Bhangra is the cultural folk dance (Lok Naach) from the Punjab, a region covering Eastern Pakistan and Northern India, bordered by 5 rivers, with a long history and strong cultural heritage.
Bhangra's roots trace back to the fifteenth century when Punjabi wheat farmers danced and sang songs about village life to help pass the time whilst working in the fields. With time these dances and songs became part of harvest celebrations at Bhaisakhi (April 13th) festivals as the sight of their crops growing invigorated the farmers.
From its farming origins Bhangra dance quickly moved through all divisions of class and education, eventually becoming a part of weddings, parties, festivals and other important occasions.
As Bhangra continues to move into the mainstream, cultural understanding of its history and tradition enables people to appreciate it more. Bhangra actions and movements are full of energy and happiness as well as being highly methodical. Bhangra has its own distinctive costumes and instruments.
Bhangra is not only exuberant in sound, but also in colour. The Bhangra dress reflects the Punjabi love for bright colours, a sign of happiness. The Bhangra dress is derived from typical daily wear, so it varies depending on which region of the Punjab you are in. Bhangra costumes include Turla - a fan like adornment on the turban, displaying a sign of pride, Pag - a turban, displaying a sign of honour, Kaintha - a type of necklace, Kurta - a loose shirt, Jughi - a waistcoat, Thamba - a rectanglular cloth which goes around the legs and is tied around the waist, all of which are worn with Khussa - shoes.
Many different Punjabi instruments contribute to the sound of Bhangra. The most important instrument is the Dhol Drum, believed to be the oldest musical instrument of mankind and used in Bhangra in its original shape. In the Punjab, taals are played on Dhol to suit each type of festival mood, be it festive, virile, romantic or mourning. Bhangra performers revere Dhol as their deity as it beckons and lures the performers to perform.
There are, however, other important instruments used in Bhangra, including the Tumbi, the Ektar and the Chimta. The Tumbi is a simple folk instrument, possibly the oldest stringed instrument in the Indian subcontinent. The Ektar is described in ancient Sanskrit texts as the Ekatantri Vina, literally the "one stringed lute". A membrane is stretched over the gourd and the bridge is placed over the taut membrane. The term Ektar literally means "one string" instrument. The Chimta is actually a fire tong however it has evolved into a musical instrument by the permanent addition of small brass jingles.
As well as costumes and instruments, props also play an important part in Bhangra. There are many different types of props used in Bhangra dancing. The Saap is a wooden criss-cross that can be opened and closed whilst dancing. Bhangra dancing with Khunda long sticks is common and sometimes mixed with Gatka, a sword dance. The Chimta is a long metal instrument with many cymbols on it, also used in dancing. The Katoo is a long stick with a clapper on the top and a string attached to the clapper. Pulling the string makes the clapper close, creating a sound like that of castanets.
When booking Bhangra Dancers for your event it is wise to consider the following points:
Is your event suitable for the loud, happy, colourful traditionally dressed dancers?
The Dancers use the Dhol drum which is an instrument of celebration and they will capture the attention of all your guests, leaving them jumping for joy.
Most teams are based in Birmingham and Southall so be prepared to pay a little extra because of their travelling time & transport.
How many Dancers do you require on your function?
This depends on how much space you have for them to dance on. You will need a minimum of six members (four dancers, one Dhol and one singer) although is is more usual - and more impressive - to have 10 members perform.
Have you seen the dance before?
Ask for a sample before you book or, even better, if they are on Youtube.
The Dancers usually ask for a deposit up-front & the balance in cash on the day, just before they start, so you know what you are getting and can budget accordingly.
This article was kindly contributed by Bhangra historian, King Gurcharan Mall.© 2007 Party Offers