Saturday, June 12, 2021

Lavani- The Pride of Maharashtra


Lavani is one of the most dynamic, robust, sensual and popular folk dances of the Indian state of Maharashtra as well as the surrounding areas in Konkan or coastal region of India. It is a combination of song and dance. The most common themes of this folk dance are feelings like heroism, love, sorrow, devotion and different aspects of social life such as religion, politics etc.

Maharashtra was once a battle torn state and lavani dance served as a morale booster and a mode of entertainment to weary soldiers during the 18th and 19th centuries. This dance form reached the peaks of popularity during the rule of the Peshwa Dynasty that was seated in Pune, during which Lavani was given support by the ruling elite. This folk dance was originally performed by ‘Dhangars’ or shepherds living in the Sholapur district of Maharashtra. They were inspired by nature and the dance form contains tales of the birth of their deity. Lavani has come a long way since then and has been adopted as an integral part of the culture of Maharashtra. 

The word Lavani is derived from the word ‘Lavanya’ which means beauty. The dance is mainly performed by women. Often, male dancers called ‘Nat’ or ‘Kinnar’ join the female dancers in a lavani performance. The dance is performed to the beats of ‘Dholki’ [a percussion instrument] and is noted for its powerful rhythm. The tempo of the music and the dance is quite fast.

Lavani performance can be broadly categorised into two parts- ‘Nirguni Lavani’ and ‘Shringari Lavani’. Nirguni Lavani deals with philosophy and the devotional music of the Nirguni cult and is popular all over Malwa. Shringari Lavani deals with sensuality. In this, the dancer expresses her feelings towards her lover. Long performance of Lavani depict various situations such as the passionate endeavours of soldiers or the separation of a husband and wife etc. Shringari Lavani is very popular and is performed in theatres as well as in Bollywood movies. In Bollywood, Madhuri Dixit’s ‘Main Kolhapur Se Aayi Hoon’ and Vidya Balan’s ‘Mala Jau De’ songs have depicted the Lavani form of music. 


Lavani Dance on Bollywood Song- Mai Kolhapur Se Aayi Hoon

Lavani is said to have developed into two different performance types: ‘Phadachi Lavani’ and ‘Baithakichi Lavani.’ The lavani performed in front of a huge audience is called Phadachi Lavani. It makes use of folk, classical and semi–classical tunes. It has a theatrical atmosphere. On the other hand, Baithakichi Lavani is performed by sitting in one place. In this, the dancer only makes use of her upper body. The expression of the dancer’s eyes and face depict her feelings. This lavani has a selective audience and is mostly performed to classical tunes and nodes.


Phadachi Lavani
Baithakchi Lavani

During a lavani performance, the female performers wear a nine-yard long saree commonly known as ‘Nauvari’ saree’. The saree is wrapped around in a ‘kashta’ drape referring to the saree being tucked at the back. The dancers’ hair are tied a bun called ‘juda’ or ‘ambada’. The dancer may also wear ‘gajra’ [flower garland] in the hair. The accessories worn by the dancers include ‘kamar patta’ (waist-band), earings, necklace, anklets, bangles, and a nose ring called ‘nath.’ The dancers also put a large bright red colour ‘bindi’ on their forehead. 


Over the past few years, Lavani has tremendously evolved as a dance and a musical form. It is often performed on lyrics related to modern times, thus giving it a universal and contemporary appeal. Lavani is truly a graceful dance form with a deep and rich cultural history. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

How a Bird Inspired Dance!


Tinikling Dance

In my last blog I wrote about a magical bamboo dance of the north eastern state of Mizoram called Cheraw. In Philippines there is a similar bamboo dance called Tinikling.

