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.