Bhangra (dance)

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This article is about dance genres. For the popular music genre, see Bhangra (popular music).
Bhangra Dance Punjab
A picture of a Bhangra Group in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (United Bhangra)

The term Bhaṅgṛā (Punjabi: ਭੰਗੜਾ (Gurmukhi), بھنگڑا (Shahmukhi); pronounced [pə̀ŋɡɽaː]) Listen refers to the traditional dance originating in the Majha area of the Punjab region;[1] free form traditional Bhangra originating in Punjab, India and modern Bhangra developed by the Punjabi diaspora.


Traditional Bhangra/Folk dance of Majha[edit]

Punjabi Bhangra Drummer

The origins of traditional Bhangra are speculative and many. According to I.S. Dhillon, Bhangra is related to the Punjabi dance 'bagaa' which is a martial dance of Punjab.[2]

However, the folk dance of Majha originated in Sialkot and took root in Gujranwalla, Sheikhupur, Gujrat (districts in Punjab, Pakistan) and Gurdaspur (district in Punjab, India).[3][4][5] The traditional form of Bhangra danced in the villages of Sialkot district is regarded as the standard.[6] Although the main districts where traditional Bhangra is performed are in Punjab, Pakistan, the community form of traditional Bhangra has been maintained in Gurdaspur district, Punjab, India and has been maintained by people who have settled in Hoshiarpur, Punjab India[7] after leaving what is now Punjab, Pakistan.

Being a seasonal dance, traditional Bhangra is practiced in the month leading up to the festival of Vaisakhi. During this month, the harvest, especially wheat crop, is reaped. Local fairs mark the festival of Vaisakhi. After days of harvesting and at Vaisakhi fairs, Bhangra is performed, as a dance of men alone.

Traditional Bhangra is performed in a circle[8] and is performed using traditional dance steps. The drum is played according to local beats and is accompanied by singing peculiar to Majha which are folk songs called dhola. The following is an example of a dhola:[9]

ਕੰਨਾ ਨੂੰ ਬੁੰਦੇ ਸਿਰ ਛੱਤੇ ਨੇ ਕਾਲੇ
ਦਹੀ ਦੇ ਧੋਤੇ ਮੇਰੇ ਮੱਖਣਾ ਦੇ ਪਾਲੇ
ਰੱਲ ਮਿਟੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਗਏ ਨੇ
ਸੱਜਣ ਕੌਲ ਨਹੀ ਪਾਲੇ
ਤੇਰੇ ਬਾਝੋਂ ਵੇ ਢੋਲਿਆ
ਸਾਨੂੰ ਕੌਣ ਸੰਭਾਲੇ


kana noo bunde sir chhate kale
dahi de dhote mere makhna de pale
ral mitti vich gaye ne
sajan kol nahi pale
tere bajo ve dholeya
sanu kaun sambhalay

Traditional Bhangra is now also performed on occasions other than during the harvest season [10] and is popular in Pakistan.[11]

Traditional Bhangra has also been imported into the Jammu[12][13][14][15] plains[16] which merge with the plains of Punjab, together with other Punjabi folk dances such as Giddha and Luddi.[17] Punjabi language influences can be observed when people dance such dances [18] in Jammu as the area falls within the Punjab region and shares an affinity with Punjab.[19]

Free form traditional Bhangra[edit]

A bhangra performance
A bhangra performance in Amritsar, 2012

Prior to 1947 Partition of the Punjab region, men of all faiths danced traditional Bhangra. However, after 1947, millions of people were relocated between the new nations of Pakistan and India. Most of the area in which community bhangra is practiced became contained within Pakistan, however the Sikh and Hindu participants moved to Punjab, India where the free form of traditional Bhangra developed.

The 1950s saw the development of the free form traditional Bhangra in Punjab, India which was patronised by the Maharaja of Patiala who requested a staged performance of Bhangra in 1953. The first significant developers of this style were a dance troupe led by brothers from the Deepak family of Sunam (Manohar, Avtar and Gurbachan) and the dhol player Bhana Ram Sunami.[20] Free form traditional Bhangra developed during stage performances which incorporate traditional Bhangra moves and also includes sequences from other Punjabi dances, namely, Luddi, Jhummar, Dhamaal, and Gham Luddi. The singing of Punjabi folk songs, bolian, are incorprated from Malwai Giddha[21]

Free form traditional Bhangra was performed on the national stage for the first time in 1954 on the Republic Day celebrations.[22] Free form Bhangra grew in popularity during the 1950's and was continually developed in India and attained a rather standardized form by the 1970s. Thereafter, the free form traditional Bhangra was exported to other countries by Punjabi emigrants.