Tinikling is a traditional folk dance of the Philippines which originated in Leyte, one of the Visayan Islands during the Spanish colonial eras. According to legend, this dance was started by the people who worked in the paddies and farms of the Philippines. When the Spaniards conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to ‘haciendas’ (plantation, factories or mines) and lost control of their land. To please the king of Spain, the natives had to work all day. Those who worked too slowly would be sent for punishment, in which the worker had to stand between two bamboo poles which were then clapped to beat the natives’ feet. To escape their punishments, the natives jumped around the poles and from this action, Tinikling dance originated. Tinikling is now the national dance of Philippines. This dance is named after the birds locally known as ‘tikling’. The dancer imitates the movements of ‘tikling’ which the birds perform when they walk on the grass or dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers. The term ‘tinikling’ literally means 'to perform it tikling like'.

Tikling Bird

The dance consists of two or four bamboo poles each around 6 to 12 feet long. They are held by ‘clappers’ or ‘clickers’ who kneel or sit on the ground. The dancers then imitate the movements of the tikling bird as it would do to avoid being trapped between the bamboos. Traditionally the poles are tapped twice on the ground on the first two beats and then brought together on the third beat. Two or more dancers then weave through the rapidly moving bamboo poles with bare feet. The dancers have to carefully follow the rhythm so as not to get their ankles caught between the bamboo poles as they snap close. The dancers mimic the grace and agility of tikling birds by dancing between the large bamboo poles.

The dancers start the dance with their hands at their hips or clasped behind their backs but as the dance progresses, the tempo of the bamboo poles becomes faster which forces the dancers to come close together as their movements become more frantic. The dancers hold hands during the last part of the dance when the tempo is the fastest. They end the dance by letting go of each other’s hands and stepping out entirely of the moving bamboo poles. During the dance the bamboo poles are used as percussive instruments accompanying the Rondalla music played with string instruments like guitars, octavins, bandurrias or ukuleles.

The female dancers traditionally wear ‘balintawak’ or ‘patadyong’. The ‘balintawak’ are colourful dresses with wide arched sleeves and the ‘patadyong’ is a pineapple fibre blouse paired with checked skirts. The male dancers wear an untucked embroidered shirt called the ‘barong tagalog’. The ‘barong tagalog’ is usually a long-sleeved shirt which is worn with red trousers.

Today there are several modified versions of this traditional Filipino dance around the world- some with increased number of dancers or bamboo poles and some with changed choreography or music. In fact, Tinikling has become so widespread that its often used in American physical education classes as an aerobics exercise. 

Filipino youth all over the world have begun embracing this traditional dance while mixing it up with contemporary music which symbolises a reflection of the past with a look towards the future.

Contemporary version of Tinikling

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Dance with Bamboo- from the Land of Mizos

On the occasion of International Dance Day, I would like to share with you one of the mesmerizing yet lesser known folk dances of India- Cheraw. Cheraw is one of the oldest bamboo dances of the north eastern state of Mizoram in India. This dance is believed to be originated as early as the 1st century AD in the Yunan province of China. During the 13th century AD the mongoloids of Mizoram migrated to the Chin Hills and finally settled in the present state of Mizoram. They brought this dance along with their other cultural traditions.

In ancient times, this dance was performed in rituals as believed to bring solace to the soul of a mother, who had died over child birth and left her new born baby. But now the Cheraw has become an integral part of almost every auspicious occasion such as festivals, marriages etc in Mizoram.

This beautiful and elegant dance form involves about six to eight people holding pairs of bamboo staves on another horizontally placed bamboo on the ground. These bamboos are clapped together on a particular beat which forms the rhythm of the dance. While the male performers clap the bamboos rhythmically, the group of female dancers dances gracefully by stepping in and out of the bamboo blocks. The dancers perform various beautiful steps in and out on the beats of the bamboos. The patterns and steps of the dance have many graceful and elegant variations. The choreography of this dance is usually inspired by nature. The movements made by the dancers resembles those of their natural surroundings. Some steps are made in imitation of the movements of birds, swaying of trees and it goes on. Due to the use of bamboo, this dance is also known as bamboo dance or locally ‘Cheraw Kan’. 

