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.

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