Dancing across the Five Rivers

  • Meenu Thakur Sankalp
  • India
  • Apr 03, 2015

Punjab, the pristine land of five rivers - Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj - is one of the most fertile areas of South Asia. Despite Partition, which divided Punjab, and some tumultuous happenings thereafter, the people of the land have managed to keep their dancing traditions intact. Of the many dance forms of this beautiful region, those of a folk nature have thrived, and are an important cultural link between India and Pakistan.

Bhangra – This is a dance that needs no introduction. Bhangra is one of the most well-known and popular folk dances of the world. Performed by males, it is most enjoyable in nature. Bhangra dancers dance to the rhythmic beats of musical instruments like the flute, the drum and the ‘dhol’. The dancers dress in elaborate turbans, ‘kurtas’ and colourful ‘dhotis’. Co-ordination, rhythm, balance, symmetry and acrobatic jumps are synonymous with Bhangra. The group of dancers celebrates the happy, warm and spontaneous culture of Punjab – in both India and Pakistan. 


Gatka -
This is predominantly a Sikh combat dance that is performed as a martial art between two male dancers, either with a sword or ‘soti’ (stick). The dancers attack each other, and block and retaliate, with their different weapons. Gatka requires alertness of mind and quick-footed reactions. As the dancers swirl with their swords, the spectators watch with bated breath. The dance has a spiritual and religious base. Rasmi is the religious ideal of this dance, which was developed during the later medieval period. 

Gidda – While this females-only dance is also energetic (like Bhangra), it is performed with grace and charm. The women dance to the beats of the ‘dhol’ and gesture appropriately to the lyrical verses that talk of daily village life. The singers clap and urge them on. The style is not rigid; in fact it is a free-style kind of dance. 

Kikli – This is a dance that is performed by Punjabi women in both India and Pakistan. The women are grouped in pairs, and singers, clapping in perfect co-ordination, accompany the dancers. The girls cross their hands in front and hold their partner’s hands; then, at full stretch, they go round and round at high speed. Kikli is full of fun and frolic.

Jaago – As wedding ceremonies in North India and Pakistan usually take place at night, the dance is intended to wake up (jaago) people during the wedding ceremonies and give them a sense of enjoyment. The dance seeks to celebrate conjugal union. Girls hold a candle-lit pot over their head while they sing and dance merrily. The songs have witty and suggestive lyrics, and inevitably the hosts and guests end up participating along with the dancers.

Luddi - This is a victory dance. It is popular in Pakistan. The dancer’s movements are similar to those made by the head/hood of a snake. The Luddi dancers clap their hands while jumping and turning in circles. They also tap their feet in perfect rhythm. 

Julli  - This dance is popular on the Pakistan side, thanks to the influence of ‘Pirs’ (Muslim religious teachers) during Mughal rule. Pirs propagated this dance in a very rigid manner, with females not even being allowed to attend the performances. In Julli, the leader of the group starts the dance and then moves around, while the others remain seated and only move their upper bodies. There are bells tied to the torsos of the dancers, which make a jingling sound when the upper body is moved. The next dancer gets up only when the leader sits. The dancers dress mostly in black costumes.

Jhumar - Originally from Balochistan, Multan and Sandal Bar in Pakistan, Jhumar is derived from ‘Jhum’, which means ‘to sway’. Performed by males, Jhumar has extensive hand movements; the feet movements are restricted. Traditionally Jhumar is danced on full moon nights or during wedding ceremonies. There is also a town named Jhumar in the Faislabad region of Pakistan. 

Sammi - This is a slow, sad dance that is performed in Pakistan; it originated from the region of Sandal Bar. The dance is based on Indian mythology. It tells the story of Princess Sammi and Prince Dhola. The dancers form a ring and swing their hands; the dance has swift movements. The women look spectacular in their embroidered ‘lehngas’. Some of them dance like dervishes - without a care in the world.
Dhamaal - The state of Haryana (carved out of Punjab in 1966) is home to Dhamaal, a dance popular among the Ahir Yadavs of Gurgaon. This dance celebrates the harvest. The dancers prostrate themselves before the Hindu Gods. The accompanying instruments are loud, the dhol being the most popular of them. The dancers form a semi circle and dance joyously; they also use sticks as props. The costumes worn by the Dhamaal dancers resemble the traditional Bhangra ensemble. 
The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer


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