Many historians have speculated that Bhangra may have originated about 500 years ago, during wars with Alexander the Great around the 4thand the 5thcenturies. However, Bhangra became an originally designated term for a particular dance performed by the Sikh and Muslim men in the farming districts of Punjab region by the 14th and 15th centuries. In order to pass the time while working in the fields, wheat farmers danced and sang songs about village. Primarily associated with the spring festival Baisakhi (April 13), it is believed that Bhangra drew its name from one of the major products of the harvest-‘bhang’ meaning ‘hemp’. In most of its typical performances, several dancers executed vigorous kicks, leaps and bends of the body to the accompaniment of short songs called boliyaan. Bhangra began to gain popularity beyond Punjab by the mid-20th century. It faded from the agricultural cycle and emerged as a regular feature of wedding festivities, birthday parties, local fairs and celebrations.
Rural folks share the enthusiasm and appreciation reflected through Bhangra as they witness their efforts bear fruit. Bhangra has many types and its dance rhythm is set by the dhols. The dance for women is called Gidda. Bhangra uses arm and shoulder movements and is often danced in circles. Some dancers use sticks and swords. Also, there are many stunts performed which include a dancer sitting on someone’s shoulders, while another person hangs from his torso by his legs.
The vibrant and intoxicating music of Bhangra brings out the free spirit and uninhibited flow of emotions that allows people to move the bodies in an energetic way resulting in tremendous joy. The most important instrument that contributes to the sound of Bhangra is the Dhol, a large, high–bass drum played by beating two sticks. Its width is about 15 inches and the Dhol player puts a strap around his neck and holds this instrument. However, there are variety of string instruments which include the tumbi (one–string instrument), sarangi (multi–stringed instrument, similar to violin), sapera (high–pitched stringy beat), supp, and chimta.
Men wear a traditional lungi (a colourful piece of cloth wrapped around the waist) while performing Bhangra. Also, they wear a long Punjabi–style kurta (shirt) along with Bhugaris to cover their heads. Women generally wear the traditional Punjabi dress, salwar kameez. It is composed of a long colourful shirt and baggy vibrant pants. In addition to this, they wear colourful dupattas wrapped around the neck.
A few of the secondary dance forms of Bhangra include:
- Jhumar: Belonging to Sandalbar, a large ancient region of Punjab, it is one of the most widely performed sub–dances of Bhangra. The player who plays the drum stays at the centre of the circle and entices the group of dancers to move around the drum player.
- Luddi dance: Here, the dancers play one hand at the back of his head and one hand over his face. The heads are moved rhythmatically in an angular motion. It resembles gliding movements similar to that of a snake.
- Giddha: Exclusively performed by women, the dancers clap their hands in a systematic and rhythmic way according to the beats of the instrument. The movements of this form are based on various stories that happen during day–to–day family affairs as well as political and social affairs.
- Julli: Unlike other dances, it can be performed by one Muslim performer alone on graves of great prophets or saints. These Muslim dancers are dressed in full black attire while performing Julli.
- Daankara: It is usually performed during marriage ceremonies and is hence, a dance of celebration. The dancers carry brightly coloured staves and sway them in a rhythmic fashion.