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Folk Dances of Western India



Named for the garba deep, or votive lamp , featured in this dance, the Garba is hugely popular in Gujarat. Garbo is nothing but a singular form of the name Garba. It is performed in honor of the Mother Divine, the goddess Kali or Durga, revered in Gujarat as Amba Mata or Mataji. The lamp symbolizes her energy, and the dancers move around it in a circle to invoke her blessings. In variations of this format, dancers may carry earthen pots on their heads with lights in them, or carry small lamps in their hands. Sometimes the pots are placed inside a small wooden frame called a mandavdi, and decorated with flowers or colored cloth, which is then carried on the dancer’s head. The Garba often begins with a sacred offering, or aarti, for the Goddess, after which the central lamp is lit.

Garba is essentially a women’s dance, but it is common for men to participate. It is performed at many auspicious occasions and social events. The prime time to see it is during the Navaratri festival dedicated to Amba Mata. During the nine nights of the festival, Garbas take place in every neighborhood of Gujarat. There are Garbas at temples, community centers, and nightclubs, and Garba competitions on stage. An evening of Garba goes on for hours, often well past midnight, and involves numerous Garba songs to which the dance is done. Any number of dancers may participate, and people join and exit the dance as they please.

Most of the Garba songs are in praise of the Goddess, but other themes have come into use, like the stories of Krishna. They usually are led by one singer who first sings each line, which is then repeated by the other singers. The dholak drum and the harmonium are typical instruments for Garba music.

Dancers usually accompany their movements with clapping, but sometimes snap their fingers, or carry small cymbals called manjeera that they strike. In slower forms of Garba, and when pots are carried, there is no clapping, but just steps and body movements. There are a number of body movements, steps, arm movements, and ways of clapping, in the traditional form of Garba.

The women wear traditional Gujarati dress, the chania choli (skirt and blouse) combination or a sari. Men also wear their normal traditional attire, the dhoti or churidars, and a kurtha or shirt.

The Garba is so popular that there are many modern versions of it, in which the movements and music have been influenced by Bollywood and western styles. In such dances, there is nothing left of the devotional feeling of the original Garba.


The Garbi is a dance in honor of Amba Mata, like Garba, but it is danced only by men. It too is danced around a picture or statue of the Goddess and a lighted lamp, or a small basket containing earth and sprouted grains, called a jawara. The jawara is rooted in the worship of the earth as Mother, and the association of the Goddess with fertility. Sometimes the central lamp or jawara is placed in a mandavdi. In cases where the dancers carry a mandavdi, it is often larger and more elaborate (and heavier) that those carried by women in the Garba. The Garbi is never danced with pots. Unlike the Garba, which is performed at many occasions, the Garbi is usually only done during Navaratri.

Most Garba songs can be used for the Garbi. There are also some songs used only for the Garbi. Men perform in their traditional clothing, the dhoti worn with a shirt, or with a bare upper body. The dance is punctuated with clapping or snapping the fingers, but the manjeera (cymbals) used in the Garba are never used.


While there are different kinds of Raas, like the Tal Raas involving clapping, and the Dandiya Raas with sticks, the Raas of Gujarat generally refers to Dandiya Raas. The distinguishing feature of the Raas is the short sticks carried by the dancers, which they strike in rhythm.

Raas is danced by men and women, sometimes together. A variant of this dance, the Rasdo, is danced exclusively by men. The Raas is mentioned in several ancient texts and is associated with Krishna and the gopis (cowgirls). Originally, the songs for Raas were only about Krishna and his stories, but other themes have come into use, with as much variety as in Garba music.

The Raas starts slowly, and builds in tempo as it progresses, leading to an excited finish. The performers stand in a circle and take simple steps forward and backward, striking their sticks together and striking those of their neighbors. Sometimes they form two concentric circles, and the members of one circle switch places with those of the other circle. After each unit of repetition, dancers move along the circles to the next partner. If there are many participants, several small circles may be formed. Depending on the space, the dancers may even stand in rows facing each other, instead of circles.


A vocational dance performed by women laborers of particular communities, the Tippani gets its name from the mallets or tampers, called tippanis, they use to pound the ground. The women are employed to prepare the floors of houses, and beat the clay or concrete flat with the mallets. They do this work in the form of a dance, and sing in accompaniment.

The tippani consists of a wooden block with a long wooden handle. Sometimes small bells, or ghungroos, are tied to the handle.

The dance begins slowly, with the singing and beating of the ground done in the same rhythm. As the pace quickens, the dancers alternately pound the floor and strike the handles of the mallets together, and then introduce body movements, usually bending and raising themselves. Towards the end of the dance, they stand in rows and strike the floor very rapidly.


This dance is a derivative of the Dandiya Raas. Colored ribbons or ropes are suspended from the top of a pole, or other support, and the dancers below hold an end of the rope in on hand, and a short stick in the other. The dancers movements are choreographed so that the ropes are woven and unwoven to make various patterns. The dancers also strike the sticks as they dance.

