Uttarakhand or Devbhumi is the land of gods. It is a mystical holy land that has always been the centre of culture, religion, and spirituality. The folk culture of Uttarakhand is old and well preserved by the locals in the form of their lifestyle, festivals, and entertainment. The dances of Uttarakhand are one of the ways that the Pahadis express themselves. The roots of folk dancing in Uttarakhand goes back to the ancient ages and it still captures the attention of not just locals but travelers and tourists as well. The quirky dance styles are done wearing colorful vibrant folk dresses by both men as well as women. The dance style is definitely different from the rest of India.
Uttarakhand Dance History
It has been a common belief and a part of the tradition since the ancient ages that various dance forms represent the unique, colorful, and vibrant culture of that particular place. The ethnic tribes residing in Uttarakhand dance to represent their culture, their feelings, and their happiness. The credit for the art of dancing in Uttarakhand can be given to the mythological gods and goddesses to whom these dances were dedicated to. They were inspired by the fairies and goddesses who used to reside in the snowy hills.
There are many legends associated with the origin of the various dance forms. One of them being that these fairies were the souls of single young women who had untimely passed away. Another legend tells us that these fairies were actually the evil king Ravana’s daughters who were handed over to Lord Shiva as handmaidens. The third story about the fairies tells us that they were Lord Krishna’s Gopis who were also considered as celestial dancers.
Over time, the dance forms assimilated into the daily life, festivals and fairs of the locals who used dances for various purposes ranging from celebration moments to warding away evil spirits. There is a dance form in Uttarakhand for every event and moment.
Folk Songs and Folk Dance of Uttarakhand
Traditional Folk Dance of Uttarakhand
Performed primarily in the Garhwal region of Devbhoomi, this dance form is one of the oldest and the most popular styles in the hill state. Mainly men partake in its performance and display their wholehearted appreciation for the event. The dance involves some level of athleticism since the men do acrobatic performances on a fixed bamboo pole. Very similar to Kalaripayattu of Kerala, the dancers climb up the bamboo pole and balance themselves by putting their weights on their stomachs. All this is done while a love band of folk songs is being played. The balancing person does all sorts of unique acrobatic performances to keep the crowd entertained and pumped throughout.
Ramola is one of the most well-preserved dance forms that is passed down from generation to generation by people of the Bard community. The people in this community are known to have a nomadic lifestyle which means that they keep moving and shifting from one place to another. To keep their spirits high they perform this dance en route along with dhol, tabla, and harmonium. They do this dance also as a way of welcoming the spring season. This cultural folk dance that is embraced by everyone in Devbhumi has a dynamic mythological background. The roots for this dance can be traced to the Kumaon regions where people used to welcome the Holi season through elaborate Ramola dance performances which then continued for the whole month.
Bhotiya Tribal Dance
As the name suggests, the Bhotiya tribal dance is primarily performed by the people of the Bhotiya tribal community. The Bhotiya tribe is one of the most ancient tribes of Uttarakhand who have managed to preserve their age-old culture and traditions. The dance is performed on the eve of someone’s passing. As per Bhotiya beliefs, the souls of the departed turn into a goat or a sheep immediately after their passing so the dance is performed in order to provide the departed soul with liberation. Dhurang or Dhuring is another one of the traditional Bhotiya tribal dance styles. The dancing and swaying style can seem similar to the tribal dance forms of the tribes living in northeast India as well as east India.
Performed by both men as well as the women of Uttarakhand the dance is one of the most colourful, fun-filled types of dances in Devbhumi. The intention of the dance is not romantic, it is rather done to enhance and beautify the relationship shared by two people. The dance is not at all complex, it is rather elegant and graceful with simple swaying movements. The woman holds a colored handkerchief and a small mirror in both her hands during the dance performance. The dance is truly a relaxing experience to witness and the simple, breezy music makes it even better. Manjira or the flute is the primary musical instrument used which makes the whole environment vibe with positivity and calmness.
Devbhoomi has often been referred to as the ‘Land of the Pandavas’ since the great king Pandu used to spend ample time here. So much so that Pandukeshwar is named after him. The Pandavas had even made their way to heaven from Devbhoomi itself. The dance form is sort of an ode to the Pandavas. The movements and dance steps tell the audience the various stories of Mahabharata and important events ranging from their births to their subsequent deaths. The performers dress up as different characters from Mahabharata and tell us the story of the Great War. It can somewhat be equalized with the Ram Lila performance and is mainly done during big festivals like Holi and Diwali.
The people residing on the hills or the pahadis believe in spirits and energies along with being deeply religious. Jagar is a dance form that is reserved just for spiritual and ghost worship which is done alongside local folk music and songs. This ritualistic dance form is also done during some puja events as a way of honouring the gods and goddesses. It is based on 50 different ballads all of which are dedicated to gods, goddesses, ghosts, spirits and fairies. The dance goes on rhythmically along with some folk music singing and occasional drums beating. All of this creates a trance-like state of mind and makes the audience feel very light and easy. The other part of the dance involves surprising acts of playing with fire and getting away unharmed.
This dance is saved for performance during religious events or other such social functions. It is mainly done among the people of Chakrata tehsil in Dehradun. Both men and women make this dance truly a great experience to be a part of. Both of them dress up in various colourful traditional clothes and costumes. The dance marks the beginning of some social gathering or a large event as it is believed to be a lucky performance. The dance represents the free spirits and the purity of life. It is also a way of encouraging people to relax for a bit and enjoy the current moment in life. It also inspires people to let the storm pass and look at the brighter side of things.
