Dr. S.S. Sodhi        

Punjab is a riparian tract of land, has been blessed with a vibrant climate, which has _ produced freedom loving people full of libidinal energy. Punjab has_ absorbed Aryans, Scythians (present Jat population seeks their origin from them), Mongols, Greeks (Khatris and Aroras seek their origin from them), Mughals to mention a few tribes who came, liked it and got busy putting their roots in its rich soil. So Panjabi culture, music, folk art, dancing, food is a mixture of the above mentioned cultures.

In this article, I would touch on the folk dance of Punjab, Bhangra. Folk dancing develops as part of a nation’s customs, work habits and traditions. Folk dances are not composed for performance by professional dancers on a stage. They come from people themselves, and are handed down from generation to generation as a cultural heritage.

Walking with grace (as if you own the whole world!) running, jumping, hopping, leaping and skipping make up the simplest basic steps of any folk dance. All countries have folk dances. The following chart shows the name of some of the countries and their respective folk dances.

U.S.A. — Square Dance.

Sweden — a) Oxdans

(only for boys) b) Hambo

Mexico — a) Sandunga

(for girls only) b) Jarabe Tapatio.

Italy — Tarantella.

Croatian — Drmes.

Poland — Krakowiak.

Austrian — Waltz (now popular throughout the Western world.

South America Samba, Conga, Rhumba and Tango.

East European Countries and U.S.S.R. Polka, Schottische Mazurka.

Bhangra is as old as the profession of Agriculture. Some researchers of folk music and dancing trace its origin to the people of Gujranwala, Sialkot, Sargoda, Montgomery and Gujrat. Others think it resembles Ukrainian folk dance called Shumka.

Bhagra is a harvest dance and hence reflects the feeling of hyperalterness which overpowers a Panjabi farmer as he sees his bumper crop. He jumps and dances like a “spoiled’’ child in sheer ecstasy through erotic and spontaneous and movements (Freud: would be fascinated by the movements of the Panjabi male!).

The participants (all males) gather in a field or a fair, in response to the beat of a drum. They are dressed in gaudy colour clothes studded with shining buttons. Their dress consist of a loose shirt over which is worn a colorful ‘“‘jacket’’ and a tehmat a loose sarong. The head gear is a colour turban with a shamla (plume) almost touching the blue skies of Punjab. The golden kaintha is also worn around the necks of the participants.

The instruments used are the famous drum beaten in various ways by the village drummer, alghoze (double flute), chimta (a long iron fork with loose brass discs), kato (a squirrel shaped moveable device mounted on a stick and supp (a wooden collapsible snake).

To start the dance, the drummer plays on the “chal”, while the participants move rhythmically in a circle. Near the drummer, stand the two leaders of the folk dance group. One by one they come forward at intervals, covering the left ear with their palm and the right hand spreading upwards, recite a Boli or a Dhola, telling a story or an erotic joke. After the boli the tempo increases, clapping of hands, flinging of handkerchiefs, movement of body in various posture starts while the group might produce such funny noises as Bale, Bale, Oai Oai or Uh, Uh. Total effort is made to turn off the left side of the brain and Switch on to the right side — as the neuropsychologist will make us believe.

Bhangra and giddha have become very popular in the recent past in Punjab. Most of the Indian movies use them to provide entertainment in the films. The present writer feels that as other immigrant communities have retained their folk dances by arranging folk dance festivals, the Panjabi community of North America should arrange such folk dance festivals. As a Starter, Toronto, Vancouver, Stockton and New York could be chosen as centers where these festivals could be held during July and August. I am positive every Punjab community living in North America has a Bhangra and Giddha group. Parents who have ‘taken the trouble of transmitting this important facet of Punjabi culture would not mind driving 1,000 miles to see their children participating in such a cultural event

To sum up, it must be said that any culture that wants to retain its cultural religious identity must look at its folk behavior. Event must be created by the adults to transmit these folk expressions (to the children growing up in North America.)

Article extracted from this publication >> May 31, 1985