Bhangra (dance)

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Punjabi language
Bhangra dancers in Punjab, India

Bhangra is a type of traditional folk dance of Punjab area of the Indian subcontinent.[1] It is done in the season of harvesting. According to Manuel (2001), bhangra is especially associated with the vernal Vaisakhi festival, performed during harvest season between April and the first quarter of May.[2]

In a typical performance, several dancers execute vigorous kicks, leaps, and bends of the body—often with upraised, thrusting arm or shoulder movements—to the accompaniment of short songs called boliyan and, most significantly, to the beat of a dhol (double-headed drum).[3] Struck with a heavy beater on one end and with a lighter stick on the other, the dhol imbues the music with a syncopated (accents on the weak beats), swinging rhythmic character that has generally remained the hallmark of bhangra music.[4] An energetic Punjabi dance, bhangra originated with Punjabi farmers as a cultural and communal celebration; its modern-day evolution has allowed bhangra to retain its traditional Punjabi roots, while broadening its reach to include integration into popular music and DJing, group-based competitions, and even exercise[3] and dance programs in schools and studios.[4]


The dance has origins from the Sangrur district of Malwa and Sialkot, Gurdaspur, Gujranwala, Gujrat, and Shekhupura districts of Majha,[5][6] with the Sialkot variant regarded as the standard.[7] The community form of traditional bhangra has been maintained in Gurdaspur,[8] where farmers performed bhangra to showcase a sense of accomplishment and to welcome the new harvesting season in pre-partition times,[8] and has been maintained by people who have settled in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India.[5] Traditional bhangra is performed in a circle[9] and is performed using traditional dance steps. Traditional bhangra is now also performed on occasions other than during the harvest season.[10][11] According to Ganhar (1975), bhangra has been imported[12] into Jammu which is danced on Baisakhi. Other Punjabi folk dances such as giddhā and luḍḍī have also been imported into Jammu,[13][14][15][16][17] which shares Punjabi influences[18] and an affinity with Punjab.[19]


The 1950s saw the development of the free form traditional bhangra in Punjab, 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.[20] 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.[5] Bhangra competitions have been held in Punjab, India, for many decades, with Mohindra College in Patiala being involved in the 1950s.[20]


Though it has been referred to as a "Jat art," it may have had less specific origins, instead originally being a geographic West Punjabi regionalism.[21] Eastern Punjabi Jatts originally viewed dancing as effeminate, and an activity limited to women's dance like the Giddha, or specialized male dancers (ਨਚਾਰ nachāră) who were not considered respectable.[22]

After Partition, the dance was popularized by migrants from West Punjab through culture shows and college campuses, as attitudes began to change. As a result, the dance began to thrive in East Punjab, while being suppressed in Western Punjab.[22] The more vigorous bhangra would come to supplant the older, historically more popular ਝੁੰਮਰ jhummară, though the eventual ubiquity of bhangra would trigger a revival of jhummar in recent years.[23]

Bhangra connects to a much deeper set of masculine values.[24] 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.[24] The use of a long staff, or khuṇḍā, by the men are reminiscent of martial dances like the bagha, from which bhangra's roots are traced.[5]

Bhangra referred both to formal male performances and to communal dancing among men and women.[24] 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.[25] Certain bhangra moves have been adapted and changed over time but at its core remains a sense of cultural identity and tradition.[25] 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.[26]

Women in bhangra[edit]

Nowadays, while bhangra was "traditionally not for women at all," many second-generation diaspora Punjabi women have connected with their culture through bhangra, though at the expense of the traditional women's giddha, which has more of an emphasis on softer movements, acting, and storytelling. Bhangra is often adapted to suit women in this circumstance, in choices of moves, costumes, and props.[27] This was concurrent with the rise in popularity of bhangra music abroad in the 1970s and 1980s, mixing with Western music genres. Women partaking in bhangra, seen as a powerful dance, is often motivated by modern notions of equality, often clashing with standards of authenticity and tradition.[27] Like the men's jhummar, bhangra's over-commodification has also prompted efforts to revive other women's dances like the ਸੰਮੀ sammī.[28]

