8 Tribal (Adivasi) Dances of India

Far from the maddening crowd of the cities of India, secluding themselves in remote hills and jungles, live the adivasis, the natives of the land. The isolation has given each adivasi tribe a distinct culture, language, dress sense, ornamentation and food habit. One thing that however is common to them all is their way of entertainment through singing and dancing. They dance merrily in groups singing in chorus, playing indigenous instruments. Almost all adivasi groups have their own routine of group dancing. The dancing is mainly footwork, movement in circles and formations. The dance movements often is taken from their daily work, like reaping harvest, sowing seeds, grinding grains, hunting and fighting skills. Singing and dancing for them is often in the evening after a hard day’s work, or occasional, coinciding with marriage, harvesting, full moon day, spring and autumn seasons, religious beliefs and so on.

The melody, footwork and rhythm are the key elements of Adivasi dance. Though the dance forms have minimal facial expressions the collective expression of joy through body movements thrills the audience. The patterned movements of the dancers are varied, from slow and simple body movements to dynamic and rapid movements.

Santhali Dance, West Bengal, Jharkhand & Odisha

The most renowned are the dances of Santhals, the third largest tribe of India, found in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Assam. Such is the rhythm of their Tamak, tumda drums that it is bound to touch the deep core of the heart. In the evening, with the flute Tirio playing, the women folk sing and dance in an arc, holding each other’s hand, with a lead drummer at the center. The rustic melody and the rhythm have universal appeal. They dance during Karam festival marking the end of rainy season and Disum sendra festival. The dancing has a boldness reflecting the nature of the Tudus, Murmus, Baskeys, Kore, Marandi, Soren and Hembroms.

Bamboo Dance, Mizoram

The bamboo dance of the Mizo people is also very famous. They wear feather headgears during dancing. With start of the earthly beats, men sitting on the ground both hands holding tightly onto one end of a bamboo each move the bamboos with the rhythm and young girls dance within the checkers in perfect sequence. The Mizo and Naga tribes are very colourfully dressed people. The North eastern tribes of India are warrior groups, so their all-male dance forms shows off the fighting instruments and their valor. The songs often sing of the past winnings and glories. The soothing sight of well ornamented ladies dancing elegantly with soft earthy tunes in the backdrop of the picturesque hilly landscape is a common sight as North Eastern India has a majority tribal population. The ladies weave their own dresses which they wear in the dancing rituals.

Kalbelia Dance, Rajasthan

Kalbelia Tribal Dance of Rajasthan is another very famous tribal dance, with dancers wearing gorgeous black ghagra choli and dancing in the tune of been. Moving in rounds and pulsating like a snake the dancers have a mesmerizing effect on the audience. The tune of the been creates the perfect atmosphere for the dance. Both men and women of Garasiya tribe also perform on various occasions like Holi festival, marriage etc. with accompanying musical instruments dhol and nagada.

Elelakkaradi Dance, Kerala

In Kerala, Elelakkaradi is a dance form of the Irular tribe. It depicts every stage of fighting with wild bears, which often attack their home. With drums beats and shouts, children, men and women show their heroism in facing the wild bears. The dance has a drama element to it.

Bhagoria Dance, Madhya Pradesh

In western Madhya Pradesh, the young Bhils, Bhilalas, Patalias and Ranths perform Bhagoria dances in their best fineries during the spring season and select partners for life.

Chhau Dance, West Bengal, Jharkhand & Odisha

Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal are highly evolved dance forms with movements and colourful masks. It is a martial tribal dance with combat techniques and often has a drama component in it. Chhau has become an art form by itself and the Mundas, Mahatos, Sahus get advance booking for performing it and teaching non tribals their dance style and the art of mask making.

Dhimsa Dance, Andhra Pradesh

In Andhra Pradesh, the Valmiki, Bagata, Khond and Rotia tribes are known for the Dhimsa dance. It is performed during weddings, special gatherings and during Chaitra month (March-April). Ladies in colourful sarees sing with spirited dances in circles. It has many variations of which one is Bhag Dhimsa which teaches skills to evade a tiger attack.

Shad Suk Mynsiem, Meghalaya

This dance is held to signify not just the advent of spring but also to express man’s gratitude to God for His bounty and blessings, for peace, tranquillity, happiness and love. It is a kind of Thanksgiving Dance. Amongst girls only the unmarried ones are allowed to participate while the men of all ages, married or unmarried, take part. The girls dance alone or in groups in the centre of a large circle formed by the men who go round the circle waving their white whisks. The girls, dressed is yellow silk ‘dharas’, red long-sleeved blouse with silver armbands, golden necklaces and a silver crown, move in a shuffling kind of graceful movement with downcast eyes to show their demureness while the men prance around to exhibit their protection of the maidens. On a platform, a group of musicians play traditional instruments. The men wear ‘dhotis’ with a black sleeveless jacket and long silver necklaces and carry a decorated silver quiver with three arrows, signifying their commitment to protect their womenfolk, the community and their land.

The tribal dancing had been the contact point between the primitive and the modern. The modern city dwellers have always been curious of the lives of the tribals. To the city dweller it intrigues that such poor and hardship ridden people can be so joyful and merry. This advancing wave of the city culture often harms the stable simple lives. But that they are getting newer opportunities to showcase their dance to the world is definitely a welcome sign. Tribal tourism is at a nascent area, which is often seen in the form of nature walk to tribal villages. However enough care should be taken so as not to disturb and interfere with their life and habitat.

..by Pratiti Moulik

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