Folk Dances of Jammu Region

Ashok Sharma
The Jammu Division of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir is not only blessed with natural beauty but is also a repository of traditions, art and culture. A large number of people of Jammu are primarily hard-working farmers who work in their fields from dawn to dusk braving the extremities of weather.
Yet they don’t miss any opportunity to celebrate life as and when they find such occasions. That is why we have fairs, songs, dances and folklores associated with every occasion such as marriage, harvesting of crops, birth of babies and other rituals. One way of braking the monotony of life and celebrating it is by performing folk dances which are an integral part of our rich culture. Folk Dance is a traditional form of dance which is unique to a particular region and is performed by a particular section of the people showcasing the culture of that region. There are many famous folk dances of Jammu region, which bear testimony to the rich culture and heritagebequeathed to us by our wise forefathers.
Kud is one of the most famous and popular Dogra Dances generally performed in the hilly regions of Jammu though it is becoming popular in the cities and towns too. This dance is often performed in the honour of ‘ Clan Deities’ or Kul Devtas/Kul Devis in the Himalayan mountains of Jammu region. Kul Devtas are the gods of local folklore and fables and every clan or tribe of the village has its own Kul Devta or Kul Devi. Some of the famous Kuldevi and Kuldevtas are Bawe Wali Mata, Kaliveer, Raja Mandlik, Baba Sidhgoria Nath, Baba Vasuki Nath etc. Kud is also performed to show gratitude towards the Kuldevta after a good harvest and for protecting the local crops, their cattle and the lives of their children from the natural calamities. There is no age barrier and the people of all age groups are free to dance together. This popular dance is often performed in kurtas, chudidar bottoms and turbans and a lace or piece of cloth tied near their hip by men while women are attired in Dogra traditional suit while performing Kud. Various musical instruments such as Narsimha, Drums, Flutes, Chhainas etc are used while performing this dance with various delicate and articulate steps, sometimes encircling the bonfire. This exciting and simple dance form initially starting with slow steps gradually takes the participants to the summit of excitement. These days the folk artists of Kud dance are also invited to show their performance on the occasion of National Days, marriages, social and religious occasions such as taking Shobha Yatras or on eve of great festivals.
Chhaja Dance is another dance performed by the young boys during the daytime on the eve of the Festival of Lohri. The boys prepare’ Chajjaa’ from bambooanddeco rate it with coloured paper. Carrying the Chhajja, they perform ‘Chajjadance’ and move from house to house in the villages/towns singing and shouting’ Bhambora bhai bhambora, chhajam orabhaichhajamora’ drawìng applause from the elders. Sometimes, the boysdressed as girls dance in a circle and one as a joker perform this dance at every house in the vicinity. Most people consider it auspicious to give them something and ensure that they don’t leave their home empty handed. The children lavish praise on those people who give them good gifts and money by singing’ Dabbabharya leeranda/ Aegharamiraanda’ ( The box is full of cloth strips/ This house belongs to rich people) and for those who refuse to give them anything, the boys sing’ Hukka bhai hukka/ Aegharbhukha’ (Hukka! Ae Hukka, This house belongs to the misers). They are in high spirits and keep on dancing merrily and happily.
Heran Dance whose literal meaning is ‘Deer Dance’ is another popular dance performed by the artists on the night of Lohri festival. Unlike children, this dance is performed by adults. Two folk dancers, bending themselves to become a deer are surrounded by four men in the attire of ladies with a man in the centre playing as a clown or joker. They dance to the beats of Drums, Nagara and the flutes merrily and happily. While dancing, the ‘Heran’lies down at the feet of the Head of the family and gets up only when some gifts in the form of money/grains are offered. They move from house to house all night dancing and reveling and demanding gifts from the elders. Many others join them as they move on and the number of the revelers may swell to hundreds. It is a festive occasion with everybody participating in fun and merry making and moving on braving the cold weather. Nowadays this dance is also performed on the eve of celebration of national days and social functions.
Dandaras Dance is yet another dance form practised in Jammu region. This dance is generally performed on the eve of Makar Sankranti or Lohri or during the season of harvest. In this dance, the dancers carry sticks of bamboo or other material and strike them with the sticks in the hands of their fellow perfomers. The dancers form a semi circle and initially make slow moves but gradually as it catches pace as the dancers become highly energetic with the fast musical beats of the drums and moves which are well choreographed. It is a form of dance that is performed without any song but only music and the performers need much practice to perfect this form. This dance is believed to have been adapted from the Dandiya Raas form of the dance which was the folk dance of ancient Indian region Vrindavan now in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Crow Dance is another most popular dance in Duggar region. This dance is performed by a trained and skillful artist who imitates a crow and is dressed in black coloured attire. He dances with skillful movements, gestures and expressions according to the music playing in the background. This dance form is performed in the cultural and social occasions.