An individual family performs the Cheraw dance on the occasion of the bumper harvest festival of ‘Buzha Aih’ in Mizoram. This dance is usually performed in front of the large gatherings on moonlit nights that add a glory to it. The usual costume worn by female dancers includes Thihna (necklace), Vakiria (head dress made of bamboo and decorated with bright objects such as feathers), Kawrchei (blouse)and Puanchei (sarong). All of these come in vibrant colours which enhances the beauty of this dance. The men wear a bandana and Mizo shawl. The traditional musical instruments that accompany the Cheraw dance are Gongs and drums. However, in modern times modern music has also been incorporated by the dancers.

The Cheraw dance has also made its way to the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest and the longest bamboo dance. The event took place after the traditional harvest festival of Mizos called ‘Chapchar Kut ’ on 12th of March 2010. The record was set by 10,736 performers half of them girls who danced to traditional music for eight minutes. The record-breaking event saw the performers from Aizawl and outskirts lining up to a 3 km stretch of a road besides a football field in the Assam Rifles complex. Only 2518 performers could be accommodated in the field while the remaining 8218 danced on the road. To ensure that the dancers along the road performed to precision, 42 horns were set up at the strategic points to air the tune.

The Cheraw dance is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves. It is a beautiful dance form requiring great skill, dedication and hard work to master.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Phalgun Dance- Phaag

Haryana is a state in India located in the Northern part of the country. The Vedic land of Haryana has been the cradle of Indian culture and civilization. It occupies an important place on the cultural map of India. Haryana boasts of a rich cultural heritage that goes way back to the Vedic times. The seasonal and religious festivals glorify the culture of this region. The people of Haryana have their own traditions. They have preserved their old religious and social traditions and celebrate all their festivals and traditions with great enthusiasm.

The folk dance of Haryana represents the main folk culture of this state. Many folk songs and dances of this state are related to harvest and festivals. One of the lesser-known dances of Haryana is the Phaag Dance. The word Phaag is derived from the word ‘Phalgun’. Phalgun is the 12th lunar month in the Hindu calendar and corresponds with the months of February/March of the Gregorian calendar. This month is significant because it marks the end of winter season and the onset of spring season. The name Phalgun became Phaag in common people’s language. The Phaag dance is performed by the agricultural folk of Haryana during the month of Phalgun to celebrate the colours of Spring. This seasonal dance is performed by the agricultural community of Haryana during the Phalgun month only because during this period the farmers have a little leisure time between sowing and harvesting. During this leisure time they dance and enjoy. They also celebrate and pray for a good harvest. As this dance is performed in the month of Holi (Hindu festival of colours), this dance is sometimes called ‘Holi Dance’. 

The Phaag dance is performed in Dhamaal style, which is a combination of songs and dance. This is a mixed dance performed by both men and women but sometimes it is performed only by men. In this dance men and women group together. The dance involves a variety of movements requiring sound coordination. The dancers dance to the rhythm, expressing their emotions through the movements of their hands, eyes and feet. 

As the Phaag dance is performed by the agricultural community, there are no special costumes for this dance. The dancers wear their daily clothing only. Women wear colourful ghaagra-choli (long skirt and blouse) with dupatta (scarf) and men wear dhoti-kurta with colourful pagdi (turban). Both men and women dance in a passionate way with joy and energy. If only men are performing the dance, then the songs will be different from those played when men and women dance together. The dance is accompanied by the beats of dhol, tasha, harmonium, dholak and nagada. 

