India is a land of rich cultures, traditions, and customs. Dance and art forms are an integral part of the Indian culture, practiced for ages with immense talent and skill. It has embedded within itself a wide variety of folk and tribal dances performed with great vigor and energy in different parts of the country. Each of the dance forms has unique attire which distinguishes the dancers from others. The dances are normally performed during special occasions or in some religious ceremonies. In this article, I will discuss some of the popular tribal and folk dances of India.
Bihu is one of the popular folk dances of India and is the specialty of the state of Assam. The dancers tap their feet in rhythmic movements at the beat of the drums and the melodious sound of the flutes. The dance is performed by the women folk while the menfolk engage in playing the musical instruments. The key instruments used for the music are the drums, flutes, Baahi, Pepa and Gagana mostly made of bamboo.
The dancers wear the traditional Assamese dress, Mekhla, the colors being mostly a combination of mustard and red. The musicians wear dhotis and shirts with headbands. The drum beats and the sound of the other instruments are operated with such power and energy that you will be thrilled by it. The dancers form groups swaying around with small steps and moving their hands fast in sequence.
Garba is one of the liveliest folk dances of India prevalent in the state of Gujarat. During Navratri, the women folk huddle together to move around in circles to perform the dance. Some of them carry lamps on their heads and carry them to the temple to offer their prayers to the Gods and Goddesses.
The dancers deck up themselves with vibrant colored clothes and heavy jewelry. Their attire involves the Ghaghra or the long skirts with the upper part representing a long top and a long veil to cover their heads. The men are either involved in singing or playing musical instruments. The dancers are full of energy as they circle around in fast motion, transforming the atmosphere into a magical arena.
Padyani is a masked folk dance art form practiced mainly in Kerala. The unique feature of the dance is the different masks worn by the dancers. The masks represent various Gods and Goddesses or characters from the ancient Hindu epics and old tales. Known as Kolams, the masks are huge, and it’s really astonishing to watch the dancers moving around with the heavy masks.
The dance is mainly performed by the menfolk, performing theatrical acts and scenes from the different old Hindu stories from the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the queens and kings of India. The songs and the music are performed live by the musicians and artists.
Matki Dance is one of the unique folk dances of India prominently followed in Madhya Pradesh. The dance is performed by the women folk by placing an earthenware pot or pitcher in their hands. It is a solo dance that demonstrates the balancing skill of the dancer and the elegant dance moves. The dance is popular in the countryside and villages performed during special occasions and religious ceremonies.
The dancers wear colorful sarees or lehengas (long skirts) and ornaments. They cover their faces with a veil. The dance is performed at the beats of many musical instruments, the key one being the dhol or the drum.
Cheraw dance is one of the interesting folk dances of India performed by the tribal people dwelling in Mizoram. The dance is performed in groups by both women and men folk. The men sit on the ground holding bamboo sticks horizontally and clapping against each other. The women dance in between the clapping bamboos in careful rhythmic and intricate steps.
The Cheraw dancers earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 when a huge number of artists performed the dance together. The dance is performed by the tribes on almost all festivals and religious occasions in Mizoram.
Lavani is one of the popular folk dances of India, a key dance form of the state of Maharashtra. It is an energetic dance executed at the beats of a musical instrument called Dholki or percussion. The dance is performed by the women folk wearing long sarees. The dancers follow the tunes of a song performed live with powerful movements.
Heavy jewelry and ornaments are part of the attire of the dancers. The women wear buns on their heads and deck themselves up elaborately. Sometimes men folk also join the dancers and they are known as Kinnars.
Bhangra is one of the folk dances of India famous in all parts of India and even abroad. The dance originated in the state of Punjab. It is a lively performance executed with melodious and rhythmic beats music. The unique feature of the dance is the smile prevailing around the dancers as they move around in delight.
The dancers wear colorful dhotis and kurtas with turbans or headgears. The main purpose of Bhangra is to celebrate the harvesting season in Punjab. Nowadays the dance is performed on special occasions, wedding ceremonies, and religious festivals too.
Ghoomar is one of the elegant folk dances of India, predominantly performed by the women folk of Rajasthan. The performers dance to the melodious folk songs sung by the men and women singers to the beats of the traditional musical instruments. The women dancers revolve in circular motions in a group with a vigorous pace.
The dancers wear long colorful flowing skirts with long tops and veils covering their faces. They wear heavy jewelry, especially elaborate bangles. The dance is performed by beating the palms on the ground to create a clapping sound and striking acrobatic moves. If you visit Rajasthan then you would be entertained by these amazing dance performances during the desert safaris or folk dance shows.
Chhau is one of the ancient folk dances of India. It is common in the tribal villages of West Bengal, Odisha, and Jharkhand. The dance is marked with martial arts and acrobatic moves. The dancers are the menfolk disguised to act as both the male and female characters. It is thrilling to watch the flexibility of the dancers as they perform their skills.
The unique feature of the dance form is the dresses worn by them. It consists of a heavy mask along with elaborate colorful clothing. Many acts from the Hindu epics, and tales of Gods, and Goddesses are enacted by the performers. The dance connects the people with the social and economic situations of ancient times as well as the religious sentiments.
Also, read about the Traditional Dances of Bhutan.
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