Dance & Music

A glimpse into the lives and culture of the people of Punjab can be got through the folk idiom of Punjab. There is a great repertoire of music, right from the time of birth to death, of love and separation of dance and rejoicement, of marriage and fulfillment. Culturally Punjab can be divided into three regions, Malwa, Majha and Doaba. Today Malwa represents the true spirit of Punjabi folk traditions. The Punjabi fold idiom is so rich, so varied and so very versatile. It is a culture of generous, vast, large hearted people which is devoid of any fanaticism and religious narrow mindedness of ideology.

If we go deep into the folk music of the land, it is difficult to classify it. But perhaps we can draw board divisions for every season, every festive occasion has music associated with it. Even food is associated with a change in season. The festivals of Punjab are numerous. Lohri is the time after which the biting cold of winter begins to taper off. In the olden days, it was more of a community festival, where the birth of a son, the first year of marriage was celebrated all through the village in front of the sacred fire. Songs like 'Sunder mundriye, tera kaun vichara, Dulla Bhathi Wala.'were sung to the beat of various claps. Groups of little children would go singing round the village collecting 'gur' and 'rewari' for themselves. 'Lohri' was preceded by Maagh and the famous Maaghi Da Mela, and followed by Baisakhi, where the Bhangra was danced by the men of the Village.

An energetic dance associated with the ripening of crops, performed by the menfolk of the villages. The dance manifests the vigor and vitality and exuberance of the people, in anticipation of money coming in after the cutting of a good harvest. Then comes the season of the monsoon, or 'sawan' when the married girls come home for a vacation, meet their old friends, wear the colorful Phulkaris, swing under the trees, adorn themselves with 'mehndi patterns', and glass bangles and exchange news, singing songs. 'Ni Lia De Mai, Kallean Bagaan Di Mehandi'. No occasion goes off without the association of music in Punjab. Right from the moment a woman announces the news of the conception of a baby, songs start. The third month, the fifth month, and then of the actual birth of baby is associated with joyous songs about the impending arrival. There are songs which tell about the love of a brother or a sister. Once a marriage is finalised, and preparations of the marriage start in the boy's and girl's family.

For the process of washing and cleaning the grain, of making new clothes, and household items, songs are sung by the woman in the family as they work through the night, that the 'dhol' is not used as the menfolk who are sleeping should not have their sleep disturbed. And then the numerous songs associated with the wedding. In the girls side 'Suhag' is sung, and in the boys side, songs while he mounts the mare, 'Sehra' and 'Ghodi' are sung. When the two sides meet 'Sithaniyan' are exchanged. A kind of raunchy humour which makes it easier for both the parties to show off their wit and repartee and also provides an opportunity to get to know each other. After the Barat is received 'Patal Kaavya' is sung after tea and while the 'Barat' is eating food together. Jugni, Sammi are basically songs cent ring around love, in the Jugni normally the bachelors gather together and sing about their beloved. The Sammi is more a gypsy dance, which is performed as an expression of joy and victory, around the fire at night. Sammi is an imaginary female character of folk poetry, belonging to the Marwar area of Rajasthan who fell in love with the young prince, and it is around their love story that the music and dance is set to. In the list of happy songs are included, Luddie, Dhamal and of course the Giddha and the Bhangra, which is all set to music, which is typical of Punjab. Along with the 'Dhol' primarily, are sung 'Bolis' which can be divided into two categories, 'singly boli' and' lengthy boli'. Centering around mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law and other character from everyday life the music of these two lively traditions is extremely enervating.

Being a frontier state war played an important part in the lives of the people of Punjab. There was also a tradition of wrestlers living in every village, and while they practised at the 'Akhara' a music grew around their practice called 'akhara singing'. The drum plays a very important part in the folk music of Punjab. It provides the basic accompaniment to most of folk music. The 'Dhol' and 'Dholik', the male and female drum, had its own relevant use. The information of an impending army was communicated by the sound of the 'Dhol', when information was given to the neighboring villages through a particular beat. The instruments used in Punjabi folk are typical to the region. The 'toombi', 'algoza', 'chheka', 'chimta', 'kaanto', daphali', dhad' and 'manjira' are some of the popular traditional folk instruments.

There are songs which are specific to death. Called 'Siapah', there are different kinds of 'siapah'. Special to individuals, the song of mourning deal with the loss of a brother, sister, mother, father, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and are sung in a particular format.