Raaniyan Di Raunaq is India's first all-women's bhangra competition.[29] Even with the abundance of female bhangra performers, many see this dance form as only masculine.[26] Many women that compete in bhangra shows are judged according to a criterion that is made for male performers.[26] Raaniyan Di Raunaq has customized a bhangra competition just for women or for those who identify as transgender or nonbinary.[26] This competition has coveted a safe space for women to have the ability to compete and be judged equally.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bhangra – dance".
  2. ^ Manuel, Peter (2001). doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.47339. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b Vora, Shivani (2012-01-12). "A Wedding Dance That's Also a Workout". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-05-01.
  4. ^ a b "Bhangra classes offered for high school credit in B.C." CBC News. Jan 23, 2016. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Dhillon, Iqbal S. (1998). Folk Dances of Panjab. National Book Shop. pp. 69, 90. ISBN 9788171162208.
  6. ^ Ballantyne, Tony. Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World [1]
  7. ^ Ballantyne, Tony (2007). Textures of the Sikh Past: New Historical Perspectives [2]
  8. ^ a b Singh, Khushwant (23 May 2017). Land of Five Rivers. Orient Paperbacks. ISBN 9788122201079 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Bedell, J. M. (23 May 2017). Teens in Pakistan. Capstone. ISBN 9780756540432 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Black, Carolyn (2003). Pakistan: The culture. ISBN 9780778793489.
  11. ^ "Pakistan Almanac". Royal Book Company. 23 May 2017 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Ganhar, J. N. (23 May 1975). "Jammu, Shrines and Pilgrimages". Ganhar Publications. p. 166. Bhangra dances are a special feature of Baisakhi celebrations but bhangra is an importation from the Punjab and is more secular than religious."
  13. ^ Harjap Singh Aujla Bhangra as an art is flourishing in India and appears to be on the verge of extinction in Pakistan [3] Archived 2016-04-05 at the Wayback Machine
  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. ^ "Gidha Folk Dance". 12 May 2012. Like bhangara folk dance this folk dance is also an imported folk dance from Punjab to Jammu region.... With the influence of the Punjabi culture in lower Jammu (upto Jammu city) it seems as if this dance is very much a part of the cultural heritage of this region. Late Vishwanath Khajuria is right to say- "Because of very cordial relations with the neighbouring state Punjab the inhabitants of the lower Jammu region have adopted this dance as their own dance."
  16. ^ Balraj Puri (1983). Simmering Volcano: Study of Jammu's Relations with Kashmir [5][permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Hāṇḍā, Omacanda (1 January 2006). Western Himalayan Folk Arts. Pentagon Press. p. 108. ISBN 9788182741959. The dances of this tract have imbibed some of the traits from the popular dances of the neighboring plains. The boisterous Giddhaa and Luddee dances of this area are but the Pahari variants of their Punjabi archetypes.
  18. ^ Datta, Amaresh (23 May 1988). Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 9788126011940 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Manohar Sajnan (2001). Encyclopaedia of Tourism Resources in India, Volume 1 [6]
  20. ^ a b Gregory D. Booth, Bradley Shope (2014). More Than c1RSVbOFJc607QbAoIOwCg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=sunam%20bhangra&f=false]
  21. ^ Mooney, Nicola (2011-01-01). Rural Nostalgias and Transnational Dreams: Identity and Modernity Among Jat Sikhs. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-9257-1.
  22. ^ a b Sidhu Brard, Gurnam Singh (2007). East of Indus: My Memories of Old Punjab. Hemkunt Publishers. p. 312. ISBN 9788170103608. Bhangra was originally the male song and dance among some rural tribes of western Punjab, while in the eastern Punjab giddha was either exclusively the girls' song and dance during the Teeyan festival, or the performance at a wedding house as described above. In fact men in the eastern Punjab villages used to consider it unmanly to dance, and dancing was considered an effeminate activity. The only time they saw a man dancing was when the nachaar men dressed in female clothes with lipstick, face powder, long skirts and artificial pigtails and veils, entertained in the shows. Those dancers were not considered respectable in the rural Jat culture.
    But after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, when some refugees the custom of bhangra dances from western Punjab, it quickly caught on in the cultural shows and on college campuses. In Pakistan, then they may have abolished the bhangra but it now thrives in Punjab and India.... Nowadays the distinction between bhangra and giddha is disappearing, as urban boys and girls dance together in the bhangra style at weddings and parties, just as they all dance to the film music and to popular tunes.
  23. ^ Schreffler, Gibb (2014). ""It's Our Culture": Dynamics of the Revival and Reemergence of Punjabi Jhummar". Asian Music. 35: 34–76. JSTOR 24256904.
  24. ^ a b c Mooney, Nicola (2008-09-19). "Aaja Nach Lai [Come Dance]". Ethnologies. 30 (1): 103–124. doi:10.7202/018837ar. ISSN 1708-0401.
  25. ^ a b "What is Bhangra". Bhangra. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  26. ^ a b c d Sinnenberg, Jackson (August 8, 2019). "Raniyaan di Raunaq, America's first all-women's bhangra competition, shakes up the status quo". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ a b Dhurandhar, Sunita (June 22, 2005). "Return to Bhangra: from dance clubs to gym clubs, young South Asian women reclaim a dance never meant for them". Colorlines. p. 54.
  28. ^ Schreffler, Gibb (August 2012). "Desperately Seekingsammi: Re-Inventing Women's Dance in Punjab". Sikh Formations. 8 (2): 127–146. doi:10.1080/17448727.2012.702416. ISSN 1744-8727. S2CID 144763946.
  29. ^ McCoy, Maya (23 May 2019). "Raniyaan di Raunaq is America's First All-Women's Bhangra Competition". Kajal Mag. Kajal Media LLC. Retrieved 28 November 2019.

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