Richness of Folk Dances in Gujarat

By Dr. Maha Gingrich

As we just celebrated Dasara festival, I feel it is timely to brag about our awesome folk dances of Gujarat! Folk dances always have a marvelous way of lifting our spirits with their rhythms and brilliant costumes. These dances are usually performed in groups to showcase the social nature of such dance forms.

Displaying no inclination towards a rigid form, the whole depiction of Gujarati folk art is guided more by the subject of the songs that glorify nature and its seasons, or express traditional occupations or in praise of deities. This untutored quality and maintenance of oral traditions is very refreshing and charming. Through these arts, customs and traditions have been established. People were brought together to celebrate life in its many forms. I will give a brief description of three most famous folk dances from Gujarat.

Garba dance originated in Saurashatra. It is believed that they can trace the origin of Garba back to the time of Lord Krishna, who ruled in this part of the country for nearly 100 years. Traditionally, as people celebrate Dasara, preceded by a nine-day celebration called Navarathri, villagers express their gratitude at the end of the monsoon rains with song and dance in which women, men, girls and boys join in joyfulness.

Village girls carry decorated pitchers and pots of clay and they go from house to house, dancing “Garbi". The ornamented pot containing offerings is hung at the doorways. It looks beautiful, as the women worship Amba Mata, giver of plenty and prosperity move in circular direction, singing at the same time measure by clapping their palms or snapping their fingers, to the accompaniment of folk instruments. These circular dances are popular in many cultures across the world.

The Tippani folk dance has a unique purpose. Tippani is danced by the women workers in construction. They strike to flatten the clay floors with long sticks called Tippani. They sing and beat it to the rhythmic patterns to overcome the exhaustion from the difficult workload. We performed this dance during Dances of India. It was fun to create rhythm using these sticks. We can create the tempo as needed for choreography.

Raas is the most popular dance of all, across the country. There are several forms of Raas, but “Dandiya Raas", performed with sticks during Navaratri in Gujarat is the most popular form. In Dandiya Raas, men and women dance in two circles, with short sticks in their hands. I remember joining the groups on the streets of Baroda when I was little. It was so impromptu and people were full of energy and laughs. It was also amazing to see how much in sync they all were. The Dandiya Raas dance originated in Goddess Durga's honor. This dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king. This dance is also nicknamed “The Sword Dance". The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Goddess Durga. The origin of these dances can also be traced back to the life of Lord Krishna where he danced with his beloved Radha and many of his devotees or Gopikas in the gardens of Brindavan.

There are different styles of executing Dandiya steps like Dodhiyu, simple five, simple seven, Popatiyu, Trikoniya (hand movement which forms an imagery triangle), Lehree, three claps, butterfly, Hudo, two claps and many more. This is a very high-energy dance requiring talent to handle sticks while dancing, twirling, hopping, and so on. If you are not careful, you could get hit by these sticks, especially as the speed increases during the final part of each song. Popularity of this folk dance has spread all over the world. Many young men and women love to dance for hours to this music during festivals. I know that for sure, as my students come to the classes with blisters on their feet.

With national consciousness of the arts growing from day to day, many of these beautiful expressive dances are coming to urban and international audiences and being received with enthusiasm and success, they deserve. Now there is more demand for precise movements, coordination among dancers, formations, costume color combinations, exotic jewelry, music with heavy drumming and other percussions etc. Many local organizations host local, regional, state, and national competitions of these dance forms. These dancers look beautiful as they sing and sway in their wide sweeping ghagras (skirts) and brightly decorated cholis (blouses) and odhnis (scarves).

I am not sure if we are just taking these folk dances to another level or are we losing the freedom these dances provide to enjoy and participate without any formal training. However, I do still see communities coming together to just have fun. It is wonderful to see that these dance forms are still a large part of our social interaction among all ages.

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For questions or comments contact Maha via e-mail at: Gingrichmaha@gmail.com