Punjab : The Folk Dances
It was in the jungles of Punjab where the first rays of civilization had appeared. In this respect Punjab is considered the motherland of dances. From tribals to the kings and eventually republics took shape. These changes left their seals on the sands of time and caused changes in culture also.
The exuberance and vitality of the people of Punjab are vigorously displayed in their folk dances. With the drum beat or to the tune of some other instrument of folk music, the energetic feet of the people of Punjab are spontaneously set in motion to give birth to a folk dance – an expression of the soul triumphant, an outburst of emotions.
Punjab’s folk dances are replete with foreign influences. It is only in Punjab where there is no common dance for men and women
The Bhangra is perhaps the most virile form of Indian Folk Dances. Springing from the land of five rivers, it abundantly reflects the vigor, the vitality, the leaven of exuberance, and the hilarity permeated among the rural folk by the promise of a bumper crop. The Bhangra season starts with the wheat sowing and then every full moon attracts teams of young men in every village who dance for hours in open fields. The dancers begin to move in a circle around the drummer, who now and then lifts the two sticks, with which he beats the drum, to beckon the dancers to a higher tempo of movement. They start with a slow movement of their feet. As the tempo increases, the hands, the feet and in fact the whole body comes into action. They whirl round and round bending and straightening their bodies alternatively, hopping on one leg, raising their hands, clapping with their handkerchiefs and exclaiming Bale Bale! Oh Bale Bale to inspire themselves and others to the abandon of the dance.
At intervals the dancers stop moving, but continue to beat the rhythm with their feet. One of the dancers come forward near the drummer and covering his left ear with his palm sings a boali or dholla, derived from the traditional folk songs of Punjab. Picking up the last lines, the dancers again start dancing with greater vigor.
In addition to a drum, chimta-musical tongs and burchu and sound of the beats from earthen vessels are used as accompanying instruments. The costume of a Bhangra dancer consists of a bright, colored Patka on the head, a lacha or lungi of the same color, a long tunic and a black or blue waistcoat and ghunghroos on the ankles. Some dancers also wear small rings (nuntian) in their ears.
When the wheat crop is nearing ripening, the breeze softly touches the surface of the golden crop creating a ripple and reckoning the sickle, when the hard labor of the farmer is about to bear fruit, it is time of rejoicing and merry making and through Bhangra their emotions find uninhibited and spontaneous expression of genuine happiness. The Bhangra season concludes with the Baisakhi fair when the wheat is harvested.
Bhangra is considered the king of dances. There are several styles of dancing Bhangra.
Sialkoti, Sheikhupuri, Tribal, Malwa, Majha. One of the Bhangra’s moves is also akin to the moves of Shiv-Tandav dance, which is danced on one leg. Damru, hand-drum is also used in Bhangra which shows that folk dances and war dances have similar parentage.
The Jhummar is a dance of ecstasy. It is a living testimony of the happiness of men. Any time is Jhummar time especially during Melas, weddings and other major functions and celebrations. Performed exclusively by men, it is a common feature to see three generations – father, son and grandson – dancing all together. There are three main types of jhummar, each of which has a different mood, and is therefore suited to different occasionally, reason of its predominating mood.
This is also performed in a circle. The dancers dance around a single drummer standing in the center. It’s costumes are the same as that of Bhangra. It is danced to the tune of emotional songs. The dance is without acrobatics. The movement of the arms only is considered its main forte. Toes are musically placed in front and backwards and turnings are taken to the right, sometimes the dancers place their one hand below the ribs on the left and gesticulate with the right hand. This dance does not tire out its performers and it is normally danced on moonlit nights in the villages away from the habitation. It is mostly danced by tribal Sikh professional acrobats and has yet not been owned by all Punjabis. The dancers of this dance let-off a sound, “dee dee” in tune with the beat of the dance which adds to its grace. This dance has also been integrated into Bhangra.
