Known as the mecca of rich heritage and culture, India is one of the very few countries in the world that boasts of varied ethnicity and traditions. An instance of this is the folk dances that have survived past many centuries and continue to withstand, despite the lash of modernization. India has been home to thousands of year old tradition of fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. The folk dances of India which is today popular worldwide, reflects the diversity in Indian tradition and culture. Different regions of India boast of their own folk dance form that has its own significance. Eastern India folk dances are one such form. To know more about the folk dances practiced in Eastern India, browse through the following lines.
Eastern Indian Folk Dances
Chhau is the folk dance of Bihar depicting enormous vitality and
virility. The word 'Chhau' comes from the Sanskrit root 'Chhaya' meaning
shade. Since masks forms an important feature of this dance, it is
thence called 'Chhau', which means mask. The dance form includes certain
steps from 'Pharikhanda' which is a system of exercise. This system of
exercise has been an important part of training of Sipahis. All the
performers hold swords and shields, while performing this exercise.
The three main elements of classical dance, namely Raga (melody), Bhava
(mood) and Tala (rhythmic timing) forms an important aspect of Chhau
dance as well. An expression of a mood, state or condition, this folk
dance depicts nature and the animal world, which can be confirmed with
the various forms such as Sagara Nritya (ocean dance), Sarpa Nritya
(serpent dance) and Mayura Nritya. Themes taken from mythology and
everyday life also form an important aspect of Chhau dance.
Chhau dance is a dance full of vitality and robustness, unlike any of
the Indian dances. During the performance, the entire body and being of
the dancer is employed as a single unit i.e. as his language. This body
language is extremely poetic and powerful. The legs even form an
effective means of communicating the expression. Although the face is
covered by the mask, it mysteriously expresses the feelings to be
In Mayurbhanj, Chhau is performed mainly in Saraikella. On the 25th day
of the Chaitra month, it is believed that Lord Shiva invocated and the
dances hence begin. Mainly a male dominated art, Chhau has, however, in
recent years, been performed by women. The leading exponents of the
Chhau in Saraikella have been the royal princes in Mayurbhanj, the lower
classes, the rabble and Purulia farmers, tillers and the like.
Coming to the other aspects of dance, the stage is admirably decorated
and brilliantly lit by a large number of torches, lanterns and
flickering oil lamps. Ragas of Hindustani music forms the main base of
Chhau tunes. The musical instruments used are the Dhol (a cylindrical
drum), Nagara (a huge drum) and Sehnais (reed pipes). The dance is
performed by men and boys. As it is difficult to dance for very long
with a mask, the dance does not last more than 7-10 minutes.
Brita Dance (West Bengal)
A state accredited as being the abode of many renowned poets, thinkers
and artists, West Bengal has a rich tradition of folk art as well. Brita
or Vrita dance is one of the most important traditional folk dances of
Bengal. Mainly performed in the rural areas by the women folk, the dance
is held in the premise of a temple to appease the deity and invoke the
According to the popular belief, the dance is performed in gratitude
after a wish has been fulfilled. Brita or Vrita dance is also performed
after a recovery from a contagious disease such as small pox, and so on.
Kali Nach is another dance form that is performed during Gajan, in
honour of the Goddess Kali. Herein, the performer wears a mask, purified
by mantras and dances with a sword, and when worked up can make
The 'Dalkhai' is a dance performed by women of the tribes, from the
Sambalpur district of Orissa. Quite a virile dance rendered during the
time of festivals, the men generally play the musical instruments and
the drummers often join the dance. A dummy horse version is the Chaiti
Ghorha, danced by a community of fisher folk. In this art, the
performers are essentially men. Apart from dancing, the performers sing,
deliver homilies of sorts and offer brief dramatic enactments, peppered
with wit and humor.
Dancing on stilts is fairly common among the Gond children of Madhya
Pradesh. The dance is popular in the Vindhyas and the Satpura ranges.
