Bhangra dance
The bhangra is an energetic, lively folk dance that originated in the 15th century in north west India, in what is today the state of Punjab. Essentially a rural dance, the bhangra, along with its music, has transcended cultural and national boundaries and is now enthralling an international audience. It is danced on the festival of Baisakhi, which symbolizes regeneration and fruition, and marks the first day of the month of Baishakh (normally 13 April). The festival of Baisakhi celebrates the joy of the farmers as they bring home the harvest. The bhangra is also performed on other festive occasions such as marriages and the birth of a child. It is now very popular among young people all over India who commonly celebrate a birthday party or the end of examinations by dancing to the bhangra’s upbeat tunes.

It is accompanied by few musical instruments. The dhol, a drum with a high base, is the most important of these. Fixed to a strap that hangs from the neck of the player and played with two sticks, it has a lilting beat that sends people into a dance frenzy. The thumbi is also an important accompaniment; a traditional instrument of rural Punjab, it was used by wandering bards who played it while they sang. The sarangi, a stringed instrument similar to a violin, is another musical accompaniment to the bhangra. The lyrics of bhangra songs are in Punjabi, the language spoken in the state of Punjab. Apart from romance and relationships, these songs commonly refer to social issues such as unemployment, alcoholism and politics as well as to historical figures and aspects of Punjabi culture.

The bhangra is an energetic dance that requires freedom of movement. Male bhangra dancers traditionally wear a kurta, a shirt which falls below the knees and a longi, a colourful piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. Colourful turbans are also worn. Female performers traditionally wear the salwar-kameez (a long tunic top worn with loose baggy pants) and a dupatta (a long wide scarf).

The bhangra has spread widely in India in the last few decades, especially throughout North India. It is very popular among young people who grab every opportunity to dance the bhangra, whether in the stadium while watching a cricket match or at a festival party at school or college. Marriage celebrations in North India always include bhangra dancing; the barrat (groom’s party) walk in procession through the lanes of the city to the bride’s home, normally accompanied by a brass band playing popular tunes. Those accompanying the procession dance to the tunes of the band and the most frequent demand is for bhangra tunes.

Over the last two decades, the bhangra has gone truly international. The large Punjabi- speaking populations living overseas has helped bring bhangra music and dance to completely new audiences who enjoy its unique appeal even if they do not understand the lyrics. Western instruments are now being used in bhangra music and while traditional rhythms remain, it is also being fused with modern musical forms such as rap and reggae. This mix is creating new sounds that are gaining popularity both in India and overseas.