Phaag is a seasonal dance through which the agricultural people of Haryana express their bliss, vigour and joy. Haryana has always been a state of diverse races, cultures and faith. Folk dances such as Phaag help in sublimating the dancers’ worries and care. The dance is not just a form of recreation but an outlet for releasing physical and emotional energy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Kalbeliya- The Dance of the Snake Charmers


Kalbelia Dance

The Kalbelia dance is associated with the Kalbelia tribe of Rajasthan. The people of this tribe are also called snake charmers. Their ancestors enthralled the members of Royalty by performing an array of tricks with snakes, an exercise which later transformed into public shows at local fairs and bazaars. The people of this Rajasthani tribe live a nomadic life and travel like a caravan from place to place. The main occupation of this tribe had been capturing snakes and dealing in their venom and practicing alternative medicine because of their local knowledge of flora and fauna. However, after the enforcement of the Government Wildlife Act, 1972, the people of Kalbelia tribe were forced to stop their traditional profession of snake handling. Their main profession is now dancing and singing which has earned them name as well as fame. It is now their main source of income.

The dance of these snake charmers has evolved over time and is intricately linked to their lifestyle and history. A great number of people of this tribe can be found in the Pali district along with Ajmer, Chittorgarh and Udaipur district of Rajasthan. It is said that earlier the tribal men from the Kalbelia community used to carry snakes from one house to another in their cane baskets and the women of this tribe would accompany them and would dance and sing to earn their livelihood.

The Kalbelia dance is generally performed for any joyous celebration and is considered to be an integral part of the Kalbelia community. The Kalbelia dance is performed by women while the men play the instruments. The main instrument played during this dance is called ‘Pungi’. The Pungi is a traditional wooden wind instrument that is played with no pauses. It is used to charm the snakes and thus is an important part of the dance and the heritage of the tribe. A number of other traditional musical instruments played during this dance performance are ‘sarangi’, ‘jhanjhar’, ‘dholak’, harmonium, ‘pakhawaja’, ‘khanjari’, ‘dufli’ etc.

During the performance, the Kalbelia people often sing songs inspired by stories from folklore of Rajasthan and their music is passed through the generations as a form of inheritance. This means that there is no organized training system or school, written text and manuscripts to teach and learn Kalbelia songs and dance.

The Kalbelia women are skilled dancers and the swirling moves these dancers make while dancing resemble the movements of snakes. The serpentine style of their dancing is sensuous and graceful. They gracefully spin around themselves putting their entire body weight on their ankles. The dancers sway, twist and gyrate to the music and glimpses of acrobatics are also evident in their performances which show the flexibility and agility of the dancers. The dance steps of the dancers are also accompanied by a few stunts like dancing on a nail bed, dancing on broken glass pieces, balancing steel or earthen pots in numbers 3,5,6,7 or 10 and balancing on ‘thali’ (plate). These dance steps are similar to Bhavai (another Rajasthani Folk Dance).

As the performance goes on, the tempo of the Kalbelia dance increases and so does the pace of the dance steps. This dance performance is usually carried out in pairs with at least two pairs swapping stage presence. This allows one half of the group to catch their breath while at the same time not letting the pace of the dance slow down. This change happens so swiftly that one cannot easily make out this shift of pairs. The breath-taking and dangerous moves of the Kalbelia dancers leave the spectators amazed. The best part of the performance is the continuous circles a dancer takes while whirling very fast either on her toe or on her knee.

Dancers wear the traditional dress of the Kalbelia tribe which are usually made by themselves. The widely flared long skirt called ‘Ghagra’ or ‘Lehenga’ compliment well with ‘Angrakha’ (top) and the ‘Odhni’ on the head. The entire dress is essentially black in colour with red decorative laces. The embroidery on the black dress done with a silver thread in various patterns resembles a black snake with white spots or stripes. The dress also features a lot of colourful designs and patterns along with mirror work which makes it more attractive and draws spectators’ attention.

The dancers wear traditional Rajasthani silver jewellery like ‘maang teeka’, ‘jhumka’ (earings), and necklace. They also wear bangles and armlets till elbow or all the way up the arm (depending upon the arm length of their tops) for accessories. The dancers enhance their facial features with makeup, tattoos and colourful ‘bindis’.

