Folk dances of India

Male dancers performing the Kolattam Dance on stage
Kolattam Dance

India is acclaimed internationally for its rich cultural heritage which is being maintained for centuries together, and is known for its unity in diversity, as we have several States with varied traditions and customs which have been practised for generations. The country has different classical dances, folk and tribal dances that reflect our cultural heritage and history.

In all the 29 States of India, different folk dances are performed during any religious or social occasion. The word “folk” means people, hence folk dances are for the people, by the people, and of the people, meant to symbolise unity and peace. Though there are many folk dances and tribal dances in India, I am enlisting only some of the most popular dance forms.

Men performing the Bhangra Dance on stage
Bhangra Dance

Bhangra

Bhangra dance originated from Punjab and is performed on festive occasions like Baisakhi, and other social occasions. Bhangra is normally performed by men and they are attired with colourful lungi, kurta, jacket and a majestic turban on the head. It is performed with a lot of enthusiasm, zeal and typical zest for life for which Punjabis are well known. The dance is based on Punjabi folk music that portrays varied aspects of life.

Women performing Bihu Dance on stage
Bihu Dance

Bihu

Bihu is a graceful folk dance from Assam performed by young women with typical movements of the shoulder and the hands kept on the torso while dancing and moving in uniformity creating a fine spectacle. It is performed on different occasions for peace and harmony. The women are elegantly and comfortably dressed in sarees so that they can move and dance with ease.

Chhau

Chhau is a popular folk dance from Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand. It is also known as the mask dance, as dancers wear different masks according to the character they portray. The three types of Chhau are Seraikela, Purulia, and Mayurbanj and these dances vary according to the particular region or type. Mayurbanj Chaau dancers do not wear masks; hence their style of presentation or expression is different. Chhau dancers give lot of emphasis to Angika Abhinaya (bodily movement) pertaining to the animal or character that they portray. This dance is done to traditional music with drums that is rhythmic and quite bold in the style of presentation.

Dandiya

Dandiya, as the name suggests, is the popular dance of Gujarat, wherein both male and female dancers dance with small sticks in their hands as they move in a circular motion. They lightly touch the sticks of their counterparts, dancing in a slow and fast tempo. It is normally performed during the Navratri festival, and the dancers pay homage to the goddess. The dancers either perform in the temple or in the courtyard where the statute of the goddess is placed in the centre. The females are attired in ghagra choli while the males dance in their traditional attire.

Ghumar and Garba

Ghumar is a dance performed by women in Rajasthan wherein they dance in a circular style moving quite fast and creating a fine visual impact. Although it is visually appealing, it is not easy to perform this dance as it requires lot of practice. Garba is another dance form of Gujarat performed by women mainly during the Navratri festival.

Devendra Shelar: Dance Teacher & Choreographer


Devendra Shelar is an accomplished Bharatanatyam exponent, dance teacher and choreographer for more than three decades. He has established his dance academy, Kala Arpan, along with his talented wife who is a dancer herself. His programme of folk dances projecting twenty-eight dances has been acclaimed by personalities like Prof. Kamalakar Sontakke. His troupe has presented several such spectacular shows over the years.

Kaikottikali and Karkattam

Kaikottikali is a popular dance of Kerala performed by women, and as the name suggests, the dancers clap while dancing. This dance is also known as Thiruvathirakali and is performed during festive occasions like Onam and Vishu. The dancers are dressed in the traditional attire of cream colour saree with golden border with matching blouse, moving in slow and steady circular movements. Karkattam is from Tamil Nadu and is performed during religious occasions by men and women with percussion rhythmic music.

Lezim, Latimaar and Lavani

Lezim is a dance form of Maharashtra, performed by young men with the musical instrument known as Lezim, made out of wood and metallic bells attached to it and used while dancing. The clinging sound of Lezim is accompanied by varied active and jumping movements. Latimaar is a fun-loving dance performed jointly by both men and women, and as the name suggests, men are beaten by women with big lathis (sticks). During festivals like Holi, this dance is quite popular in Uttar Pradesh and other northern States. Lavani is another folk dance of Maharashtra and is a part of the tamasha art form, in which varied episodes of life are portrayed with fun and satire along with traditional folk music.

Naga Dance

Naga dance hails from Nagaland and is performed by the tribals. The tribals perform as hunters and the dance portrays the complete sequence of hunting prey and how the particular animal is cooked and eaten. The music is quite thrilling and their attire is unusual with leaves and feathers attached to their costumes.

Women performing the Mayur dance on stage
Mayur Dance

Mayur Dance

Mayur Dance hails from Uttar Pradesh and portrays the story of Lord Krishna appearing as a majestic and colourful peacock in order to entice his counterpart, Radha. This is an entertaining dance in which the dancer has to adapt the typical characteristics, gait and bodily movements of the peacock which needs dexterity and unique talent.

Female dancers performing Hojagiri Dance on stage
Hojagiri Dance

Hojagiri Dance

Hojagiri dance hails from Tripura and is performed by the tribals who dance on earthen pots while balancing with bottles and plates placed on the head and in the hands. This is an entertaining dance and an acrobatic feat as the dancers have to balance and dance to perfect rhythm as well which is easy to look at but not easy to perform.

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Guru Vijay Shanker
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Guru Vijay Shanker

Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi-Kathakali exponent, actor, choreographer and arts critic for more than four decades.