Bengal, a fertile and prosperous land, welcomes anyone into her fold. Her lyrics, music, and writing are coloured by the many shades of her rich culture. Bengal’s diverse tribes and ethnic groupings have their own folk arts, which are as diverse and beautiful as the tribes themselves. Bengal’s folk song repertory, with its lyrical appeal and depth, as well as its thematic diversity and range, reflects the inventiveness and imagination of rural Bengalis. Bengali folk dances have grown in popularity and recognition as a traditional art form over the years. The dances cover a wide range of topics, from ritualistic to satirical, allegorical to societal. Prayers, offerings, celebrations, and odes are all part of it. These folk dances, which are usually performed during festive seasons or to commemorate a pleasant occasion, represent local faith, tradition, and custom.
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These dances cover a wide range of topics, from petitioning the rain gods for a plentiful harvest to portraying mythological events. In reality, certain religious festivals are marked by devotional, prayerful, and worshipful music and dances. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, two famous Indian epics, are depicted in the dance styles that have evolved from martial arts. These dances are done all year long at various events like fairs, festivals, and religious gatherings.
The following are some of Bengal’s most well-known folk dances:
The Purulia district’s Chhau dance is one of the most bright and colourful art forms. Purulia Chhau is a strong kind of dance play that draws themes from the two great Indian epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. It evolved from martial practice. It is one of the most popular folk dances of West Bengal.
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The Chhau dancers’ ornate attire includes masks and intricate headgear. The dance is thought to have originated over a century ago, while the exact date of its inception is unknown. The dance was attended by the region’s royalty and landlords. The Mahato, Kurmi, Bhumija, Deowa, Bhuama, and Dom groups have preserved this dance genre from its inception. The dance is an important feature of the Gajan Festival, which honours Lord Shiva’s achievements. The dance is no longer tied to a specific season. Many dances from the district, including the Nata Jawaid Dance, Mahi Dance, and Nachni Dance, have impacted the Purulia Chhau dance. The music and rhythm of the Chhau Dance have been influenced by two very advanced dance traditions, the Jhumur and Bhadra Jhumur. The Dhol, Dhamsa, and Shenai are among the accompanying musical instruments.
The dance begins with a prayer to Lord Ganesh. The movements then follow the story’s nuances. The battle between good and evil in a Chhau Dance always ends with good triumphing over destructive evil. The Chhau Dance is distinguished by its ornate masks, brilliant costumes, rhythmic drumming, and shenai. The acrobatic use of the body and the finely constructed masks used by the performers are distinguishing features of this dance. Other characteristics of this dance are powerful movements, intense concentration, and energy release.
The performance in the villages normally begins between 9.00 and 10:00 p.m. There’s a buzz in the air as the night progresses and the dance picks up speed. A key component of this dance genre is the interaction between the performers and the audience. The performance space used to be lit by torches that burned all night long in the bygone days. The dance has evolved over time in terms of shape, stagecraft, lighting, and musical instrumentation. It is one of the most cherished folk dances of West Bengal.
The dancers use masks to portray various personas. Masks depicting specific Gods and Goddesses, as well as demons and monsters, are available. There are also masks for various creatures such as lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, and so on. The district’s painter artisans create these highly handmade masks. Because the dancers’ faces are hidden behind a mask, they must express themselves with their bodies. As a result, movements and postures are used to convey emotions while also keeping the dance exciting.
Bengal was a divided and isolated society during the post-medieval period. Hindus and Muslims lived in seclusion because of religious restrictions, which sparked a cult-like revolt. The garments they wore (a long saffron-coloured cloak called the alkhalla with a headdress of the same colour), the one-stringed instrument or Ektara they always carried, and the bells they strung to their perpetually dancing feet could all be used to identify the demonstrators. The alkhalla was sometimes pieced together from several pieces of cloth. They were the Bauls, the founders of a legendary musical tradition that has endured and thrived despite the passage of time. They created a variety of musical instruments, including the Premjuri and Dotara, the Khamak and Goopi Jantro, the Kartal and Dubki, and others, in addition to the expected bamboo flute.
The Bauls are free-spirited nomads. They are cut off from societal and familial ties. They migrate from place to place, subsisting on alms given to them by others who understand the depths of their frugality. The Bauls are a religious cult with their own unique mystic worldview, and their songs promote peace and universal brotherhood. The word ‘Baul’ means craziness, and it refers to the craziness that results from an overpowering love for the Infinite Self. Though the vocalists’ philosophical perspective is based on a more complicated psychological knowledge, they emphasise the transience of everyday reality and the basic approaches to spiritual upliftment.
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Bauls are philanthropists at heart, however, sarcasm from everyday life occasionally finds its way into their songs. When the Bauls travelled from village to village in rural Bengal, stirring up a sense of nationalism and pride in our motherland among the uneducated village inhabitants, they played a key part in India’s freedom movement. It is one of the most ancient folk dances of West Bengal.