This is also a male dance of Punjab. It is danced to celebrate a victory in any field. Its costumes are simple. Only a loose shirt (kurta) and a loincloth are used. Some tie a turban, other the Patka which is somewhat like a scarf tied across the forehead, while still others join in bareheaded. This is also a dance of gay abandon. The performers place one hand at the back and the other before the face copying the movement of a snake’s head. This is also danced with the drummer in the center but sometimes the dancers dance before a throng of people and keep moving forward also. This dance is more popular across the Sutlej and in Pakistan it is almost as popular as the Bhangra. This dance has an historical background and pertains to that moment in history when Punjabi Sardars had begun to rescue Indian women that used to be forcibly taken in the direction of Basra in Middle East.
This dance is also the dance of slow movements and some teachers by integrating it into Bhangra have finished its individual identity.
It is a religious dance associated with Pirs and recluses and is generally danced in their hermitages (khangahs). This dance is performed mostly in a sitting posture; sometimes it is also danced round the grave of a preceptor. A single dancer can also perform this dance. Toes are tensed in this dance. The dancer holds a thick staff in his hands and he dances by revolving it. Normally black clothes are worn by the dancer, so is his head covered with black scarf. Sometimes, the murids (followers) also the tie ghungroos (Jingling bells) around their waists like the Bhangra dancers of yore. This dance is fast disappearing.
At least two persons are required to perform this dance, though there is no upper limit. Like other male dances it is danced in circles. The dancers hold staffs of various colors in their hands. They dance as they ply their staffs in rhythm crossing them, with each other’s. This dance is either performed at the common yards or in the vanguard of marriage processions to exhibit joy. Sometimes it is also called gatka dance (dance of the dum swords). Women also dance this dance but they do so separately and not in company with men. No special costumes are worn with it; only, sometimes the dancers tie a band around their waist. It is based on only a few movements but these movements are rather impressive. Its high point is achieved when dancers sit down and cross batons. Old people, young children and flexible young men all perform this dance.
This folk dance also has not been able to achieve the popularity of Bhangra. Of course it is a male dance and, likewise, is danced in a circle. Drum is used as the accompanying instrument; its costumes are akin to Bhangra and Jhumar
The vitality of Bhangra can also be seen in the Giddha dance of the women of Punjab. This dance translates into gestures, bolian-verses of different length satirizing politics, the excesses committed by husbands, their sisters and mothers, loneliness of a young bride separated from her husband, evils of society or expressing guileless deep love.
The dance is derived from the ancient ring dance. One of the girls plays on the drum or ‘dholki’ while others form a circle. Some times even the dholki is dispensed with. While moving in a circle, the girls raise their hands to the level of their shoulders and clap their hands in unison. Then they strike their palms against those of their neighbors. Rhythm is generally provided by clapping of hands.
Giddha is a very vigorous folk dance and like other such dances it is very much an affair of the legs. So quick is the movement of the feet in its faster parts that it is difficult for the spectator even to wink till the tempo falls again. The embroidered ‘duppattas’ and heavy jewelry of the participants whose number is unrestricted further exaggerate the movements.
During the dance ‘giddha’ songs called ‘bolis’ are also sung. One participant generally sings the ‘bolis’ and when the last but one line is reached, the tempo of the song rises and all start dancing. In this manner ‘bolis’ alternate with the dance sequence which continue for a considerable period of time.
Mimicry is aso very popular in ‘Giddha’. One girl may play the aged bridegroom and another his young bride; or one may play a quarellsome sister in law and another a humble bride. In this way Giddha provides for all the best forum for giving vent to one’s emotions.
The traditional dress during giddha dance is short female style shirt (choli) with ghagra or lehnga (loose shirt upto ankle-length) or ordinary Punjabi Salwar-Kamiz, rich in colour, cloth and design. The ornaments that they wear are suggi-phul (worn on head) to pazaibs (anklets), haar-hamela, (gem-studded golden necklace) baazu-band (worn around upper-arm) and raani-haar (a long necklace made of solid gold).
