“Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body,” said Martha Graham, one of the greatest modern dancers who ever lived. And if this is true, then India’s very soul can be seen through its numerous dance forms. This country’s countless folk dances celebrate the change of seasons, the arrival of happiness, and the simple joys of life. You can see them in the cities, towns and the remotest parts of India, binding together the nation while still representing a variety of cultures. On the occasion of Dance Day 2017, it is apt for us to look at some of these amazing dance forms and their roots. From the popular Bhangra to the lesser-known gems like Kalbelia, here is a look at places in India that are famous for their dance. ALSO READ: 7 Indian classical dance forms which are popular all over the world
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Let’s start this list with the most obvious entry: Punjab. The Bhangra and Giddha have entered the common cultural lexicon of this country over the centuries, and we can see why. The energy and exuberance on display is incredible, while the steps range from a simple raise of the hands to more elaborate steps with a large group. Bhangra is performed by the men typically, while Giddha is performed by women. You can find folks in Punjab and Haryana dancing on every major celebration, but the best time to experience the Bhangra at its finest is during the spring harvest festival of Baisakhi. Also Read - Indian players at Physical Disadvantage Due to Space Constraint During COVID-19: John Gloster
Navratri Garba performance
From the Bhangra, we move to another dance form that is practiced everywhere in India: Garba. Originating in Gujarat, Garba and the related form of Dandiya Raas are even popular among Indian diaspora in other countries. Once again, its popularity lies in its versatility. You can go from simple hand claps to elaborate spins, and someone with two left feet can easily find his or her way around the community dance in a while. The dance is performed less frequently, though, and the best time to catch it is during the nine days of Navratri festivities. Also Read - When Maxi Ran Out Dhoni, We Knew It Was Our Game: James Faulkner Remembers 2015 World Cup Semifinal Against India
Jammu and Kashmir
Buddhist monks performing the Cham dance during Yuru Kabgyat festival at Lamayuru Gompa in Lamayuru, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir
Now we venture into lesser known territory, starting with the hauntingly beautiful paradise valley of Kashmir, home of the folk dance called Rouf. Typically practiced by the women of the community in epic elegance, Rouf is a crucial part of the Kashmiri identity, as is the folk dance of Dumhal, which is traditionally performed by the men only. Given their origins in Islam, the best time to observe these dances is during Muslim festivals. Ramzan and Eid are particularly good times to visit the valley and enjoy the dances performed.
Cultural Dance in Sam sand dunes near Jaisalmer – Jaisalmer – Rajasthan
Rajasthan’s dance culture is as vast as its desert and as colorful as its handicraft. The traditional folk dance here is Ghoomar, typically performed by the women of the Bhil tribes and other communities. A less popular dance form in this state is Kalbelia, performed by a former untouchable community of the same name. The dance mimics the movements of a snake and is performed on several occasions. Another dance form by the same community is the Matku. Both dance forms have been recognized by UNESCO, which should tell you how important they are to the state’s culture.
From the northern states of India, we move onto one of the famed northeastern Seven Sisters: Manipur. There are several dances performed by different tribes and communities in the state, and Sankirtana is among the most widely practiced ones. This is more than just a dance though; it is accompanied by singing and musical instruments. In fact, it is said that the songs sung during a Sankirtana uses 100 different rhythmic variations, or Taals. ALSO READ: 10 spectacular Manipur photos that will tempt you to visit northeast India NOW!
Dancing girl during performance at traditional Bihu festival in Guwahati, Assam
Next in our list is the Bihu dance, performed during the namesake harvest festival in the state of Assam and neighboring regions. Bihu is, in fact, a popular festival in the northeast, given the large agrarian population in the area. Practiced by both men and women, the dance is simple but elegant, with rapid hand movement and brisk steps accompanied to the tune of traditional musical instruments. Nobody knows where and when it originated from, but Bihu is now an important part of celebrations and is a spectacle worth experiencing.
Unidentified girl students perform Lezim, a traditional folk dance, in Amravati, Maharashtra
Maharashtra has several folk dances popular for different reasons in different regions. Lavani is among the more popular ones, performed to the beats of a Dholki. It is even practiced in other states, including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. A variant of this is the Tamasha, which usually combines romantic music, with themes of the two Indian epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat. Koli is a popular dance form among the Konkani fishing community, while Dindi is a dance form specifically devoted to Krishna.
Chhattisgarh has several folk and art dances attributed to it, performed by its many communities. Raut Nacha is said to be the folk dance of cowherds, since it originates from descendants of Krishna. It is best seen during Diwali celebrations, but there are other dances to witness here too, like the Panthi Dance of the Satnami community, the famous Pandavani dance, Karma and Sua Nacha and the Saila Dance that is seen during the harvest festival.
Body painted tiger dance artists perform in Thrissur
The state of Kerala has several dance forms, many of which are world-famous. The simplest among them is the Kaikottikali, performed by women in a circle during festivals like Onam and Thiruvathira. The tiger dance or Pulikali is also very popular, especially in Thrissur, widely considered the state’s cultural capital. This festival is performed by men in elaborate body paint to represent tigers. You can see this captivating dance during Onam celebrations.
Disciples of Bharatanatyam, a dance form that originated in Tamil Nadu
The neighboring state of Tamil Nadu has an equally impressive list of folk dances, from the Kali Attam to the Thappaattam, Ottan Koothu and Chakkai Attam. In fact, the state has a relative complex and rich history of dance and music, much of which is rooted in centuries-old rural folk theatre. Karakattam, for instance, is an ancient dance in which performers balance a pot on their head. ALSO READ: Tamil Nadu a beautiful South Indian state in pictures
Artists perform Dollu kunitha in Makara Sankranti
Move a little up north, and you’ll find that Karnataka has a rich dance culture too! Arguably the most popular dance, music and theatre form here is the Yakshagana, which itself can be split into two types depending on the region: Moodalopaya in the east and Paduvlopaya in the west. Another major folk dance form is the Dollu Kunitha, typically performed during the harvest festival on a full moon day. Then there is the Veeragase, performed during Dusshera, and the Bayalata, which resembles the Yakshagana.
Kuchipudi dance being performed in Hyderabad
Andhra Pradesh is home to some of the most elaborate and beautiful forms of Indian classical dance, like the popular form of Kuchipudi. Lambadi, Dhimsa, Vilasini Natyam and Kolatam are some of the other forms of dance you can experience in different parts of the state. In the southeastern parts of Andhra Pradesh, you will find the beautiful , elaborate and sometimes terrifying folk dance called Veeranatyam, which literally translates to Dance of the Brave.
Dancers performing at Chhau Dance festival
Finally, we come to West Bengal, a culturally rich state with equally beautiful folk dances. One of these dances is the Gambhira, which is devoted to the Hindu goddess Shakti. The Kirtan, meanwhile, is dedicated to Vishnu, while the Kushan revolves around the Ramayan. Among the most unique dance forms in this state is the Chhau, a tribal martial dance that is seen during harvest festivals, mostly in the district of Purulia. And since we are in Bengal, let’s end this list with a quote by Rabindranath Tagore himself, “Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” NOW READ: Rabindranath Tagore, 8 facts you dont know about the traveler!
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