As in the rest of the country Sikh religion is deeply connected with music. In fact a glossary of music and Ragas are given at the end of the Guru Granth Sahib, the tradition starting with Mardana, who accompanied Guru Nanak on his travels who sang the bani of Guru Nanak with an 'ektaara' and the 'rhubarb'. Classical ragas are used in the 'shabad kirtan', gayaki of Punjab. The sixth Guru Hargobind gave patrongae to sect of singers who sang only martial songs. Called 'Dhadis', they sing at shrines and festivals, ballads, vars, and about the heroic feats of the Sikhs. Along with the "Dhad" the 'dhadi' also uses a sarangi, as a musical accompaniment.

A strong tradition of the 'kissa sahity' of Punjab is very much part and parcel of Punjabi folk music. The legends of Heer Ranjha , Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punnu, Puran Bhagat are sung more in a semi classical style. The Punjabi 'kaffi and kali' are part of this genre. Related to this is the 'sufiana kallam' of Punjab as a result of a strong Sufi tradition in the state. The Heer in particular has a strong sufi base.

Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth century there started in Punjab a strong school of classical music centering around Patiala known today as the Patiala Gharana. The founders of this gahrana were Ustaad Ali Bux and Ustaad Fateh Ali who were great singers in the Patiala Darbar. Their disciples and admirers were numerous. Notable amongst them were Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali and his brother Barkat Ali who brought the Patiala Gharana on the forefront of Khayal gayaki. And thus started the 'chau-mukhia' style, which included dhrupad, khyal thumri and the taraana. Each of these styles too have their particular flavour, the energy and zest of the soil of Punjab. Highly decorated, Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan composed numerous 'bandishes' or compositions under the penname of Sabarang. Parallel to this was the growth of a gharana of tabla playing which is also known as the Punjab style, of which Alla Rakha the great tabla maestro belongs.

What has been written about is just a broad canvas of Punjab. Every village of Punjab has somethings typical of the soil. Over the years the success of the green revolution, with large mustard fields, and 'kanak da sitta' or the grains of wheat, along with the disco culture has provided a 'purdah' or a covering over the varied tradition of folk music of Punjab. For any discerning appreciator of music, Punjab provided enough for every occasion and every season, completely obliterating the statement that Punjab is a land of "agriculture and culture".


celebrates the harvest and is associated with the festival of Baisakhi (April 13) when the sight of tall heaps of golden wheat fill the farmer's heart with joy. To the accompaniment of large drums called dhols, he and his fellow villagers circle round and round in a leaping, laughing caper. It's a dance that cuts across all divisions of class and education. At marriages, parties, or celebrations of any sort, it is quite common for men to break out in Bhangra. There are few sights more cheering than that of a dignified elder in three-piece suit getting up to join the young fellows for a moment of bhangra revelry.


Women have a different but no less exuberant dance called gidda. The dancers enact verses called bolis, which represent folk poetry at its best. The subject matter of these bolis is wide ranging indeed – everything from arguments with the sister-in-law to political affairs figure in these lively songs. Aside from the drums, the rhythm of this dance is set by the distinctive hand-claps of the dancers.


This dance has originally come from Sandalbar (now in Pakistan), but is now very much a part of Punjab folk heritage. It is a dance of graceful gait, based on specific Jhumar rhythm. Dancers circle around the drummer, and keep up a soft, sibilant chorus as they dance.


Luddi is a victory-dance recognisable by the swaying movements of the head. Its costume is a simple loose shirt. The performers place one hand at the back and the other before the face; the body movement is sinuous, snake-like. This is also danced with the drummer in the centre.


This dance associated with Muslim holymen called pirs and is generally danced in their hermitages (khangahs). This dance is mostly performed in sitting posture, sometimes it is also danced around the grave of a preceptor. A single dancer can also perform this dance. Normally the dancer wears black.


Also called the gaatka dance, this is a dance of celebration. Two men, each holding colourful staves, dance round each other and tap their sticks together in rhythm with the drums. This dance is often part of marriage celebrations.


Similar to bhangra and is danced by men in a circle.


Traditionally by women of the Sandalbar region, now in Pakistan. The dancers are dressed in bright coloured kurtas and full flowing skirts called lehengas. A peculiar silver hair ornament is associated with this dance.


Literally, "wake up!" When there's a marriage in the house, girls dance through the village streets carrying a pot (gaggar) decorated with lightened candles and singing jaagu songs. The theme of song in the 'Jago' is social and typically a bit of teasing (often aimed at elders) goes with the song.


This dance is performed by women in pairs. They cross their arms, hold each other's hands and whirl around singing folk songs. Sometimes four girls join hands to perform this dance.