Giddha can be seen at its best when ‘Teeyan’ or the women’s dance festival is celebrated. This festival in Punjab is celebrated in the month of Sawan. The dance usually takes place on the bank of some river or pond under big shady trees. Swings are thrown over the branches and singing, swinging and dancing starts. On this day when the married daughters come to their parent’s house their brothers fix the swings for them. As they swing they share their anxieties with each other through songs. Dressed in their best and decked by ornaments, girls gather during these festivals like the fairies. These dancers look a medley of color and beauty. The festival continues till the 3rd Lunar day in the month to full moon and there is a gala function on the concluding day.
On the night before the wedding, the female relations of the bridegroom prepare a ‘Jaago’. Jaago is constructed on the style of ancient balconies on several surfaces of which lamps, fashioned out of dough of wheat flour are constructed in the style of stars, These are filled with ghee or oil, cotton wicks are placed in them and lighted. This effigy is put on the head of groom’s mothers’ brothers’ wife, led by her the mother’s relations, singing, dancing frolicking knocking at the doors of residents of the groom’s village, enter in, dance gidha accept presents of food, grain and ghee for the lamps and continue these rounds through the night, when youth glows and the dark of the night resounds with mirth and laughter.
Kilkli, is more of a sport than a dance, is generally popular with the young girls. The dance performed in pairs, is a favourite of the young girls. It can be done by any even number of performers starting with two. Before beginning the dance, the two participants stand face to face with their feet close to each other’s and their bodies inclined back. Standing in this pose the arms of the dancers are stretched to the maximum limitand their hands are interlocked firmly.
The dance is performed when the pairs, maintaining this pose, wheel round and round in a fast movement at the same spot with the feet serving as the pivotal points. The girls sing as they swirl around with colorful ‘orhnis’ or ‘daupttas’ flowing from their heads and anklets producing tinkling melodies.
There is a rich repertoire of traditional songs available that are used to accompany the ‘kikli’ dance. Most of these songs consist merely of loosely rhyming lines without underlying theme. One of the examples is :
Kikli kleer di,
Pag mere vir di,
Daupatta mere bhai da,
Phitte mun jawai da.
The fairy dancers of the court of lord Indira are reputed to have taught the technique of Giddha and Sammi to the girls of this earth. The fairy which taught Giddha was known as Giddho while the one who taught Sammi was named as such. This kind of dance form is popular in Sandal Bar which now is in Pakistan. Sammi has not been able to gain popular acceptance and is breathing its last in the huts of the tribals. Women of Baazigars, Rai Sikhs, Lobanas and Sansi lot tribes dance in this medium. This is also danced in the privacy of women.
This women’s dance is also performed like ‘Giddha’. The dancers stand in a circle and swing their hands, bringing them up from the sides, right in front up to the chest level and clap: they take their hands down in accordance with a rythem and clap again. Repeating this gesture, they bend forward and clap again, and go round and round in a circle. As the rythem is maintained with the beat of the feet, various kinds of swinging movements are performed with the arms. Most of the gestures are confined to the movement of the arms, clicking and clapping. No instrument is required as an accompaniment to this dance. Rythem is kept up with the beating of the feet and clapping.
Special make-up is done by its performers. They knit their hair into thin plaits all over their head into intricate patterns and tie the remaining length of the hair in one full plait. In the middle of their head they fix a domed ornament shaped like an inverted lotus called phul-chowk or Suggiphul (flower of the crossings of the plaits). The performers wear a unisex kurta (male shirt) and the tehmet (lower cloth) and cover their head with a thick cloth of loose rectangular dimension, called ‘Bhochhan’. Chutki is a frictional sound of single note created by pressing and then sIiding the thumb and the index or the middle finger and is used to keep the beat in this lance. The background song of this dance is also called sammi. This is also a dance of controlled movements. It is said that even the Devtas (angels) get inebriated while seeing this dance.