Karl Wilhelm once rightly said, “Art and works of art do not make an artist; sense and enthusiasm and instinct do”. The folk cultures of India are testimonial to this statement. Most ardently, the dance forms which run through the deep veins of Indian folk cultures are aesthetic justifications of instinctive and spirited expressions of art and culture.
Since ancient times, these folk dances, which vary with region and tribe, have been the traditional medium of celebration and reverence. They can be categorized efficiently with the geographic distinction of India.
- Jammu and Kashmir: One of the most scenic states of India, it hosts the Dumhal form of folk dance specific to the Wattal tribe. It is a ceremonial performance given by men who dance in circles with beats of drums and vocals given by the artists. Long robes with colourful fabric designs and beaded conical head covers add vibrancy to this procession.
- Himachal Pradesh: The Nati form of dance is performed at almost every occasion, all over the state as well as in the neighbouring state of Chandigarh. This form prides itself for being the Guinness record holder of the largest folk dance form.
- Haryana: Popular folk dances are – Ras Leela, Dhamal, Manjira and the Goga dance. These are mostly religious.
North Central India
- Uttar Pradesh: Here, mainly dances from mythological series (like The Ramayana and Mahabharata) with divine characters are performed with grace. The Braj Ras Leela, Khayal, Swang, Dadra and Charkula are prominent styles.
- Bihar: One of the most colourful states of India, Bihar’s folk dances is more relatable as they pertain melancholic lives of the ordinary. During seasons of draught, countryside women perform the Haali-Huli which is directed at Lord Indra. They appeal to wish that he provides rain to their lands, necessary for irrigation. Another folk dance, performed by the Mithila and Koshi people, is the Jat-Jatin where a pair of man and woman dances to narrative scenes of a husband-wife relationship. Other forms include The Kajari and Jumari.
- Jharkhand: This state boasts of ample tribal heritage and its folk dances are proof to that: the harvest dance includes the Jhumar which has two further renditions – the Janani Jhumar performed by women and the Mardana Jhumar done by men. However, the main tribal dance is the Chhou which is performed in an open space bordered by lighted torches or ‘mashaals’ and the dancers wear big decorative masks and perform narrative scenes from the Ramayana or Mahabharata (also called ‘nritya nataka’).
North Eastern India
- Assam: One of the most famous dance is the Bihu which has brisk steps and swift movements. The performers wear clothes of mustard and red colour. The Bhortal Nritya and Bagurumba are also prominent in the region. They use indigenous instruments like the gongwna, jota, serja, Kham and the sifung.
- Nagaland: The folk dance of this state is arguably the most disciplined and well synchronized religious and festive dance form. Different tribes have their own indigenous dance styles but one common link is the use of legs and the steady uprightness of the body. The men usually perform mock war scenes with war cries and songs.
- Meghalaya: The ritualistic dances from this state include the Dero Gata, Laho and the Shad Sukmysiem. They are rhythmic and are related with worshipping the nature.
- Arunachal Pradesh: They celebrate the religious glory and triumph of good over evil through the native Bardo Chham.
- Madhya Pradesh: The Grida dance is a congregation of villages celebrating harvest bloom. The Sela, Selalarki and Selabhadoni are the different tempo in which movements are performed. During weddings, the Maanch is performed which has a line based enactment as well. The Tertali encompasses many dance forms.
- Maharashtra: The Lavani dance which grooves to the beats of a Dholki is the rich addition to the Marathi heritage. It is rather fast and energetic. Pavri naach is another form.
- Chhattisgarh: The Yadavs pray to Lord Krishna through their dance of Raut Nacha which is performed at the time when Gods wake from momentary rest or the ‘Dev Udhni Ekadashi’.
- Gujarat: This culturally rich region has lots to offer in the pallet of folk dances – Dandiya Raas : Famous all over India, this is an interesting enactment of the war between Durga and Mahishasur with decorated sticks (Dandiya); Garba – rhythmic circular movements by women while clapping is a common sight during the festival of Navratri. Other dance forms include Siddhi Dhamal, Tippani and Padhar dance.
- Rajasthan: Owing to the magnanimous royalty in its history, this place is brimming with awe-inspiring folk dances which are so energetic and fun to watch that deserts in this region seem lively and thriving. The Ghoomer dance, Gowari are dance along with drama from the Bhil tribe. The Chari dance is the show of happiness by women upon finding water wherein they balance brass pots on their heads. The puppet dance or the Kathputli and the Kalbeliya or snake charmers add the goth and enigma to the folk culture of Rajasthan.
- Kerala: There are innumerable folk dance forms originating in God’s own country. Margamkali which is a tradition amongst the Christian community in Kerala is performed mainly by women during weddings. Kaliyattam or Theyyam glory Goddess Kaali, Thirayattam blends theatre, music, dance, expression gesture and martial art for a traditional event. The Duffmutu and Oppana belong to Muslim communities. These are also performed at weddings.
- Karnataka: Veeragese, which is performed by women, involves rigorous and fast paced movements. It is religious in context and adds the flavour of liveliness to tradition.
All these beautiful and mesmerising folk dances are not very technical, rather they are intuitive. This is helpful as folk dances and other cultures provide a medium for people to express their art minus the technicalities of professionalism. These are performed within designated communities, regions or tribes and each of them are either religious or celebratory of the harvest season. It is essential to keep them alive as they open the window of ancestral creativity for future generations.