Bhangra competitions have been held in Punjab, India for many decades, with Mohindra College in Patiala being involved in the 1950's.[23] They are especially associated with college youth festivals.

Modern Bhangra[edit]

By the 1990s, modern Bhangra was being staged in the Punjabi Diaspora, often characterized by a fusion with Western dance styles and the use of prerecorded audio mixes.

Since the 1990s[citation needed], universities and other organizations have held annual modern Bhangra dance competitions in many of the main cities of the United States, Canada, and England as well. At these competitions, young Punjabis, other South Asians, and people with no South Asian background compete for money and trophies.


Traditional Bhangra[edit]


They move with passion and relaxed muscles and use lots of energy. Pakistan locals describe the dance as "Ahmed-ish" meaning that you dance in a very flamboyantly happy way.

The dance moves involve raising the arms above the shoulders. Some of the steps mimic actions related to harvesting.

Musical accompaniment[edit]

Sapp (Chhikka)

Bhangra dance is based on music from a dhol, folk singing, and the chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets written in the Punjabi language called bolis.

Free form traditional Bhangra[edit]

In addition to the steps used to perform traditional Bhangra, the free form style utilises steps from other Punjabi folk dances such as Luddi, Jhummar, Dhamaal etc.

The musical accompaniment is the same as for traditional Bhangra.

Modern Bhangra[edit]

The modern style of Bhangra builds upon the free form of traditional Bhangra and utilises dance steps which have not evolved as folk practices. Accordingly, modern Bhangra is a new type of free form Bhangra.


All forms of Bhangra singers employ a high, energetic tone of voice. Singing fiercely and with great pride, they typically add nonsensical, random noises to their singing. Likewise, often people dancing to Bhangra will yell phrases such as hoi, hoi, hoi; balle balle; chak de; oye hoi; bruah (for an extended length of about 2–5 seconds); haripa; or ch-ch (mostly used as slow beats called Jhummar when dancing free form traditional Bhangra) to the music.


Traditional men wear a Punjabi Tamba and Kurta while doing bhangra. A Tamba, also known as Tehmat, is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. A kurta is a long shirt. In addition, men wear pagri (turban) to cover their heads.

In modern times, men also wear turla, the fan attached to the pagri. Colorful vests are worn above the kurta. Phummans (small balls attached to ropes) are worn on each arm.

Women dancing modern Bhangra wear a traditional Punjabi dress known as a salwar kameez, long baggy pants tight at the ankle (salwar) and a long colorful shirt (kameez). Women also wear chunnis, colorful pieces of cloth wrapped around the neck.

These items are all very colorful and vibrant, representing the rich rural colors of Punjab.[24] Besides the above, the bhangra dress has different parts that are listed below in detail:

  • Pag (turban, a sign of pride/honor in Punjab). This is tied differently from the traditional turban one sees Sikhs wearing in the street. This turban has to be tied before each show.
  • Kurta, similar to a silk shirt, with about four buttons, very loose with embroidered patterns
  • Tehmat or chadar, a loose loincloth tied around the dancer's waist, which is usually very decorated
  • Chagi, a waistcoat with no buttons
  • Rumāl, small "scarves" worn on the fingers. They look very elegant and are effective when the hands move during the course of bhangra performance.

Modern Bhangra around the world[edit]

North America[edit]

Bhangra dance performance in Canada, 2010.
Bhangra 1

Traditional Bhangra has been known about amongst the older settled community in North America for about 100 years with the first generation of Punjabi Americans that immigrated to California. However, the free form traditional Bhangra is a recent import and modern Bhangra competitions have been active in the United States and Canada for over 25 years. North America has a great history of elite bhangra competitions and bhangra teams.

In the West, unlike in the Punjab, there is less emphasis on traditional songs and more focus on the flow of a mix; many teams mix traditional bhangra music with hip-hop or rock songs. This synergy of the bhangra dance with other cultures parallels the music's fusion with different genres. University competitions have experienced an explosion in popularity over the last five years and have helped to promote the dance and music in today's mainstream culture.

Bhangra in Los Angeles has become one of the biggest bhangra competitions in the U.S. Teams from all over United States and Canada come together to compete and show their talent.

