Swang (dance drama)

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A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735 (Rajasthan)
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Swang (also spelt Svang, Hindi: स्वांग) or Saang (Hindi: सांग) is a popular folk dance drama or folk theatre form in Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. Swang incorporates suitable theatrics and mimicry (or nakal) accompanied by song and dialogue. It is dialogue-oriented rather than movement-oriented. Religious stories and folk tales are enacted by a group of ten or twelve persons in an open area or an open-air theatre surrounded by the audience.

Tradition credits Kishan Lal Bhaat for laying the foundation of the present style of Swang about two hundred years ago. Since women did not participate in the dance-drama form, men have traditionally enacted their roles.


The stage may consist of a clear circular open area, or at the most, a wooden platform about three and a half metre in length. There are no elaborate stage arrangements similar to modern dramatic performances. There are no backdrops, curtains or green-rooms. Typically, there are no microphones or loudspeakers either. An hour or so before the show, the musicians of the orchestra begin to sing religious or other songs connected with the play in order to create the proper atmosphere for the play. The 'Guru' then appears and the artistes touch his feet to evoke his blessings. The play opens with a song ('bhait' or offering) in praise of Bhawani, the Goddess of Knowledge:

Ay re bhawani baas kar maira ghat ka parda khol Rasna par basa kara bhai shudh shabd much bol

(Oh Goddess Bhawani, open the doors of knowledge to me. Live on my tongue so that all I speak is pure.)

With a brief introduction about the play, the performance starts. It consists mainly of mimicry, from which the name of the theater form derives (swaang means disguise or impersonation). Also featured prominently are long question and answer sessions between the actors. Much of the dialogue is improvised and the actors must be able to trade quotations, puns, proverbs and songs at the drop of a hat. There is much singing and dancing and there is always a clown character called the makhaulia (jester). Swang theatre is traditionally restricted to men, who also play the female roles, the latter often involving elaborate make-up and costumes. But female troupes are not altogether unknown. Towards the end of the 19th century, all-women Swaang troupes performed in western Uttar Pradesh and the adjoining Khaaddar area of Haryana. All parts in these troupes were played by women. Sardari of Kalayat (Jind), Natni of Gangaru, and Bali of Indri (Karnal) were some of the leaders of such troupes.

A single presentation of swaang may continue for up to five or six hours. There is much song and music, especially the famous Haryanvi style of singing known as Raagani.


Swang themes draw variously from themes of morality, folk tales, lives of inspiring personalities, stories from Indian mythology and in recent times, more current themes like health and hygiene, literacy, AIDS awareness and women's empowerment. In temple based religious theatre, Indian epics and Puranas are the major source material for characters, while the community-based secular theatre is of lighter variety. Several themes may be mixed together - mythological love, popular history, and religious themes, all with overtones of secular values. All dramas typically end with the victory of good over evil.

Popular mythological themes include Prahlad Bhagat, Gopi Chand, Bharthari, Harishchander, Raja Bhoj, Kichak Badh, Draupadi Chir Haran, Jaani Chor, Pingla Bharthri and other tales from old literature. Also popular are Punjabi romances like Pooran Bhagat, Heer Ranjha, etc. Historical and semi-historical themes include Raja Rissalu, Amar Singh Rathor, Sarwar Neer, Jaswant Singh, Ramdevji, etc. Other popular tales include romances like Sorath, Nihalde, Padmavat, etc.


Swang Duet

The origin of swang is traced to Kishan Lal Bhaat, who some two hundred years ago is said to have laid the foundation of the present style of folk theatre. Another view gives credit for this to Kavi Shankar Dass, a poet artiste, who belonged to Meerut. Another notable early pioneer was Ali Bux of Rewari, who successfully staged plays titled Fasanai, Azad and Padmawat. For music and song, these early Swaang drew on khayals and chambolas. The stage was most elementary, the actors performed from a central place among the audience. The light was provided by mashals (Roman torches).

In Haryana the most celebrated artiste is Dip Chand Bahman of village Sheri Khanda in Sonepat. He is popularly styled as the "Shakespeare' or 'Kalidas of Haryana'. Semi-literate, he had a spark, a touch of genius. He polished the style of Ali Bux and gave a new color to this folk art. Dip Chand's style of performance incorporated elements from music, dance, pantomime, versification, and ballad recitation.

During the First World War, when Dip Chand's capacity for improvisation and adaptation was at its peak, the British Government made him a 'Rai Sahib' and granted him other favours.

Swang Performance

Hardeva polished his Chambola style and made some changes to Haryanvi ragni (folk song). Bjae Nai, a disciple of Hardeva, mixed both the styles of folk music. Pt. Nathu Ram, another well known Swaangi coached a number of talented pupils, which included Maan Singh, Bulli, Dina Lohar and Ram Singh.Manish Joshi Bismil who is a noted theatre director of India belongs to Hisar is also known for developing Swang in Haryana. In year 2012 his recent production Lakhmigatha was a milestone work on Pandit Lakhmichand.

Pt. Ramkishan Vyas of Narnaund (Hissar), formerly known as 'Vyas ji', is a celebrity in the field of Haryanvi Saangs and Raagnis. He invented various concepts in presenting the raagnis to the public e.g. Soni and others. In addition, he has been deputed as Counseller and Consultants by Rohtak Aakashvani & Kurukshetra Aakashvani. Haryana Government has also declared that the dominant universities of Haryana ( Kurukshetra University, Maharishi Dayanand University, etc.) would include his autobiography and raagnis in their curriculum. CCS Haryana Agricultural University Hisar also set up a unit for the promotion of Swang and produced and staged best productions, viz, Jaani Chor, Pingla Bharthri,etc. In 1998, The Government of India has honored this renowned poet by the award from Rohtak Aakashwani for his incredible support to the rise of Haryanvi Lok Sahitya.His younger son, Satyanarayan Shastri is also continuing their task to rise the Haryanvi Lok Sahitya by his writing. Satyanarayan Shastri is a renowned singer of 'Ragnis' at aakashvani since 1983. Pandit Lakhmi Chand of Jatti Kalan (Sonipat) is known as Surya Kavi (Sun Poet) in Haryanvi Raagnis. important Swang staged by him included Nal Damyanti, Meera Bai, Satyavan Savitri, Poorjan, Seth Tara Chand, Puran Bhagat and Shashi Lakarhara. Pt. Tuleram, son of Pt Lakhmi Chand continued the tradition of performancee and after him his son Vishnu is still performing in the remote villages of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.


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