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Folk Dances of India

India is a land of diverse cultures and traditions. Each region of the country has a unique culture, which is also prominently visible in its various art forms. Almost all the regions of the country have their specific folk music and dance, which proves to be a wonderful way of expression of their community and its traditions. Though these folk dances are not as complex as the classical dance forms, they are very beautiful, because of the essence of rawness in them. Be it the Bihu of Assam, Dol-Cholom of Manipur, Hikal of Himachal Pradesh or Chhau of Bihar, each of the Indian folk dance forms comes across as a reflection of the deep sited beliefs and traditions of a particular culture.

The folk dances of any community are performed on almost every special occasion and festival, to express elation and joy. These dances are also considered to be auspicious by many of the tribal communities in the country. Many folk dances are dedicated to the presiding deity of the specific community. The most interesting part of a folk dance is the attire required for its performance. Every folk dance has its own specific costume and jewelry, which differs from dance to dance. They are, in general, very bright and colorful, with traditional jewelries that give a folk touch to the performance. These dances are not only the exclusive art of a particular community, but also an asset of India's cultural heritage. In our related section, we have discussed the different folk dances of India. Read on to know more.

Central Indian Folk Dances

Gaur Dance

Gaur dance is a popular folk dance of Madhya Pradesh and is popular in the Sing Marias or Tallaguda Marias of South Bastar. It involves men wearing head-dresses, with stringed 'cowries' and plumes of peacock feathers, making their way to the dancing ground. They beat the drums, tossing the horns and feathers of their head-gears to the rising tempo, which gives a wilder touch to the dance. Women, ornamented with brass fillets and bead necklaces around their tattooed bodies, also join the gathering.

Muria Dances

The Muria tribals of North Bastar area are known for performing the fold dances of Muria. These dances start with an invocation or prayer to the phallic deity of their tribe and the founder of the Ghotul institution. One of the popular Muria dances comprises of Har Endanna dance, performed by boys and girls during marriages. Then, there is the Karsana dance, performed for fun and enjoyment. As for the Hulki dance, it is the most beautiful of all Muria dances and has boys moving in a circular fashion, while the girls make their way through them. 

Saila Dance

Saila dance is the dance form of Chattisgarh and is performed by young boys in the post harvest time. It is basically a stick-dance, in which dancers (each standing on one leg and supporting himself by holding on to the man in front, form a circle. Then, all of them jump together, going round and round. Saila dance is popular among the people of Sarguja, Chhindwara and Betul districts. It is also known as Danda Nach or Dandar Pate in this region.

Karma Dance

Popular among the Gonds and Baigas of Chhattisgarh and the Oraons of Madhya Pradesh, Karma dance is associated with the fertility cult. This dance forms represents the coming of green branches on trees, during the spring season. It is related to the Karma festival, which falls in the month of August. 

Kaksar Dance

Kaksar dance is performed by people in hope of reaping a rich harvest and is popular among the Abhujmarias of Bastar. It is mainly undertaken by young boys and girls, in order to invoke the blessings of the deity. Kaksar dance also presents a unique opportunity to boys and girls to choose their life partners.

Eastern Indian Folk Dances

Chhau (Bihar)

Chhau is the folk dance of Bihar depicting enormous vitality and virility. The word 'Chhau' comes from the Sanskrit root 'Chhaya' meaning shade. Since masks forms an important feature of this dance, it is thence called 'Chhau', which means mask. The dance form includes certain steps from 'Pharikhanda' which is a system of exercise. This system of exercise has been an important part of training of Sipahis. All the performers hold swords and shields, while performing this exercise. 

The three main elements of classical dance, namely Raga (melody), Bhava (mood) and Tala (rhythmic timing) forms an important aspect of Chhau dance as well. An expression of a mood, state or condition, this folk dance depicts nature and the animal world, which can be confirmed with the various forms such as Sagara Nritya (ocean dance), Sarpa Nritya (serpent dance) and Mayura Nritya. Themes taken from mythology and everyday life also form an important aspect of Chhau dance. 

