis dance to celebrate any significant occasion. They sing and dance on the occasion of a birth or marriage, and during Holi or Dussehra. There are Rasa Dances that revolve around the early life of Krishna. The most interesting group of dances are the dances of the agricultural community which revolve round the annual seasons and which have a ritualistic and a functional dimension.

Dalkhai of Orissa is performed by women of the Sambalpur tribes at the time of seasonal festivals. The dance is quite vigorous, and is accompanied by a set of particular musical instruments, played by men, of which the drummers often join the dance. A dummy horse version is the Chaiti Ghorha, danced by a community of fisherfolk. The performers are all men. Apart from dancing, the performers sing, deliver homilies of sorts, and offer brief dramatic enactments peppered with wit and humour.

Gendi or stilt dancing is fairly common among Gond children of Madhya Pradesh. The dance is popular in the Vindhyas and the Satpura ranges. This is danced in the rainy season; from June to August. The dancer, who has the balance on the Gendi (stilts)) perform it even in water or on marshy surface. The dance is brisk, and ends with a dance in pyramid formation. This is generally confined only to children and the attraction consists in balancing and clever footwork.

In the villages where the wheat seedlings festival, Bhujalia, is celebrated, children prance on their gendis, collect near the village pond or the river in which bhujalias are to be immersed. Other frolicsome children, dancing to the accompaniment of musical instrument join the group and they dance together. Sometimes, womenfolk also join them, but they do not use stilts. The Gendi season begins on the day of Bak Bandhi festival in the month of June and concludes after the

Brita or Vrita of West Bengal is one of the most important traditional folk dances of Bengal. This is an invocational dance performed by the barren woman of Bengal who worship in gratitude after their wish being fulfilled. Quite often, this dance is performed after a recovery from a contagious disease like small pox etc.

Kali Nach is a dance performed during Gajan, in honour of the Goddess Kali. Here, the performer wears a mask, purified by mantras, and dances with a sword, and when worked up can make prophetic answers. The

Bihu of Assam is the most widespread folk dance in the state and is enjoyed by all, young and old, rich and poor. The dance is part of the Bihu festival, that comes in mid-4 April, when harvesting is done, and continues for about a month. The participants are young men and girls, who gather in the open, in daytime. They dance together, but there is no mixing of the sexes. The dance is supported by drums and pipes. In between, the performers sometimes sing, usually of love. The most common formation is the circle or parallel rows.

The Bihu demonstrates, through song and dance, the soul of the Assamese at its richest. The sense of fun and frolic of the Nagas is seen in many of their dances. The Zemis, Zeliangs and other tribes of Assam have a series of dances. Harvesting season is naturally the time for celebrations. All the Naga tribes have their particular harvest dances. The characteristic feature of all Naga dancing is the use of the human figure in an erect posture with many movements of the legs and comparatively little use of the torso, and the shoulders.

Thursday 26th August 1999. Sangeeta Kaul Matu.

Dance Links

Classical Dances of India
Origins of Classical Indian Dance
Pictures of Classical Indian Dance

Spiritual History of Kashmir

Kashmir Shaivism
The story of Vaishnodevi

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