2010 was the first year for Elite 8 Bhangra Invitational, in Washington, D.C. This event invited eight of the top teams from North America to showcase their routines and compete for the number one spot. Virginia Commonwealth University of Richmond, Virginia, was crowned champion. Sonay Gabroo Punjab De (SGPD) from Toronto, Canada took the title in 2011. University of North Carolina (UNC) from Chapel Hill, North Carolina were the winners in 2012.[25]

Some other bhangra competitions include:

1)Aag Ki Raat- University of South Carolina, Columbia; 2)Aaj Ka Dhamaka-University of North Carolina; 3)Apna Virsa Apna Punjab- Virginia Commonwealth University; 4)Bay; 5)Bhangra Bash-University of Washington's Indian Student Association; 6)Bhangra Beat-University of Mary Washington's International Living Community; 7)Bhangra Blizzard-MA Entertainment;8) Bhangra Blowout-George Washington University; 9)Bhangra Fever-Binghamton Bhangra; 10)Bhangra Fusion-Hype Productions; 11)Bhangra Idols; 12)Bhangra in the Burgh-Carnegie Mellon University; 13)Bhangra Masti-Canadian Punjabi Dance Academy; 14)Big Apple Bhangra-Virsa: Our Tradition & Immortal Soundz; 15)Boston Bhangra-Boston Bhangra; 16)Bruin Bhangra-Bhangra Team at UCLA; 17)Buckeye Mela at The Ohio State University; 18)Bulldog Bhangra- California State, Fresno; Return of Bhangra- Cal State University, Northridge; 19)Dhol Di Awaz-UC Berkeley; 20)Elite 8-Emdo Ent; 21)Giant Bhangra-College of the SequoiasVisalia; 22)Groundshaker; J23)ashan; Jawani Bhangra-North American Medical Doctors; 24)Josh Bhangre Da-Straight Rocked Entertainment; 25)Motor City Bhangra-Pind Production; 26)Nachda Punjab-San Jose State University; 27)NorCal Bhangra-FTW Ent; 28)Notorious Bhangra-Stockton Indian Youth Alliance; 29)Pao Bhangra- Cornell University; 30)Pioneer Bhangra- California State, East BayHayward; 31)Raas Rave and Bhangra Blitz- Southern Methodist University; 32)Rangla Punjab- Seattle; 33)Sher Punjab De- NSM^2; 34)Sin City Bhangra-Las Vegas; 35)So You Think You Can Bhangra; 36)SoCal Bhangra-Los Angeles; 37)Sunset Bhangra - Tampa; 38)TDot Bhangra- NTP Entertainment; 39)Ultimate Bhangra Competition-Pandora Ent.; 40)Warrior Bhangra- California State University, Stanislaus; 41)Worlds Best Bhangra Crew- Dj Raj Minocha & Anakh-E-Gabroo; 42)Vasakhi

Bhangra team names can be found on this link:


In the UK, the last professional bhangra dance competition was held in 1989 at the Hummingbird, in Birmingham. There were over 10 teams across the UK competing and the winning team was Jugnu Bhangra (Gravesend) – the award-winning dancers who performed for Jugnu, went on to form 4x4 Bhangra Dancers in 1994. 4x4 Bhangra Dancers,[26] are still known as UK's best bhangra dance troupe[citation needed] and have performed with the likes of Diversity (Britain's Got Talent winners), Led Zepelin, Omarion (international RnB singer and dancer) and various TV and music videos. 4x4 Bhangra Dancers founder members Gurdish Sall, Gurvinder Sandher, Parwinder Dhinsa and Sukhdeep Randhawa were the pioneers of the Asian freestyle dance style, winning the 1992 UK Asian Freestyle competition at the Dome in Birmingham. 4x4 Dancers also introduced bhangra workshops to schools.

In the UK, the first ever major university bhangra competition, The Bhangra Showdown,[27] was organised by students from Imperial College London and held on 1 December 2007. The competition was held at Indigo2 in the O2 in Greenwich and was attended by over 1,000 people. Kings College London won the inaugural Bhangra Showdown, followed by Brunel and Imperial College. All proceeds from this show were donated to two charities, Wateraid and The Child Welfare Trust, and the show looked to continue annually. The show was held once again on 31 January 2009 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, with proceeds going to the MND Association and The Child Welfare Trust, and was attended by around 1,500 people. Six universities took part: Imperial; Queen Mary's; Kingston; Brunel; Birmingham; and Leicester/DMU. Birmingham came in third place, Imperial came a very close second, and Queen Mary's took first place. This was followed by another sell-out show at London Palladium in January 2010, with crowds of around 2,400, where Imperial won, followed by Queen Mary and Barts in second place and Brunel in third.

Most recently, the 4th Bhangra Showdown was held at HMV Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday, 5 February 2011, featuring 10 teams (Imperial College, Kings College, UCL & LSE, Manchester, Brunel, Kingston, Birmingham, Queen Mary and Barts, Leicester, and St Georges). The number one spot went to Birmingham, followed closely by Imperial in second place. They performed in front of another sell-out crowd of 3,500. In 2012, the 5th Bhangra Showdown was held, again at HMV Hammersmith Apollo, in front of a sold out crowd of 3,500. Leicester were awarded the title but, following controversy, they were retrospectively removed as champions and banned for five years from entering the competition. This was due to the team having overseas participants, from Canada, who could not prove that they were studying at Leicester University. Subsequently, Queen Mary's were instated as the winners and University of Birmingham came second.