Chhau dance is a dance full of vitality and robustness, unlike any of the Indian dances. During the performance, the entire body and being of the dancer is employed as a single unit i.e. as his language. This body language is extremely poetic and powerful. The legs even form an effective means of communicating the expression. Although the face is covered by the mask, it mysteriously expresses the feelings to be communicated.

In Mayurbhanj, Chhau is performed mainly in Saraikella. On the 25th day of the Chaitra month, it is believed that Lord Shiva invocated and the dances hence begin. Mainly a male dominated art, Chhau has, however, in recent years, been performed by women. The leading exponents of the Chhau in Saraikella have been the royal princes in Mayurbhanj, the lower classes, the rabble and Purulia farmers, tillers and the like.

Coming to the other aspects of dance, the stage is admirably decorated and brilliantly lit by a large number of torches, lanterns and flickering oil lamps. Ragas of Hindustani music forms the main base of Chhau tunes. The musical instruments used are the Dhol (a cylindrical drum), Nagara (a huge drum) and Sehnais (reed pipes). The dance is performed by men and boys. As it is difficult to dance for very long with a mask, the dance does not last more than 7-10 minutes.

Brita Dance (West Bengal)

A state accredited as being the abode of many renowned poets, thinkers and artists, West Bengal has a rich tradition of folk art as well. Brita or Vrita dance is one of the most important traditional folk dances of Bengal. Mainly performed in the rural areas by the women folk, the dance is held in the premise of a temple to appease the deity and invoke the lord’s blessing. 

According to the popular belief, the dance is performed in gratitude after a wish has been fulfilled. Brita or Vrita dance is also performed after a recovery from a contagious disease such as small pox, and so on. Kali Nach is another dance form that is performed during Gajan, in honour of the Goddess Kali. Herein, the performer wears a mask, purified by mantras and dances with a sword, and when worked up can make prophetic answers.

Dalkhai (Orissa)

The 'Dalkhai' is a dance performed by women of the tribes, from the Sambalpur district of Orissa. Quite a virile dance rendered during the time of festivals, the men generally play the musical instruments and the drummers often join the dance. A dummy horse version is the Chaiti Ghorha, danced by a community of fisher folk. In this art, the performers are essentially men. Apart from dancing, the performers sing, deliver homilies of sorts and offer brief dramatic enactments, peppered with wit and humor.

Dancing on stilts is fairly common among the Gond children of Madhya Pradesh. The dance is popular in the Vindhyas and the Satpura ranges. Mainly staged in the rainy season, the dancer, who has his balance on the stilts or gendi, performs even in watery or marshy surface. The dance is brisk and ends in pyramid formation. Mostly confined to children, the main attraction of the dance lies in balancing and clever footwork of the performer. 

In villages, where the wheat seedlings festival - Bhujalia is celebrated, children prance on their gendis and collect near the village pond or the river, in which the bhujalias are to be immersed. Other children, dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments join the group and they dance together. Sometimes womenfolk also join them, but they do not use stilts. The Gendi season begins on the day of Bak Bandhi festival in the month of June and concludes after the Pola dance celebrations in the month of August.

Goti Puas (Orissa)

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ramchandradeva that Goti Pua (or boy dancers) came into being, during the latter half the 6th century. The last of the great dynasties of Orissa had collapsed and the Mughals and Afghans were in the midst of a tug-of-war. Ramachandradeva, the Raja of Khurda (a principality in Orissa) had provided refuge to Mughal soldiers, who had been defeated by the Afghan troops and was consequently in the good books of Emperor Akbar. 

Pleased with Ramachandradeva's work, Akbar designated him to be Gajapati or King of Orissa, with allegiance to the Mughal Viceroy. He was also appointed Superintendent of the Jagannath temple in Puri. Ramchandradeva was not only an able ruler but also a sensitive and enlightened man. During his reign, maharis or devadasis attached initially only to temples, came to be patronized by the courts. It was on his initiative that led to the tradition of goti puas or the boy dancers. 

An additional reason that traces the emergence of goti puas is that the women dancing on the pretext of worship was greatly disapproved by Vaishnavas. So, to eliminate the problem, the custom of dancing by boys dressed as girls was introduced. The boys performing were students of akhadas or gymnasiums, established by Ramachandradeva in Puri, at the boundaries of the temple. Hence, they were also known as Akhada Pilas -boys attached to akhadas.

