Folk Songs and Dances of Uttarakhand

Folk Songs and Dances of Uttarakhand

The folk-lore of Uttarakhand, indeed the lives of the people are filled with dancing-it is the main part of their tradition and heritage for them as wearing clothes, a must for life. Locals here believe that dance is not only for human to entertain but for them the art to please Gods not to fail man. The art of dancing also owes its inspiration to the fascinating mythical dancing damsels who dwell on snow-clad peaks and are variously described as Ancheris, Kecharis or Paries. Dresses play a major role in dancing style while people gather in some special kind of design dresses to dance and worship.

“They are fairies or women who move in the firmament, young women of surpassing beauty, sumptuously clothed and supposed to belong to the court of Indira. His dancing girls, they are said to fly or float along the sky without any visible wings”.

Some believe they are the souls of spirits of young unmarried girls who died with no funeral rites; they are the daughters of Ravana who offered them to Lord Shiva as his hand-maidens. The most popular version makes them part of the Krishna legend and lore, making them into the Gopis who dance the ‘Dance Celestial’ with their Lord.

Folk Dances and Folk Songs of Uttarakhand

Barada Nati

Barada Nati folk dance is a popular dance of Jaunsar Bhawar area of Chakrata Tehsil in Dehradun district. The folk dance is performed on the eve of some religious festivals or on the occasion of some social functions. Both boys and girls take part in the dance dressed with colourful traditional costumes.

Langvir Nritya

Langvir Nritya is an acrobatic dance and is performed by the men folk only. In this dance, a long bamboo pole is fixed at a place. The dancer acrobat climbs to the top of this pole and then balances himself on his stomach on the top. Under the pole, a band of musicians play ‘Dhol’ and ‘Damana’ while the dancer acrobat rotates on the top of the pole doing other feats with the help of his hands and feet. This dance is popular in Tehri Garhwal region.

Pandav Nritya

Pandva Nritya which is related to the story of Mahabharata has been very popular particularly in the Garhwal region. Pandva Nritya is nothing but a simple narration of the story of Mahabharata in the form of dance and music. The narration is mostly enacted on the occasion of ‘Dussehra’ and Diwali. Pandav Nritya is popular in Chamoli district and Pauri Garhwal.

Shotiya Tribal Folk Dances

Bhotiya tribals have their typical dances like ‘Dhurang, and Dhuring’ which are connected with death ceremonies. The aim at liberating the soul of the dead person which they believed to have been living in the body of either a goat or another animal. The dance is similar to the pastorals of Himachal Pradesh or the hunting dance of Nagaland.


These are the folk songs popular in Rawain-Jaunpur area of Tehri Garhwal. ‘Chhopati’ are the love songs sung between the men and women in the form of questions and answers.

Chounphula and Jhumeila

‘Chounphula’ & Jhumeila’ form part of seasonal dances which are performed from ‘Basant Panchami’ to ‘Sankranti’ or ‘Baisakhi’. ‘Jhumeila’ is sometimes mixed but is usually restricted to women. ‘Chounphula’ is a spinning dance performed by all sections of the community, at night, in groups by men and women. ‘Chounphula’ folk songs are composed for the appreciation of nature during various occasions. Chounphula, Jhumeila and Daryola folk songs all derive their names from the concerned folk dances.


‘Basanti’ folk songs are composed for the coming spring season when flowers, bloom and new life spring in the valleys of the hills of Garhwal. The folk song is sung individually or in groups.


‘Mangal’ songs are sung during marriage ceremonies. These songs are basically ‘Puja songs’ sung alongwith the Purohits who keep enhanting ‘Shlokas’ in Sanskrit according to the Shastras during the marriage ceremony.


Jaggar falls in the category of ghost and spiritual worship, in the form of a folk song or at times combined with dances. Sometimes, Jaggar may also be in the form of Puja folk songs and are sung in .honour of the various gods and goddesses.

