Bhaṅgṛā (Punjabi: بھنگڑا / ਭੰਗੜਾ, IPA: [ˈpə̀ŋɡɽaː] (listen)) is a type of traditional dance of the Indian subcontinent, originating in the Majha area of Punjab. The dance was associated primarily with the spring harvest festival Vaisakhi, and it is from one of the major products of the harvest—bhang (hemp)—that bhangra drew its name. In a typical performance, several dancers executed vigorous kicks, leaps, and bends of the body to the accompaniment of short songs called boliyan and, most significantly, to the beat of a dhol (double-headed drum). Struck with a heavy beater on one end and with a lighter stick on the other, the dhol imbued the music with a syncopated (accents on the weak beats), swinging rhythmic character that has generally remained the hallmark of any music that has come to bear the bhangra name.
Bhangra During the Harvesting season
Bhangra was mainly done by Punjabi farmers during the harvesting season. It was mainly performed while farmers would do agricultural chores, as they would do each farming activity they would make bhangra moves on the spot. This would allow them to finish their job in a pleasurable way. After harvesting their wheat crops during the Vaisakhi season, people used to attend cultural festivals while dancing bhangra. For many years, farmers would do bhangra to showcase a sense of accomplishment and to welcome the new harvesting season.
Traditional Bhangra/folk dance of Majha
The origins of traditional Bhangra are speculative. According to Dhillon (1998), Bhangra is related to the Punjabi dance 'bagaa', which is a martial dance of Punjab. 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). The traditional form of Bhangra danced in the villages of Sialkot district is regarded as the standard. 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, India, and has been maintained by people who have settled in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India, after leaving what is now Punjab, Pakistan. Traditional Bhangra is performed in a circle and is performed using traditional dance steps. Traditional Bhangra is now also performed on occasions other than during the harvest season and is popular in Pakistan. According to Ganhar (1975), Bhangra has been imported into Jammu which is danced on Baisakhi. Other Punjabi folk dances such as Giddha and Luddi have also been imported into Jammu. Punjabi language influences can be observed when people dance such dances. Jammu falls within the Punjab region and shares an affinity with Punjab.
Free form traditional bhangra
The 1950s saw the development of the free form traditional Bhangra in Punjab, India, which was patronized 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. Free form traditional Bhangra developed during stage performances which incorporate traditional Bhangra moves and also include sequences from other Punjabi dances, namely, Luddi, Jhummar, Dhamaal, and Gham Luddi. The singing of Punjabi folk songs, boliyan, are incorporated from Malwai Giddha. Bhangra competitions have been held in Punjab, India, for many decades, with Mohindra College in Patiala being involved in the 1950s.
Bhangra originates from a very patriarchal society, it connects to a much more deeper set of masculine values. Most of these values are set through labour, industry and self-sufficiency in agriculture, loyalty, independence and bravery in personal, political and military endeavours; and the development and expression of virility, vigour, and honour are common themes. Bhangra referred both to formal male performances as well as to communal dancing among men and women. In the past 30 years, bhangra has been established all over the world. It has become integrated into popular Asian Culture after being mixed with hip hop, house and reggae styles of music. Certain bhangra moves have adapted and changed over time but at its core remains a sense of cultural identity and tradition. We see Bhangra take place mainly in the Punjabi culture, many people tend to showcase bhangra as a source of entertainment at weddings, birthday parties and all sorts of celebrations. Many people also do bhangra as a source of exercise, it is an excellent substitution to the gym. Traditionally, Bhangra is danced by men but now we see both men and women participating in this dance form. With Bhangra competitions all over the world, we see all sorts of people competing in these events.
Women in Bhangra
Nowadays, we see many second - generation South Asian women who are connecting with their culture through bhangra. Many of these young girls tend to bring their bhangra moves into the club scene, where they lift their arms in the air and shrug their shoulders, moving their body to the beat. D.J. Rekha was one of the first South Asian women to bring popularity to Bhangra in the U.S by introducing her Basement Bhangra Parties. Many university and community clubs have stated their own bhangra teams, most of these teams have a wide variety of men and women who come from different backgrounds. Many businesses have created bhangra clubs with the mindset to teach younger kids bhangra, these programs have helped young children stay healthy and connected to the culture of Bhangra. Sarina Jain, was the very first women who created the bhangra fitness workout, which is now known as the Masala Bhangra Workout. This workout has taught many people all over the world the basic steps associated with Bhangra, allowing them to learn Bhangra in the comfort of their own home.
Raaniyan Di Raunaq
Raaniyan Di Raunaq is Americas first All-Women's Bhangra Competition. Even with the abundance of female Bhangra performers, many see this dance form as only masculine. Historically, women have fought for the right to perform as men did not feel comfortable with women dancing. Many women that compete in Bhangra shows are judged according to a criterion that is made for male performers. Raaniyan Di Raunaq has customized a Bhangra competition just for women or for those who identify as transgender or non binary. This competition has coveted a safe space for women to have the ability to compete and be judged equally.
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