The mahari and goti pua dance styles co-existed, each independently, but with common roots. The Odissi dance, as we know it today, has evolved from a curious amalgamation of both these dance traditions. The word goti means 'one', 'single' and Pua, 'boy', but the goti puas always is performed in pairs. Boys are recruited at about the age of six and continue to perform till they are 14, then become teachers of the dance or join drama troupes.

Today, goti puas is a part of professional teams known as dals, each headed by a guru. In the dance form, the boys are trained for about two years. After having imbibed the basic technique, they learn items of dance, ornamental and expressional. Since performed by youngsters, the adolescents can adapt their bodies to the dance in a far more flexible manner as opposed to the maharis.

Needless to say, one of the most demanding aspects of the dance tradition in Orissa - the bandha, which involves intricate contortions and positions of the body - is the domain of the sprightly goti puas. A goti pua performance usually commences with Bhumi Pranam (salutation to Mother Earth), and wraps up with Bidahi Sangeet, a farewell song and dance item. The whole performance lasts around three hours.

A goti pua presentation is ably supported by a set of three musicians, who play the pakhawaj, the gini or cymbals and the harmonium. The boys do the singing themselves, though at times the group has an additional singer. The goti pua performance is far more organised than that of the maharis, and includes items such as Panchadevta Puja, Bhumi Pranam and Battu. During the Chandan Jatra festival, along with the maharis, goti puas are ferried in boats down the Narendra Sarovar, a holy tank in Puri, to perform before the deities. 

The Jhoolan Jatra, celebrated every August, is the ocassion when the goti puas completely overshadow the maharis. Today, the surviving goti pua dals belong to villages and some prominent groups are from Dimirisena and Raghurajapur near Puri, and Darara, near Bhubaneswar. In the past goti pua artistes were patronised by Zamindars and were much in demand during festivals like Dol Purnima, or Holi and Dussehra. However, like the maharis their existence too is gradually fading into oblivion.

North Eastern Indian Folk Dances

Naga Dances

The dances of the Nagas portray a sense of fun and zest in their life. Harvesting season is main celebration time for all the Naga tribes, which they rejoice through the performance of various dances. Then, there are other occasions on which the dances are performed. The characteristic feature of all Naga dancing is the use of an erect posture, with many movements of the legs and comparatively little use of the torso and shoulders. 

Bihu (Assam) 

The folk dance of Assam is called 'Bihu'. Every Assamese, young or old, rich or poor, takes delight in the dance, which forms a part of the Bihu festival. The festival comes in mid-April, during the harvesting time (which lasts for a month). During the day, all young men and young girls gather and dance together (though they do not mix-up much), to the tunes of drums and pipes, along with love songs. The dances are performed either in circles or parallel rows.

Hajgiri (Tripura)

Hajgiri is the folk dance of Tripura, the land of a large tribal population. The dance is performed by young girls, who demonstrate a series of balancing skills, and uses instruments of its kind. The dances are a part of the ceremony to appease the goddess Lakshmi, to ensure a happy harvest, as cultivation forms a main source of the tribe's livelihood. Men and women use the compound of their own houses as dancing grounds for the same.

Thang-ta & Dhol-Cholom (Manipur)

The Thang-ta dance of Manipur was an evolution from the martial arts exercises encouraged by the kings of Manipur. The dance is exciting in nature and is performed by young men holding swords and shields. One of the instruments that dominate Manipuri dances is the drum. Dhol Cholom, a drum dance, is one of the dances performed during Holi. 

Nongkrem (Meghalaya)

To celebrate the remembrance of the evolution of Khasis and their indigenous democratic state called Hima, 'Nongkrem' dance is performed in Meghalaya, during autumn. The Khasis are a tribe of Meghalaya, who also celebrate the ripening of paddy for threshing, by dances and songs. The folk dances capture the movements of everyday life as well as animals and birds.

Folk Dance of Arunachal Pradesh

In Arunachal Pradesh, an organized group of tribal performers perform dances, plays, musical scripts and dance dramas, based on stories of Lord Buddha. The dancers wear masks of demons or animals, as described in the tales of Buddha, along with splendid costumes. These dances are mostly performed in monasteries, during festivals.