The Pinnal Kolattam dance of Tamil Nadu is similar, except that the dancers hold both a stick and an end of a rope in each hand, instead of just one in each hand.

The maypole dance of western Europe is similar to these Indian folk dances.


The Hudo originates from Tarnetar, a small village in Central Gujarat that hosts an annual fair attended by about 100,000 people, the Triniteshwar Mahadev Mela. Legend has it that this is location where the great archer Arjuna won the hand of Draupadi in marriage. He shot an arrow through the eye of a fish, which was rotating on a wheel atop a pole, by looking at its reflection in the water below. The Tarnetar Mela coincides with a festival commemorating the wedding of Arjuna and Draupadi at the Triniteshwar Mahadev temple. Besides this legend, the temple also has religious significance as a sacred site. The Mela is also a match-making event for the tribal youths of Gujarat.

Villagers from all over the region, belonging to various tribes like the Rabaris, Bharwads, and Kolis, attend the fair dressed in colorful traditional costumes and jewelry. Young men wear colorful dhotis, embroidered jackets, and stunning turbans. Bachelors carry Tarnetar Chhatris, special umbrellas with embroidery and mirror work that they may have spent over a year decorating, to indicate their eligible status. By tradition, if a girl starts a conversation with any boy, it means she is interested to marry him, and their families will meet to discuss it.

The Hudo is a dance of courtship from this fair. Young men and women line up, dressed in their colorful finery, with men in one row and women facing them in another. The lively dance has particular steps accompanied by clapping.


Ghado means pot, and this vocational dance is done by women carrying metal pots used for holding water. The pots are carried on the head or the hip, and during the dance, they are also tossed between the women. The women also make rhythmic sounds by tapping the pots with their fingers – their rings make the sound. The dance moves in a circle, accompanied by songs about daily life.

Similar dances exist throughout India, with regional variations in style. An examples is the Panihari of Rajasthan.


This vocational dance takes it name from a grain cleaning basket, or supdu. It is one of many Gujarati dances celebrating daily working life in villages. Other examples are the Tippani, Ghado, and Toplo (a basket for flower selling). Songs are written about these activities and the dances are choreographed that use the implements.



The Lavani, or Lavni, gets its name from the word lavanya, meaning beauty. The name refers to the music as well as the dance. The dance is performed by women only, and has certain typical flirtatious movements, like holding the pallu (or end) of the sari behind their heads and sliding it back and forth, and gyrating of the hips. Lavani is performed for male audiences. It was used as entertainment to boost the morale of tired soldiers during war time, in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Lavani used to deal with varied topics, like politics, religion, and society. This was done in passages of the performance where the dancer would enact the lyrics of the poetry or song in a colloquial way, or even speak or lip-synch the words. These sequences of dialogue would alternate with entertaining dance. The dialogues no longer deal with present day situations; performances use old compositions.


The Lezim dance is named for the instrument used in the dance. The lezim is made of a wooden stick, to which is strung a flexible loop with cymbals or pieces of metal that make a clashing sound. The movements of Lezim resemble calisthenics and may be martial in origin. Various formations are created during the dance. Sometimes the dance is accompanied by a dhol (drum). Lezim is performed during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.


Koli, or Kolyacha Naach, is prevalent in the coastal regions of Maharashtra, and is named for the Koli, or fisherman, portrayed in the dance, as well as the Koli community of fisher folk who perform the dance. It is performed by men and women, in pairs. Two rows of dancers face each other, and move back and forth imitating the tossing movements of a boat on the ocean. Between them stand a pair of dancers, enacting the roles of a fisherman and a fisherwoman. The fisherman acts the role of the captain, a drunkard. The fisherwoman makes overtures to him, and also dances with a handkerchief imitating the movements of sails in the air.

The concept of portraying a fishing boat is seen in other parts of India as well. An example is the Padhar Nritya of Southern Gujarat.



The Ghoomar, or Ghumar, derives its name from the word ghoomna, meaning to spin. This is a dance performed by women, with simple but smooth movements, notably of the hips. Their voluminous decorated skirts swirl during their pirouettes, creating a graceful and glittering effect. The dance moves in a circular form, and goes both clockwise and anticlockwise. The accompanying songs may be sung alternately by men and women.

The Ghoomar originated with the Bhils, a tribal people of Rajashtan. Due to their alliance with Rajput royalty, the Ghoomar was adopted by the royal women of Jaipur. They perform the dance on all auspicious and festive occasions, like weddings, but particularly during the festival of Navaratri.

Dang Lila

As the name dang (meaning stick) implies, the dancers of Dang Lila carry sticks in both hands, and strike them in rhythm with the music. Both men and women dance Dang Lila.

This dance resembles the Raas of Gujarat, but is performed with longer sticks; the movements are consequently slower than in the Raas. It is typically performed during the Navaratri and Holi festivals.

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