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Prominent Folk dances of India

It is said that every human being needs a creative means to express himself / herself. Since the evolution of mankind, we have seen people using various art forms like writing, singing, dancing, acting etc. Folk dances of India are also a mean for smaller groups or communities to come together to share and express their happiness during festivals or some other vital event. Since, India is home to numerous such small tribal groups and communities which have different ethnicities, Indian folk dances follow different customs and cultural events of their particular area.

Chhau dance captured by Arghya Chatterjee at Purulia district - Mythical India
Chhau dance

From north to south and from east to west, it can be said without doubt, that every Indian state has more than one folk dance form which has been practiced by the people of the state over ages. The North Eastern states where we can still find the tribal groups have plethora of dances and cultural traditions followed by each of these groups. The Indian folk dances and the celebration that ensues has kept these ethnic groups and communities together for so long. It gives them a platform to come together and forget whatever small differences and altercations they might have. These dance forms also give a sense of Identity to these communities and tribes which is another reason why they have can these traditions alive.

If we try to categorize the folk dances of India, the major paradigms would be:

  1. Occasion – Majority of the folk dances of India are somewhere linked to the festivals that the group or community celebrates. Some other folk dances are performed on major life events like marriages, birth ceremonies etc. Since India is predominantly an agrarian society, numerous folk dances among different tribal groups are performed during different harvest seasons.
  2. Form – While almost all of the folk dances of India involve some background music are singing, the way in which they are performed might differ. In some of the folk dances the performers will dance to the beats of the background music where as in others, they mime to depict important cultural events through intense facial expressions and hand gestures.
  3. Musical instruments – Since music is such an intricate part of these folk dances, musical instruments are a necessity. Most of these folk dances involve the use of native Indian musical instruments like Tabla, Dhol, Flute, Manjeera, Nagada etc. The tribal groups in North Eastern states often use instruments made out of Bamboo for their folk dances.
  4. Costume – The costumes play a pivotal role in all of Folk dances of India. Based on the costumes wore by the dancers, one can easily guess the traditional wear of the people of that state. Dhoti-Kurta, Ghagra-Choli, Sari, Chunri etc. are some of the costumes which dancers wear in Northern states during their performances.

We have listed some of the prominent folk dances of India categorized on the basis of states where they are predominantly practiced.

The state has one of the most holy Hindu pilgrimage site in form of the Lord Venkateswara temple. This Vaishnavite temple at Tirupati is located in Chittoor district. The folk dances of this state are extremely vivacious and colorful and are appealing to the senses. The prominent one’s are Kuchipudi and Andhra Natyam.

Bardo Chham is a folk dance of Arunachal Pradesh and a crucial ritual among the ethno-various group of north-east people. Folk dances are performed during festivals and likewise as leisure routine. These primitive tribal communities living at the Himalayan skirt for centuries were able to retain their targeted tradition of thousand years.Traditional Bardo Chham folk dance of Arunachal Pradesh - Mythical India

Assam is widely known for its wildlife, tea plantations and archaeological sites. This state has a bountiful of temples and agricultural land. Adding to the feathers in its cap are the exquisite folk dances including the famous Bihu dance. Other folk dances include Jhumar Nach and Barugumba.

Folk dances are one of the most interesting aspects of Bihar’s culture. Most of the folk dances reflect common life, people’s sorrows, accomplishments, and problems. On important social gatherings, these dances are performed in group with musical instruments like table, dholak and harmonium accompanying the singers. Some prominent dance forms are Bidesia and Paika.

Chhattisgarh has a considerable population of tribal people. Moreover, majority of the people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Thus, harvest seasons are of utmost importance and are celebrated with much enthusiasm. Saila and Panthi folk dances are common to watch during these festivals.

Renowned as ‘land of festivals’, Gujarat celebrates a huge array of festivals with great pomp and show. People perform traditional dances based on their rich culture and traditions. Various dance forms and songs of Gujarat are popular all over the country. Dances like Dandiya and Garba have grabbed the attention of people all over India.

Himachal Pradesh is known as Dev Bhoomi- the land of God. There is an exhaustive list of Folk dances from Himachal Pradesh that are still prevalent for each occasion to appease the Almighty. Dangi, Jhainta and Nati are some of the folk dance forms extremely popular in these regions.

The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is rich in scenic beauty topped with snow-capped mountains along with verdant farms. The people living here are indeed fortunate to experience the gift of the Mother Nature. To add to their bucolic yet joyful life, their folk dances are also variegated. Dumhal and Rouf are prominent folk dances from this state.

This state surrounded by Bihar and Chhattisgarh is famous for a lot of things; some include the waterfalls, the temples, heritage sites and the Betla National Park that attracts tourists worldwide. Jhumar, Paika and Phagua are some of the popular folk dances among the residents of this state.

Karnataka, a state flanked by the Arabian Sea is famous for a lot of places- the world famous ISKON temple, the architectural wonder of the Mysore Palace, and the remnants of the temples at Hampi the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Vijayanagar and so on. Yakshagana, Kunitha and Bayalata are some of the famous folk dances of this state.

Kerala is famous for palm- lined beaches, its backwaters, it’s wildlife and cruises. The people here revere their dance forms as they revere Mahabali on whose head Lord Vishnu’s incarnation Vaman placed his foot on. Some of the folk dances of Kerala like Kathakali and Mohiniyattam are also recognized as classical dances. Hence, Kerala is often recognized as a major contributor to the folk dances of India.

Kathakali classical dance of Kerala - Mythical India
Kathakali classical dance of Kerala

Madhya Pradesh offers a wide variety of folk dances including Matki that involve several local rituals. All traditional dances are somewhere associated to the religious faith of people of this region. Madhya Pradesh government organizes a festival “Lokranjan” which acts as a platform for various tribes to showcase their religious and cultural heritage in form of folk dance or music.

This land is filled with exquisite culture and tradition. So are its folk dances. The plethora of folk dances is still prevalent and enthralls the audience with a wide variety of costumes, colors and ornaments. Lavani, Koli and Dindi are popular among masses.

One of the North-Eastern states of India, Mizoram has may tribal groups which their own culture and traditions. Cheraw is the most prominent folk dance of the state. This dance includes four people and is always a center of attraction during festive seasons in Mizoram.

The “Rangeela Punjab” has always held a special place in the hearts of every Indian due to its fun loving people and enriching culture and traditions. Singing and dancing are inherent in their culture. The Punjabi folk dances like Bhangra and Giddha are now recognized even at International level.

Rajasthan is the region that encompasses the Great Indian Desert. People bear the brunt of the sun with a soothing smile on their faces. They dance and rejoice to their fullest. Bhavai, Khayal and Ghoomar are few of the folk dances which one can witness easily while visiting this state.

Tamil Nadu, aptly described as the Land of Temples has a plethora of folk dance that catches the attention of its audience. A traditional Tamil folk dance starts from a mere puppet show aimed to entertain the audience. Kalakattam, Oyilattam and Bhagvatha Nandanam are some notable folk dance forms of the state.

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. Ramlila, Raslila, Charkula are some famous dances of the state.

West Bengal has the most wonderfully constructed, universally acclaimed bridge- The Howrah Bridge. This state is also filled with exotic temples where the devotees pour in to pay obeisance to the Gods and Goddesses. It celebrates their festivals with ardent fervor and also their folk dances. Folk dances of West Bengal like Chhau Dance are known worldwide for its beauty and perfection.

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