Folk Dances of Sikkim

In Sikkim, the men are attracted more towards the monastic style of dancing, while the women have their own folk dance style. The dances of Sikkim are different than those of Indian traditions. Masks used in dances are something close to Indian cultural dances.

North Indian Folk Dances

Jammu & Kashmir


The dance of the Kashmiris is called as 'Dumhal'. It is performed by dancers wearing long colorful robes and tall conical caps, studded with beads and shells. It is mainly the men folk of Wattal who perform this dance, that too on specific occasions. While dancing, the performers sing too, with drums to assist their lyrics. The party of performers moves in a ritual manner and digs a banner into the ground, at a set location. The dance begins with the men dancing around this banner.

Himachal Pradesh


Hikat is performed by women and comes across as a modification of a game played by children. Forming pairs, the participants extend their arms to the front, gripping each other's wrists. With their body inclined back, they go round and round at the same spot. Namagen: Namagen is another folk dance that is specific to the state of Himachal Pradesh. It mainly celebrates the autumnal hue, in the month of September.

Uttar Pradesh

Hurka Baul 

Hurka Baul is performed during paddy and maize cultivation, in different fields, by turns. Its name has been derived from the terms 'hurka', the drum which constitutes the only musical accompaniment to the dance, and 'baul', the song. The singer narrates the story of battles and heroic deeds, while the dancers enter from two opposite sides and enact the stories, in a series of crisp movements. The farmers form two rows and move backwards, in unison, while responding to the tunes of the song and the rhythm of the dancers.


A famous dance of Kumaon region, Chholiya is mainly performed during marriages. As the groom's procession proceeds to the bride's house, male dancers, armed with swords and shields, dance spiritedly.



One of the most popular dances of North India, performed during the festival of Baisakhi, is the Bhangra. Among the most virile and captivating dances of India, it is undertaken by men and includes tricks and acrobatic feats. The drummer, usually in the centre of the circle, is surrounded by men dressed in lungis and turbans. 


The dance performed by the women folk of Punjab is called the Gidha. In this dance form, a woman or a pair of women dances at a time, while the others surround them and clap in rhythm. The dance is mainly performed during the festival of Teeyan, to welcome the rains. 



The folk dance of Haryana is known as the 'Dhamyal' or the 'Duph'. The dance can be performed by men alone as well as with women. The Duph, after which the dance form is anmed, is a circular drum, played nimbly by the male dancers, as they dance.

North West Indian Folk Dances

Dandiya (Gujarat) 

Dandiya is the folk dance of Gujarat, which shows the great vigor and joy of the in habitants of the North West State of India. Dressed in colorful costumes, the people of the desert play dandiya gracefully, by holding big sticks in their hands (used as the prop for the dance). The dances are accompanied by the musical instrument called the 'Meddale', which is played by the drummer positioned in the centre. Apart from being a traditional dance form of the state, Dandiya features in the 'navratras', a nine-day festival that is observed with pomp and gaiety across many parts of the country.

Tarpha Nach

'Tarpha Nach' or 'Pavri Nach' is the dance of the Kokna tribals native to the hilly regions of the north-west India. These dances derive their names from the wind instruments of 'Tharpa' or 'Pavri', which are made of dried gourd, played during the dance performance. During the dance performance, the performers stand in a close formation, holding each other by the waist, and then dance to the tune played by the wind instruments, gracefully. The dances are performed by men alone as well, who form pyramids or rapidly revolve a dancer round a stout pole.

Tera Tali (Rajasthan)

Native to the 'Kamar' tribe of North West India, Tera Tali is performed by two or three women. The performers sit on the ground while performing the Tera Tali, which is an elaborate ritual, followed in the region. Small metal cymbals called 'Manjiras' are tied to different parts of the body, mostly on the legs, of the dance performer. The dancers hold the metal cymbals in their hands and strike them in a rhythmic manner. In some cases, you can also see women clenching a sword in between their teeth and balancing a decorative pot on their head, while performing Tera Tali. The women cover their head with a veil.