Following the success of The Bhangra Showdown, 2011 saw the introduction of a new UK bhangra competition – Bhangra Wars – hosted in Leicester where university and non-university teams competed. A second university-only competition was launched in 2012 by (a previous sponsor of The Bhangra Showdown and Bhangra Wars[28]). The competition is called Capital Bhangra and has been hosted twice at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London.[29] The first competition was won by UCL-LSE and was hosted by YouTube star Superwoman. Capital Bhangra 2013 saw seven teams compete with the title going to DMU/UoL Bhangra team (Leicester). A further invitational competition, Folk Stars launched in 2012 for bhangra teams who perform to music that is played live and was won by Vasda Punjab.[30] The 3rd Capital Bhangra took place in 2014 at The Great Hall, Queen Mary University, London, with 7 competing teams. The winners on this occasion were Aston University. Following the success of Capital Bhangra, proceeded to host a second competition - The Bhangra Competition - A competition open to all UK based teams. This was held at The Great Hall, Queen Mary University, London and was won by the Midlands-based team Gabru Chel Chabileh (GCC).

The 2015 Bhangra showdown show will be taking place at the SSE Wembley on the 7th of February 2015, with 8 main teams: UCL, KCL, Birmingham, Imperial College,Nottingham Main and Trent (one team), Leicester & DMU (one team), Manchester and Brunel. This year will be the first time teams will be going head to head. The line up is as follows: KCL vs Birmingham, Brunel vs Manchester, Leicester vs Nottingham and Imperial vs UCL. The sponsor of the show have been confirmed as Kudos Music.

Current UK based Bhangra Competitions include:

  • Bhangra Wars - Open competition, started 2011; Capital Bhangra - Open University only competition, started 2012; Folk Stars - Invitational competition, started 2012; The Bhangra Showdown - Open University only competition, started 2007; The Bhangra Competition - Open competition, started 2013

A list of UK based Bhangra teams can be found on this link:

Impact in mainstream Western culture[edit]

As of 2013, namely in Australia, the Bhangra dance become synonymous as a dance that is done once someone is made a job offer.

Bhangra Empire, a bhangra dance group from California, has appeared on America's Got Talent and in Harper's Bazaar.

In the MMORPG, Guild Wars 2, the Sylvari's dance emote (activated by typing /dance) is the Bhangra Dance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. ^ Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
  3. ^ Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
  4. ^ Tony Ballantyne Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World [1]
  5. ^ Khushwant Singh (2006) Land of Five Rivers
  6. ^ Tony Ballantyne (2007) Textures of the Sikh Past: New Historical Perspectives [2]
  7. ^ Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
  8. ^ J. M. Bedell (2009) Teens in Pakistan
  9. ^ Madhpuri, Sukhdev (2006) Punjabi sabhiachar di arsi. Sirtaj Printing Press. ISBN 81-7647-191-7
  10. ^ Carolyn Black (2003) Pakistan: The culture
  11. ^ Pakistan Almanac (2007) Royal Book Company
  12. ^ J. N. Ganhar (1975) Jammu, Shrines and Pilgrimages
  13. ^ Harjap Singh Aujla Bhangra as an art is flourishing in India and appears to be on the verge of extinction in Pakistan [3]
  14. ^ Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Mohinder Singh Randhawa (1959) Farmers of India: Punjab Himachal Pradesh, Jammy & Kashmir, by M. S. Randhawa and P. Nath [4]
  15. ^ Dr S P Srivatas (12.05.2012) Daily Excelsior Gidha Folk Dance
  16. ^ Balraj Puri (1983) Simmering Volcano: Study of Jammu's Relations with Kashmir [5]
  17. ^ Omacanda Hāṇḍā (2006) Western Himalayan Folk Arts
  18. ^ Amaresh Datta (1988) Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, Volume 2
  19. ^ Manohar Sajnan (2001) Encyclopaedia of Tourism Resources in India, Volume 1 [6]
  20. ^ Gregory D. Booth, Bradley Shope (2014) More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music [7]
  21. ^ Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
  22. ^ Mohinder Singh Randhawa. (1960) Punjab: Itihas, Kala, Sahit, te Sabiachar aad.Bhasha Vibhag, Punjab, Patiala.
  23. ^ Gregory D. Booth, Bradley Shope (2014) More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music [8]
  24. ^ Baisakhi Dress, Bhangra Dress, Giddha Dress, Dress for Baisakhi Festival
  25. ^
  26. ^ The 4x4 Bhangra Dancers Official Website
  27. ^ The Bhangra Showdown Official Website
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The home of Bhangra on the internet