Dance for the Himachalis is almost as indispensable as food, water and air. No festive occasion, however small, goes without dancing.All regions have their own dances, moulded by the ecology and the physical environment. For instance, the Kinnauris of the high north have cluster formations and strong cohesive lines in their dances while the women of southern Chamba pirouette, circle and frisk around, symbolizing spring and open spaces. The movement patterns and the music cannot be dissociated from the occupations of the people.
With a medley of tribes and village communities, HP has an astonishingly large number of dances, with themes ranging from seasons and everyday life to myths and legends.
Region-Wise Dances of Himachal
Losar Shona Chuksam : The Losar Shona Chuksam (Losar is the Tibetan New Year) is an agricultural festival dance performed by the Kinnauris in which the movements depict all activities from sowing to reaping ogla (barley) and phaphar (a local grain).
The dance also includes innovative pieces like mime. Another dance, the Namagen, celebrates autumn. The dancers themselves sing while musicians play the instruments. The drum is the very life of these folk dances.
Dangi : The Dangi is a lively women’s dance of the Chhatrari village in Chamba. The song is like a question-answer session between the two dancing groups. Themes vary: the conversation could be between a king and a poor girl with whom he is in love or between a trader and his customers.The dance begins with a slow tempo but gathers momentum as the dancers begin to spin.Another women’s dance is the Sikri, performed during the Suhi Fair held in spring. The accompanying song tells of the beauty of flowers and the season, especially the flowering of the Marua flower.
The Singing of Legendary Love Story of Konju and Chanchalo
The Gaddi boys of Chamba often sing the legendary love story of Konju and Chanchalo.The tale goes that Konju used to brave perilous rivers and wild animals at midnight to visit his ladylove, Chanchalo. But Chanchalo fears for his life as his rivals have guns. She pleads with him to go back and so the song ends with the sad parting of the lovers who exchange a ring and a scarf:
In your hand is a silk handkerchief,
and my ring is on your finger,
As a token of our undying love.
My lustrous black eyes, O Konju, often
Admired by you, are now filled with tears
Symbols of our hopeless love…
Gee Dance : The Gee dance of Sirmaur is performed during the festival of Lohri. Singers stand in a curve with instrumentalists while individual dancers (boys or girls) rise one by one to dance to the music.A peculiar custom related to this dance is that only girls born in the village it is being performed in can partcipate in it. Brides who may have come from other villages cannot dance it in their husband’s village.They can dance the gee only in their parental village. The Rasa, another dance from Sirmaur, has a carefully thought-out pattern and lasts for a long time.The dancers form chains (pindi-bandhas) or concentric circles and the songs (mostly love stories) are in a question-answer form.A host of musicians accompany the singers, and you might sometimes find the male dancers brandishing dangras (axes).
Note: This dance is different from the Rasa dances of Braj and Manipur where the amours of Radha and Krishna are sung, though there may be some link. The Rasa of Sirmaur is an excellent example of Puranic tradition filtering to the hills and metamorphosing into a new thing altogether.
Burah Dance : Men flourish their dangras (axes) in big open movements in the Burah dance which is definitely a macho martial dance. Ballads telling of battles and legendary heroes are sung to the beat of the hulki (an hourglass-shaped drum). The Kariyala is a dance drama, more like a theatrical performance by professional artistes, while the Thoda is a dance of archery.
Naati : The Naati of Kullu is an all time favourite with the people. Dancers link their hands and move in step to varying rhythms (there are 13 styles in all).Traditionally danced by men (wearing swirling tunics, churidaars, sashes and decorated caps) for hours on end, it has now been modified so that women can participate in it too.
Kharait, Ujagjama and Chadhgebrikar : The dances of Kullu have always been open to new themes and forms due to foreign influences. Kharait, Ujagjama and Chadhgebrikar are martial dances of men. These are danced with swords and heralds, sometimes in a circle in a fast tempo. The songs are contemporary and the theme patriotic. The Ludi Banthde was originally a love song (of rajas perhaps) but has been substituted by happenings of today. Others like Dhili Pheti and Bashari performed in village melas (fairs) are pure joyous events where both men and women participate.
Shunto: The Shunto is danced by men to a song is in praise of Buddha. The Shaboo is danced on festive occasions while Gafila is a dance for couples. The dance Dodra Kawar mainly revolves around agriculture. The Singhi or snow lion is a Buddhist dance performed to ensure peace and prosperity.
Himachal Pradesh Music: Himachal does not have a classical music or dance tradition, but the rich and varied folk traditions of yore are practiced till date. The vast repertoire of pahari (literally ‘of the mountains’) folklore often gets translated into these songs.These ballads dwell on village romances, chivalry and the changing seasons. There’s no dearth of topics which range from the mundane to stories about fairytale kings and queens or just beautiful girls.The songs are mostly sung in chorus during fairs and festivals and are accompanied with dancing. Each line is repeated several times before passing on to the next.
Musical Instruments Plays a Significent Role
The Paharis are partial to a whole lot of musical instruments without which pahari music wouldn’t be half as interesting. The kangarange is the most commonly used stringed instrument.
Among the wind instruments are the bhopal, shamal, bugial, and shehnai (different kinds of pipes), the damentu (horn), the highly ornate narsingha (hornpipe) and the sanai (hautboy). To keep the rhythm of the various dances are such percussion instruments like the damane, anga, dhol and dholak (drums), the hulki (an hourglass-shaped drum), the karnal (clappers), khanjiri (tambourine) and jhanja (large cymbals).