Southern Indian Folk Dances

Padayani or Paddeni (Kerala) 

One of the most colorful and enchanting dances of Kerala, Padayani or Paddeni is associated with the festivals of certain temples. These temples are found in the districts of Alleppey, Quilon, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts. The literal meaning of Padayani, in folk art, is military formations or rows of army. It involves a series of divine and semi divine impersonations The performers in Paddeni consist of dancers or actors, singers (who recite different poems for different Kolams) and instrumentalists (who play wild and loud rhythms on their drums called thappu and cymbals). 

Padayani dancers wear Kolams of different shapes, colors and designs, painted on the stalks of areca nut fronds. Kolams are basically huge headgears, with many projections and devices, having a mask for the face and a piece to cover the chest and abdomen of the performer. The main kolams (huge masks) used in Padayani are those of Bhairavi (Kali), Kalan (god of death), Yakshi (fairy) and Pakshi (bird). One of the popular Paddeni dances involve the dancers, singers and instrumentalists forming a procession of Kali and her spirits, returning after the killing of the 'Asura' chief Darika.

Kummi and Kolattam (Tamil Nadu)

Kummi and Kolattam are the dances performed by the tribal women of Tamil Nadu, during certain festivals. Kummi is a very simple form of dance, where dancers form circles and clap as they dance. Kolattam is also quite similar, the only difference being the use of small wooden rods by the dancers. The dancers strike the rods in rhythm by, instead of clapping, and provide the main tempo of the dance. The name Kolattam has been derived from Kol (a small stick) and Attam (play), describing its very nature. Kolattam is known by different names in different states of India, such as stick dance, Kolannalu or Kolkolannalu. On an average, a Kolattam dance group consists of 8 to 40 dancers. 

Kargam and Puli Vesham (Tamil Nadu)

One of the most essential parts of a ritual dedicated to Mariamma, the Goddess of Health and Rain, in the state of Tamil Nadu is the Kargam dance. It is performed by men, wherein they balance pots, filled with uncooked rice and surrounded by a tall conical bamboo frame covered with flowers, on their head. Drums and long pipes form the musical instruments that accompany the dance. Puli Vesham is another very interesting dance of Tamil Nadu, which is performed by men during a specific festival. In this dance form, the men disguise themselves in tiger costumes and move around the streets.

South West Indian Folk Dances

Dollu Kunitha (Karnataka) 

It is a popular drum dance of Karnataka, in which large drums are decorated with colored cloth and slung around the necks of men. The dances are, at times, accompanied with songs related to religious praise or wars. They are performed with quick and light movement of the feet and legs. The tribes of Karnataka, basically comprising of hunters and food gatherers, stocked with a regular prĂ©cis of songs and dances related to hunting, food gathering and burial funeral rites. 

Ritual Dances (Karnataka)

Amongst the ritual dances of Karnataka is Kavadis performed for the worship of Lord Subramanya. Then, at harvest time, the Dodavas of Karnataka perform the Balakat dance. Dollu Kunitha also forms a part of the ritualistic dances of Karnataka, which come under 'Kumitha'. Apart from that, we have Devare Thatte Kunitha, Yell-ammana Kunitha and Suggikunitha, which are dances related to the name of a deity or instrument balanced on the head or held in the hand.

Ghode Modni (Goa)

Goa was ruled by the Portuguese for many years. Hence, the European influence is quite evident in the annual Carnival and the folk dance performed therein, known as Ghode Modni (dummy horse presentation). The dance brings forth the brave deeds of the Goan warriors, where the attractively dressed dancers perform armed with swords. 

Tarangmel (Goa)

While performing Tarangmel, the energetic young girls and boys crowd the streets in colorful group, with flags and streamers (or tarang) in their hands. This group of young dancers invites everyone to join the festive spirit. Romut, dhol and tasha are the main musical instruments used during the performance of Tarangmel.

Lava Dance of Minicoy (Lakshadweep)

Minicoy is renowned for its tradition of the lava dance, performed during the festive occasions on the island. Lava dance is a very colorful and energetic dance of Lakshadweep, in which the dancers are dressed in multi-hued costumes and headgears. They also carry a drum while dancing. In this form of dance, the participants perform to the rhythmic beats of drums and songs.
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