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 incorporated 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 1950s 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 1950s.[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.

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

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The home of Bhangra on the internet