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Indian dance| ©Pabak Sarkar|Flickr
Indian dance| ©Pabak Sarkar|Flickr

An Introduction To The Regional Folk Dances Of India

Picture of Vidushi Trivedi
Updated: 28 November 2016
A land of colors and traditions, India is a country in which each state adds a new color to its canvas. Diversity is in India’s roots, be it in the food, clothing, festivals, languages, and landscapes. Every state and its regions have different dance styles and folk music, with which they express the nature of their community. Every part of India has its unique folk dance, which isn’t as complex as the classical form of dance but, in its simplicity, it reflects the deep-sited beliefs of their people. We explore some of the best folk dances that make India’s cultural heritage much more beautiful.

Dumhal and Rouff of Jammu and Kashmir

Dumhal is performed by men belonging to the Wattal tribe of Kashmir to celebrate special occasions. It is performed wearing long vibrant-colored robes, a conical cap studded with beads and shells. The group of dancers moves in a procession, ceremoniously carrying a banner which is dug in the ground and the men dance around it in circles. Rouff is a much loved customary dance of Kashmir performed by girls. It involves simple footwork and is mostly performed on celebrated occasions such as Ramzan and Id. Rouff has been an element of Kashmiri life since primeval times, and it was a welcoming dance performed by women on the onset of spring season.

Bhangra of Punjab

One of the most popular dances, not just in the state of Punjab, but in the country as a whole. It was performed originally during the harvest season, wearing a traditional Punjabi dress and with instruments including a Dhol, Chimta, Algoza and others. It is regarded as a popular music style in the country. The dance form has a mix of many steps like dhamaal, jutti, fulka, sialkoti, dankare, jugni, mirzi, fumnian. Other folk dance of Punjab like Jhummar and Sammi, are also included in Bhangra.

Raas Leela of Uttar Pradesh

It is popular in the region of Mathura and Vrindavan of Uttar Pradesh, and is associated with the festival of Holi and Janmashtami. It is a part of the mythological stories of Lord Krishna where he dances with Radha and sakhis. It is regarded as the “dance of the divine love.” The Indian classical dance Kathak evolved from Raas Leela of Braj and Manipuri classical dance. Raas Leela has been a popular theme in many other classical dance forms.

Garba of Gujarat

Traditional Garba is performed around a clay lantern known as the Garba Deep or around the statue of Goddess Shakti. Symbolically the Garba Deep represents a body within which the divine energy of the Goddess resides. The dance is performed in groups to celebrate the nine days Hindu festival of Navratri. It is performed in rings and concentric circles representing the cycle of birth and death in Hinduism, leaving only one constant which is the divinity of God symbolized by the idol of the Goddess or the Garba Deep.

Ghoomar of Rajasthan

Ghoomar was developed by the Bhil tribe and was later adopted by Rajasthani communities. The beauty of this folk dance is in the swirling colorful robes of the women as the pirouetting displays the vibrant colors of the flowing ghagra (long heavily embroidered colorful skirt).

Bihu of Assam

Characterized by brisk steps and rapid hand movements, this is a folk dance performed by both men and women of Assam. The musical instruments mostly used in the dance are Dhol (drum), Pepa (horn), Gagana (an instrument made of bamboo). Usually, the ladies wear a mustard and red colored saree while the men are dressed in a dhoti and a headband of red and mustard color.

Lavani of Maharashtra

Performed on the beats of the instrument Dholki, Lavani is characterized by powerful rhythms. It contributes majorly to Marathi folk theatre. It is performed by females dressed in a nine-yard-long saree on songs in a quick tempo.

Ghumura of Odisha

One of the most sought after dances in Odisha, Ghumura is similar to a tribal dance, because of the dress that is worn while performing it. Research suggests that it was regarded as a war dance in ancient India, and was performed by Ravana in the Ramayana. Its roots in the Medieval period are confirmed by the fact that this dance is depicted in the Sun Temple, Konark. The movements and expressions used in the dance make it a “heroic dance.”

Kathakali of Kerala

Katha means story and kali means play – Kathakali is one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. Originating more than 1500 years ago, this is a combination of dance, drama, music and ritual. Noted for elaborate costumes, attractive make-up done on the characters, detailed gestures and well defined body movements presented in tunes.

Yakshagana of Karnataka

This is a classical dance drama with music, dance depicting a story with dialogues and unique costumes. Yakshagana is also known as aataā in Kannada and Tulu (‘play’). Yakshagana literally means the song (gana) of a yaksha. Yakshas were an exotic tribe mentioned in the Sanskrit literature of ancient India.

Karagattam of Tamil Nadu

Traditionally performed by the villagers in praise of the Rain Goddess Mari Amman, it showcases the performers balancing water pots on their heads in a beautiful fashion. This dance was performed in two forms and occasions – the Aatta Karagam is danced with decorated pots on the head and symbolizes joy and happiness, while the Sakthi Karagam is performed only in temples and is mainly danced for entertainment.  The pots used in the dance are decorated with flowers and is topped by a moving paper parrot. The parrot rotates as the dancer takes swings, which adds to the beauty of this dance.

Kalikapatadi of West Bengal

This Bengali folk dance revolves around the mythological story of how Lord Shiva calms down Goddess Kali after killing Asura. The dance is more prevalent in Howrah. Before the coronation of Shiva on Neelpuja Day (Chaitra Sankranti), the performance of this dance is considered a must. The green leaves of water hyacinth are used to make the hair of Kali and the black ash to decorate the body. Clay mask is used for Mahadeva. Palm leaves reddened with alta are used to symbolize the tongue of Kali. The performers usually go on a fast for the day as a form of worship.