There are more than 50 ballads on indigenous spirits, gods and goddesses, fairies and ghosts, the most famous Ganganath, Gorilla, and Bholanath. The chief priest, Gantava, fixes the time on whicl1 a jagar is to be formed. Around the burning fire, in a circle, are members of the village or family-suddently, like a magician the Das, or singer, slowly, and with measured drum beats, starts to invoke the spirit. Coupled with his singing, punctuated by the exotic drum-beats, and the shrill sound of the thali’, the crescendo, builds up and drives the listeners into a trance. In a fit of ectasy they leap, shout, tremble and j’ump, sometimes tearing off their clothes. As they move around the fire, the Das starts to address them by the name of the spirit or spirits involved and asks the spirits, the questions that are sought by some families and the remedies. Usually the spirit demands a sacrifice of a goat or a bird. The spirit is sent back to its Himalayan abode and the spell breaks-the dance and the ceremony is over. While in a state of trance the dancers lick red-hot pokers, or shove their hands into the blazing fire without being harmed.

The instruments used are a big Drum (Dhol), a smaller Drum (Damua), Hurka and Thall.


This is a folk song of love and sacrifice between the shepherds. It is a love dialogue between the man and woman or between a boy and girl which is sung in the form of a folk song.


These folk songs depict the suffering of a woman due to the separation from her husband. The woman curses the circumstances in which she is separated generally when the husband is away looking for a job. ‘Laman’ another folk song is sung on special occasions expressing the sacrifice that he is willing to do for his beloved. ‘Pawada’ also belongs to this category of folk songs where separation is felt when the husband has gone to the battlefield.


‘Chhura’ folk songs are sung among shepherds in the form of advice given by the old to youngsters, having learnt it out of their experience, particularly in grazing sheep and goats.


One day Sidha played his flute, while resting under a tree of rhododendron; fascinated by his music the dancing fairies from Indira’s court descended on earth and carried away his soul to Heaven. Meanwhile his wife, Brinjamati, sister of Krishna, had a premonition in her dream, and aroused, she went in search of her husband. Her worst doubts became reality, when she found her husband dead. In her agony she went to her brother in Dwarka, Krishna, who already knew what had happened, promised to help her.

Krishna went to the banks of the Mansarovar and played his flute like he had never played before, putting in his playing his entire heart and soul. The enchanted fairies forgot to keep an eye on their clothes. Seizing his chance, Krishna whisked them all away and climbed atop the tallest tree on the shore. He kept on playing. The fairies entreated him to give back their clothes, but Krishna, in all his willy wisdom, refused till they promised to free Sidha and give him back, alive to his wife. The fairies got their clothes and Krishna’s sister, her husband.

The coming of Spring is a matter of joy to everyone, in Kumaon it is announced by. bards who, roaming from place to place, sing of its charms on a sarangi or dholak : “Oh my bee, oh my beloved, Spring has surreptitiously crept in. Quickly take to the valley of flowers where we will play ‘Phag together.”

Divergent currents from Tibet, Nepal and the Indo-Gangetic plains has given a unique flavour to Kumaoni music, oscillating between extreme simplcity to complex, high sophistication found in the ballads, ceremonial Brahmin-songs and the professional bards. The whole foundation of folk music in Kumaon rests on the ballads which are sung in fields, during the cultivation time, to the beat of a small drum, the ‘hurka’ – tlleseare the heroic ballads – the romantic ballads are sung anywhere, especially at night. The Malushahi describes the trails of a young Katyuri prince, Malushahi who is in love with a girl from the borders of Tibet-Rajula. The heroine flees to her beloved but is waylaid by an old Chieftain who presses his suit in most ardent terms. Refusing to see the light, he talks of his health, vigour and prowess. Failing all this he tries to impress her with intricate steps hoping he will win her by his skill as a dancer. The girl escapes as he is busy negotiating a difficult dancing feat.

At the Holi festival, forgetting their worries, the people join in festivity lasting more than a month and hundreds of songs of classical, semi classical, and folk variety are sung by both men and women to the accompaniment of the Harmonium, Tabla, Dholak and Manzira (cymbals).


All over the world, in societies sophisticated or primitive, courtship dance portray in miniature, the customs of the people and country; it is not necessary that the couples participating in it be actual lovers though the initial cause was the pairing of, to increase the tribe. Danced by one couple or many, the female holds a mirror in her left hand and a coloured handkerchief in the other. The male has slung on his left shoulder a Hudukka, and playing on it, provides the rhythmic pattern for the drum. The mirror, the most interesting part, symbolises something vague or mysterious. The most popular form of singing and dancing, the Chhapeli, vying with each other in winning listeners to the group.