Mainly staged in the rainy season, the dancer, who has his balance on
the stilts or gendi, performs even in watery or marshy surface. The
dance is brisk and ends in pyramid formation. Mostly confined to
children, the main attraction of the dance lies in balancing and clever
footwork of the performer.
In villages, where the wheat seedlings festival - Bhujalia is
celebrated, children prance on their gendis and collect near the village
pond or the river, in which the bhujalias are to be immersed. Other
children, dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments join the
group and they dance together. Sometimes womenfolk also join them, but
they do not use stilts. The Gendi season begins on the day of Bak Bandhi
festival in the month of June and concludes after the Pola dance
celebrations in the month of August.
Goti Puas (Orissa)
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ramchandradeva that Goti Pua (or
boy dancers) came into being, during the latter half the 6th century.
The last of the great dynasties of Orissa had collapsed and the Mughals
and Afghans were in the midst of a tug-of-war. Ramachandradeva, the Raja
of Khurda (a principality in Orissa) had provided refuge to Mughal
soldiers, who had been defeated by the Afghan troops and was
consequently in the good books of Emperor Akbar.
Pleased with Ramachandradeva's work, Akbar designated him to be
Gajapati or King of Orissa, with allegiance to the Mughal Viceroy. He
was also appointed Superintendent of the Jagannath temple in Puri.
Ramchandradeva was not only an able ruler but also a sensitive and
enlightened man. During his reign, maharis or devadasis attached
initially only to temples, came to be patronized by the courts. It was
on his initiative that led to the tradition of goti puas or the boy
An additional reason that traces the emergence of goti puas is that the
women dancing on the pretext of worship was greatly disapproved by
Vaishnavas. So, to eliminate the problem, the custom of dancing by boys
dressed as girls was introduced. The boys performing were students of
akhadas or gymnasiums, established by Ramachandradeva in Puri, at the
boundaries of the temple. Hence, they were also known as Akhada Pilas
-boys attached to akhadas.
The mahari and goti pua dance styles co-existed, each independently,
but with common roots. The Odissi dance, as we know it today, has
evolved from a curious amalgamation of both these dance traditions. The
word goti means 'one', 'single' and Pua, 'boy', but the goti puas always
is performed in pairs. Boys are recruited at about the age of six and
continue to perform till they are 14, then become teachers of the dance
or join drama troupes.
Today, goti puas is a part of professional teams known as dals, each
headed by a guru. In the dance form, the boys are trained for about two
years. After having imbibed the basic technique, they learn items of
dance, ornamental and expressional. Since performed by youngsters, the
adolescents can adapt their bodies to the dance in a far more flexible
manner as opposed to the maharis.
Needless to say, one of the most demanding aspects of the dance
tradition in Orissa - the bandha, which involves intricate contortions
and positions of the body - is the domain of the sprightly goti puas. A
goti pua performance usually commences with Bhumi Pranam (salutation to
Mother Earth), and wraps up with Bidahi Sangeet, a farewell song and
dance item. The whole performance lasts around three hours.
A goti pua presentation is ably supported by a set of three musicians,
who play the pakhawaj, the gini or cymbals and the harmonium. The boys
do the singing themselves, though at times the group has an additional
singer. The goti pua performance is far more organised than that of the
maharis, and includes items such as Panchadevta Puja, Bhumi Pranam and
Battu. During the Chandan Jatra festival, along with the maharis, goti
puas are ferried in boats down the Narendra Sarovar, a holy tank in
Puri, to perform before the deities.
The Jhoolan Jatra, celebrated every August, is the ocassion when the
goti puas completely overshadow the maharis. Today, the surviving goti
pua dals belong to villages and some prominent groups are from
Dimirisena and Raghurajapur near Puri, and Darara, near Bhubaneswar. In
the past goti pua artistes were patronised by Zamindars and were much in
demand during festivals like Dol Purnima, or Holi and Dussehra. However,
like the maharis their existence too is gradually fading into oblivion.