Dating back to over 1,000 years ago, Choliya is an ancient traditional dance form to the time of warring Kshatriya clans of the Kumaon region. The dance represents a rather dark time when marriages used to take place on the tip of the sword and by extreme brute force. The dance is done to ward off the evil spirits and negative energies that is believed to be following the Baraat Ceremony of the groom as they believe that these negative spirits attack the happy vibes and positivity of the people. The dancers dress up in brightly colourful clothes and use drums and handheld musical instruments to create loud noises and dance to its rhythm. Nowadays Chholiya is also done in various other processions and special occasions.
Jhumeila is mainly known for being the combination of Jhumela Dance with Jhumeila Music. This dance is very common and marks all the major as well as minor events that take place in Uttarakhand. These events can be fairs and festivals like Guru Purnima, Baisakhi, Makar Sankranti, wedding procession and other related festivals. The dance form is dedicated to the men and women of the hills. Through the steps, music and local lyrics one comes to know that the dance attempts at portraying the melancholy feeling of a newlywed bride missing her happy moments at her ancestral home before marriage. Since Jhumeila is a tribal song and dance combination performance, it is limited to only the remote regions of Uttarakhand and is not as popular as the other dance forms of the region.
Thali – Jadda – Jhainta
This type of dance involves just the women population of Uttarakhand. This graceful and very elegant dance takes place during the wedding ceremonies. Once the dance is started off by the women they are later on joined by the men folk as well. As per traditions, the dance performers are expected to balance a metal plate on top of their heads that keeps spinning and requires a lot of core strength and balance to maintain. The dance is famous in the Kumaon regions and is performed in circles of men and women marking happiness and joy among the people. It is also a way of welcoming positivity to the event taking place.
Traditional Folk Music of Uttarakhand
Music is a crucial part of the culture of Uttarakhand. There are songs dedicated to various events, weather, leisure time, wedding ceremonies, in short, for everything. The songs are sung in their local languages accompanied with locally made musical instruments like Dhol, Thali, Dholki, Turri etc. Here are some of the most famous traditional folk music of Uttarakhand:
Bajuband is a type of traditional folk song that is sung by the local village women of Devbhumi. They silently hum the tunes while performing their daily chores, working on the fields or their homes, etc. the songs have poetic lyrics and sweet-sounding rhythms that are very mesmerizing to hear. The music and song represent various emotions ranging from melancholy to sorrow and love and enthusiasm. Other than at home or fields, the women folk also sing these songs during an auspicious moment or during some special occasions.
Chhopati is one of the most famous forms of music in Uttarakhand. Sung during special events and auspicious occasions like marriages, festivals, fairs, etc. this style of singing involves the use of local musical instruments like Dholki, Mandan, and Turri among others. The whole song performance is incredibly entertaining to witness since it involves singing in a question/answer form between a man and a woman. Chhopati falls under the category of a love song that is mainly sung with great enthusiasm by the local residents of the Tehri Garhwal region. Accompanied with a folk dance performance, the whole experience is incredibly fun and entertaining.
The term ‘Jaga’ literally translates into wake is another type of traditional sing that is sung by the Pahadis belonging to the both Kumaon and Garhwal regions. The ritualistic song is performed to honour and make the ancestral spirits happy and calm. It is believed that chanting this song peacefully, awakens the various deities from their dormant state. The song is also performed when the singer is seeking for justice or offering penance to the gods. Did you know that Jagar song is so famous that the government of India recognized its importance and awarded the only woman Jagar singer, Basanti Devi Bisht with a Padma Shri award?
Weather and climate conditions are a major part of a pahadi’s everyday life since their livelihood depends on them. Basanti is a type of traditional song that is sung to welcome the changing season from winter to springtime. The song sounds extremely happy and cheerful representing the blossoming of the flowers that occur throughout the hills. The hill folks sing this song with great enthusiasm and ask the lord for a good and healthy harvest season ahead. People sing this song individually or in large groups which is the perfect way of welcoming the colorful season that the Pahadis look forward to.
If you happen to come across a shepherd folk, then you can hear them humming a simple song to keep them company. This song is called Chhura which is passed on from one generation to the next and is based on the individual’s life experiences and feelings that the singer may feel while grazing their herds of sheep. The song is sung by both men as well as women and it is also very well taken care of by the respected elders and senior citizens of the community.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. When Is The Best Time To Visit Uttarakhand?
Ans. April to early July and late September to November is the best time to visit Uttarakhand.
Q. Why Is Uttarakhand Famous?
Ans. Uttarakhand is famous for its pilgrimage destinations, local culture, language, food and fruits.
Q. Why Is Uttarakhand Referred To As The Land Of Gods?
Ans. The presence of numerous pilgrimage sites and rich mythological accounts makes Uttarakhand the land of gods.
Q. Who Was The Last King Of Uttarakhand?
Ans. Pradyumna shah was the last king of Uttarakhand who belonged to the Chand Dynasty.
Q. Who Found Uttarakhand?
Ans. King Som Chand from Rajasthan founded the Kumaon kingdom in Uttarakhand.