The tune is gay, bright and brisk, accompanying instruments are the Hurka, Manzira and Flute. The dance, a duet depicts the joys of love, beauty and romance. The woman partner (sometimes performed by a young boy), with a winsome smile on her face and graceful use of her waist, dances to the lines of the song, mostly in praise of her beauty and charm, sometimes mocking gently, her ways of making love. The song consists of solo chores and is sung by the Hurka players and their associates standing in a semi-circle behind the dancers.


Chancheri dance form resembles with Jhora. A collective dance of Kumaon, danced by men and women, it is danced in a semi-circle to a slow tempo, but follows the conventional group dance by joy unconfined. The Chancheri is most popular in the Danpur Patti of Bageshwar District, lying north near the Pindari Glacier.


A community dance, when all barriers of castes are thrown to the winds, except in the village, where the high and lower castes have separate Jhoras, it is danced at fairs to the accompaniment, of singing that grows with the dance.

Performed either in the morning or evening, they are danced at the coming of spring, mostly at fairs, but also to celebrate weddings. From the minimum, number, six, it swells to 200 at times, men and women both joining in. Together they move in a circle, holding each other’s arms and slight1y bending their bodies forward as they move. On the first beat of the Hurka, the left leg crosses the right, striking the floor with the left foot. On the second beat, the right foot is thrown sideways with a slight jump and little dip and the performers return to their original standing pose, with the bodies swaying slightly to the back. The third and fourth steps are given to the left and right foot respectively. Each step is taken with a slight jump and the accompanying neck and shoulder movements. This completes one cycle. If the circle is big the Hurka players, accompanied by the cymbals and, flute dance inside the circle, singing and playing simultaneously, rending the air joyous with exhilaration. The men and women dancers, themselves provide the singing following the lead of the Hurka player-the women follow the men-the tempo remains the same neither very fast nor very slow.

Costumes are only worn at the fairs when the women turn out in their glamorous best. There is no time limit to the dance, going on sometimes, for 24 hours with new groups joining in while old ones retire. Sometimes, in extra exuberation, they may dance the Do Manjila Jhora-a Jhora with two storeys. The persons on top move automatically with the movements below.

Choliya Dance

Dating back to over a thousand years, the Chholiya Dance has its origins in the warring Khasiya Kingdom of Khasdesh, when marriages were performed at the point of the swords. They were united by the Chand kings who arrived’ on the scene in the 10th century. In Nepal, the word Khasa is still asynonym for Kashatrya, and in Khasdesh, too, they took on the customs of the Rajputs, who were themselves honorary Kashatryas.

Keeping the old tradition alive, the Rajputs dance this at their weddings as a part of the marriage procession itself, led by the male dancers who go on dancing till they reach the bride’s house. Performed by the Rajputs with sword and shield in pairs, the drummers are usually Harijans called Dholies, while the Turi and Ransing are played by Bairagis, Jogis or Gosains. The Turi and Ransing are typical Kumaon instruments. Perfectly synchronized, and marked with jumps and turns of the body, the dancers show several sword-fighting feats. Attired in the material costumes of ancient warriors, the flashing swords and shields, along with the war-like music, huge red flag with various animal symbols stuck on it conveys fear, joy, awe and wonder, through eyes, eyebrows and shoulders, creating at the same time, the impression of group advancing for an attack.

The costumes consist of a Churidar Pyjama, one long Chola, one cross belt, one belt round the waist, pattis on the legs and a turban. With’ Chandan, or Sandalwood paste, and red vermillion they decorate their face, while on the ears are ear-rings, a bronze shield and real sword complete the ensemble. Specially trained, though dancing is not their profession, these Rajput dancers come from the Champawat and Almora. The full team consists of 22 person, eight of which are dancers, and 14 musicians. Cultivators all, they assemble when invited.

Thali, Jadda and Jhainta

While the Thali is a graceful dance of the women, the Jadda and Jhainta are dances in which men and women whirl together with gay abandon. The whole region a kaleidoscope of folk dancing. the Kumaonis, with their powers of endurance, can go on dancing even after a hard day work. A very part of their life, dance and music surge upto fulfil their emotional and social needs, dancing keeping them ever fresh and alive. The Kumaonis prove the old adage. “The tribe which dances does not die.”

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