One of the most famous Kalbelia dancer is Gulabi Sapera, also known as Gulabo. She is known as the creator of this Rajasthan’s most celebrated dance form. She is the first individual from her community to receive the ‘Padam Shri’ award (the fourth highest civilian award in India) in the year 2016 for her distinguished contribution to this field. She is now the President of All India Kalbelia Community. Today, she is treated as the institution and ambassador of the folk heritage of Rajasthan. When she was once asked about the need to get a copyright for her dance, she replied, “I believe in keeping it free because I don’t own it. It was given to me by God to spread it. Sapera dance has no calculated steps, like Kathak, etc. It is wild and free. It has a beginning but no end. It just goes on and on.’’

Gulabi Sapera

Government organizations in India and NGOs are working hard to popularize this folk dance, due to which this dance has now gained international recognition and is an integral part of the heritage of Rajasthan. The dancers are given chances to perform in different national or international festivals and events. In 2010, the Kalbelia dance and songs were recognised by UNESCO and included in its list of intangible cultural practices from around the world.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Charkula- A Dance with a Hill of Fire

Uttar Pradesh is the most populous and fourth largest state of India which lies in the northern central part of the country having a human population of more than 200 million. It is a state with a rich and diverse cultural heritage and is home to a very old tradition of dance and music. Kathak, a classical dance form, grew and flourished in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from Kathak, this state is the home of many other folk dances such as Khyal, Raslila, Nautanki etc.

But one of the most spectacular but lesser-known folk dances of Uttar Pradesh is the ‘Charkula Dance’. In this dance, performers are veiled women who balance a large multi-tiered circular wooden pyramid on their heads and dance on the rhythm of Rasiya which are songs dedicated to Hindu God Lord Krishna and his female consort Radha. Rasiya songs describe the love of the divine couple Radha and Lord Krishna and are sung accompanying the rhythm of huge drums locally known as Bumb. The Charkula dance is mainly associated with the Braj region (Mathura) of Uttar Pradesh and is popular among the Brahmin community of the villages in this area. Braj region is full of legendary stories of Lord Krishna (Hindu God) as he was born and grew up there.

Many legends are connected with the origin of Charkula dance. According to one legend, the dance is specially performed on the third day after Holi (Indian festival of colors). It is believed that on that day Radha was born. According to legend, Radha’s grandmother ran out of the house with a charkula on her head to announce the birth of Radha. Since then, Charkula has developed as a popular dance form of Braj bhoomi (land) and is performed during various festivals. This dance therefore became a symbol of happiness as well as joyful rapture.

Another legend related to the birth of this dance is based on the story of Hindu God Lord Krishna’s ‘Govardhan leela’ (miracle). Lord Krishna lifted Govardhan Parvat (mountain) and held it on his finger to save the villagers from the wrath of the rain God Indra. In the process of dancing, female dancers start raising Charkuka over their head in order to symbolize the hill. The Charkula is a tapered wooden column with 4 to 5 circular tiers. A specific number of earthen lamps (their number vary from 51 to 108) are lit on the rim of the circles. These also signify the lifting of the Govardhan hill by Krishna which is re-enacted by the milk-maids of Mathura (Braj region).

The Charkula dance is performed by women wearing ankle length long skirts with a long and colourful embroidered blouse. Due to heavy load of the charkula, the steps of the dancers are quite limited but as they balance the wooden pyramid on their head, they manage to synchronize with the beats of the drums and the tune of the song with graceful moves like gliding, bending and whirling. The musical instruments that accompany the Charkula performance are mainly flute, drums, harmonium, manjira, thali and khartal. The number of performers ranges from five to fifty and at the climax male singers and dancers also join the performance. It is a spectacular dance having both body and musical rhythm and synchronised performance. 

This ancient Indian folk dance form reflects the life style and beliefs of the people associated with it. In the contemporary times educational institutions are promoting this dance form in their cultural events. Due to its gaining popularity, Charkula dance has become the popular dance of Uttar Pradesh, next only to Kathak.