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Bhangra

The origin

The bhangra is a folk dance that has its roots in the region of Punjab in northwest India and Pakistan. Unlike other folk dances which usually fail to catch the interest of the masses outside their particular community or geographical region, bhangra has managed to transcend its label as being merely a folk dance to be performed by Punjabi sons of the soil. 
 

Celebrating the harvest

Bhangra began as a dance to celebrate the harvest and was usually performed at the time of Baisakhi (the harvest festival). It was traditionally the domain of males, though today it is open to dancers of both sexes. The dancers' costumes comprised colourful lungis, waistcoats and turbans. The dance movements were supposed to depict the cycle of plouging, sowing and reaping. 

It is an energetic dance involving vigorous movements of the shoulder and hips. The beat is heavy and hypnotic. The accompaniment is in the form of singing, clapping and the beat of the drum. The main instrument is called the dhol. It is a large barrel-shaped drum that provides the rhythm and the beat.  A drum roll often marks the end of each line of the song and the last line is repeated by the dancers like a chorus. Dancers often form a circle with pairs of dancers periodically taking centrestage to give solo performances that showcase their prowess, virility and acrobatic ability. Getting into the festive mood, dancers often punctuate each beat with an exuberant shout and may even be moved to recite witty couplets. 
 

The gidha

The female version of the bhangra is known as the gidha. It is performed by a group of female dancers, but like in the bhangra, pairs of dancers or individual dancers break away to show off their skill while the rest of the dancers clap in rhythm. The gidha is performed at the time of the festival of Teeyan to welcome the monsoon. 
 

Bhangra goes international

Today bhangra is not just a dance form, but a term that embraces a new form of music. Initially it was a dance performed to celebrate a good harvest. Soon it was not just confined to the harvest time but found its place at weddings and almost all other celebratory occasions. It looked beyond the boundaries of Punjab with its inclusion in innumerable Bollywood films. Performers like Daler Mehndi, Bhuppi, Jassi, etc. have taken it to the top of the Indipop charts. Finally, it crossed the seas to become the most 'happening' thing on the Asian club scene in London. Modern disc jockeys found that the foot-tapping rhythms of bhangra were almost begging to be remixed. Today, you can't escape it. It's on television; you hear it in cabs and discos alike. It has crossed all boundaries of religion, caste, community and country. Bhangra has gone international.


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