Folk dances of Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh is an Indian state with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. According to the Indian mythology, it also boasts to be the state where god Shri Ram and Krishna were born (Raslila). The cities like Varanasi and Mathura have a historical past of more than 2000 years and have been the incubators of several art and dance forms. Some of the major folk dances of Uttar Pradesh are mentioned below:
One of the most spectacular folk dances of Uttar Pradesh which is widely popular in the Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh. It’s a tough act of balance where a veiled woman dancer performs with a 108 oil lamps on her head placed on a wooden pyramid platform. The songs are primarily written to praise and revere Lord Krishna who was born in this region.
The dance is usually performed on the third day of the famous Hindu festival of Holi. It is said that, Radha was born on this day and since then Charkula dance is performed in Braj. Due to the placement of lighted earthen oil lamps, the movement in this dance form are swift and graceful. The loose ghagra is colorful and helpful for free and swift movements during the dance performance. The folk dance is popular amongst the Brahmin community in the Mathura district.
Khyal folk dance has evolved since its origin and matured into different styles which are named either on the city where they originated or on the community or author who developed them. These styles are famous across several regions with some subtle changes which help us in differentiating them from the other. Some popular Khyal forms are: Jaipuri Khyal, Abhinaya Khyal, Ali Baksh Khyal etc. All these Khyal performances invoke tales of bravery, sentiments, romance from the Puranas and portray them in an interesting manner.
Several local musical instruments like Dholak, Harmonium etc. are pivotal for any Khyal performance. The songs primarily begin by paying tribute to the respected deities. The cast mostly is male with an Ustaad who is usually the director of the performance and is well versed with the song and dance moves.
Many of us will be familiar with Raslila which has been introduced to us through mythological stories in Bhagwad Gita. The Raslila was the act where Lord Krishna danced and sang with the gopis on the banks of river Krishna in the Vrindavan region. This art form is particularly famous in western Uttar Pradesh and portrays the life tales of Krishna ranging from his childhood till his adolescence.
The art form is colorful and glossy with graceful dance movements and facial expressions. It also captures the divine love that Gopikas from Braj (Mathura) had for Krishna. Raslila also explores the relation of Krishna and Radha whose incorruptible love for each other is revered to this very day. The folk dance is performed by mandalas (group of people) who roam from one place to another playing instruments like dholak, flute and singing the legends of Lord Krishna.
Ramlila is another dance form which is primarily practiced in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar. It could also be one of the oldest folk dances of Uttar Pradesh. It depicts the life of Lord Rama in play and dance form. Just like Raslila, Ramlila takes us to the life journey of god Rama who is believed to be another incarnation of God Vishnu.
The entire Ramlila is a sequence of plays which continue for varying durations between 7 to 30 days. The dance has a spiritual connectivity and is quite popular in the rural belts of these states. Since, this folk form is mainly performed during the Dussehra festival, it makes the folk dance an innate part of religious culture and practice. The stage for Ramlila performances is decorated with props to create a scene from the play and an in depth effort is made to get the jewelry, costumes and make-up right.
The conversations between the characters happens through small dialogues or songs. The songs are performed on the musical instruments like Tabla and Harmonium.