Gagail is organised on the auspicious occasion of Nagpanchami or Janamasthmi in many regions of Duggar, to please the family Deity or Kuldevta every year or to offer sacrifices and offerings to Kuldevta on the eve of birth of a child or annual half yearly congregations (Mail), marriage or after a fixed period of one or four years. It is not actually a dance but a religious ceremony which is performed on the beats of the drum and a ballad or kaark in the background. It is also called ‘Chowki Nach’ in some regions of Duggar. On the day of Gagail, the drum beaters or Gardis, who are well versed with the rituals of performing sacrifices or sthapana of the Deities, are invited. They sing kaaraks or hymns in glory of deities, eulogising the birth, life and heroic deeds of Gods and deities in their unique style. They possess profound knowledge about the life and heroic deeds of these deities bequeathed to them by their forefathers through oral words rather than the written words. They invoke the deities by singing their heroic deeds and seeking their blessings. It makes the Dancer or Dualas, who are believed to have miraculous supernatural powers go into a frenzy. In frenzy and excited state, they shake and beat their body parts with the sacred sangals (iron chains symbolising gods and deities) uncontrollably during the dance and act as medium between the deity and the people, communicate the commands of the Deity regarding their own or general welfare of the clan and the village and announce the Deity’s commands regarding misfortune/curse afflicting the people and suggest remedies or penance. He calls the names of the family /clan deities such as Kaliveer, Raja Mandlik who were known for meeting out justice to his subjects, saints such as Sidh Gouria, Gorakh Nath, Baba Jitto-the tiller who protested against the injustice of his landlord Mehta , Bua Kauri who sacrificed her life on the funeral pyre of his father Baba Jitto etc. and invokes them to have mercy and compassion on the devotees and bless them with prosperity and wellbeing. With the permission of deities, they take the chains symbolising the manifestations/ representations of Deity and start moving from house to house. At every house, a simple dance is performed but as they come to a house having Mand (the abode of Deities), they perform ‘Jaatar’ and dance in frenzy, resorting to extreme acts as self chaining inflicting pain on their bodies with iron chains but have few injuries. They dance by turns and go from place to place. They receive special offerings from the houses where some auspicious function such as marriage, mundan, etc has taken place recently. In the evening, the procession of Gagail, along with the sacred sangals, returns to the house from where it had started and sangals or chains are restored to their respective places with due reverence and religious fervour. The devotees take rest and share the feast after offerings to the deities. In the night, Jaatar is organised in which many religious Dancers or Duallas as they are called in the local parlance participate along with a large number of devotees from the adjoining villages. The Jaatar lasts till the wee hours of the night and the devotes then return to their homes early in the morning.
Dogri Dance is another dance performed in Duggar region. It is generally performed by a group of artists whose main leader sings the song as well as dances while others are in the sitting position providing beats of Drums and Chimta. It is performed in functions and social gatherings. There are other varieties of this dance with the men and women or only women performing dance in groups to the music of some famous folk song in colourful traditional dresses.
Jagarana is another dance form practised since times immemorial at the time of marriage of a boy in Jammu Division. It is performed exclusively by the women of the bridegroom’s family. Till some decades ago due to few means of transport, the marriage procession of the bridegroom walked on foot to the bride’s home and Dogra women were not allowed to be a part of the Barat which usually stayed in the villlage of the bride as per the arragement made by the bride’s family. So the ladies of the bridegroom’s family who stayed behind performed this dance form when the Barat or the marriage procession left the bridegroom’s family for the nightlong stay at the bride’s family to bring the bride. To while away the time and guard the bride from the burglars, the ladies of the bridegroom’s family performed this dance which does not have specific steps. They would wear the attire of men and dance throughout the night often passing humorous remarks at the bridegroom’s mother and other female relatives and enjoyed a lot. No man would be allowed to watch them while they danced. It is a treat to the eyes to watch this funny dance but this form is vanishing these days as the ladies of the bridegroom’s family accompany the Barat these days and return late in the night.
Dhaku Dance of Bhaderwah is yet another famous dance form of Bhaderwah and adjoining regions. This dance is performed on the eve of marriage ceremonies and other joyous occasions. While performing this folk dance, the dancers comprising men, women, and children dance happily and merrily in circles with slow steps to the musical beats of drums, flutes and other folk instruments.
Gojri Dance is one of the famous dance forms in Jammu and Kashmir performed by the nomadic Gujjar tribe residing in the plains in winter and moving to the mountains in summer. This dance is performed by both men and women of the Gujjar tribe who have their own distinctive languages, dress and music. They perform this dance on the wedding occasions of their relatives to express their joy and happiness. While performing this dance, the artists wear Gojri traditional headgear, kurta pyjama for men and Salwar-kameez and traditional jewellery for the women. Generally, the dance is peformed as per the music of some folk song which deals with profound spiritual or worldly significance.
Thus, the people of Jammu Division have inherited rich and varied culture in the form of folklores, folkdances, folksongs, traditions, beliefs, art etc but there is need to preserve this priceless heritage and transmit it to the coming generations. For this purpose it is imperative that we must be proud and possessive of our folk songs, folkdances, folklores etc participate in events such as fairs, congregations etc where our rich culture is shown live. Moreover, folk dancers should be invited to perform on the eve of the celebration of National Days, marriage and other social and cultural functions and then appreciated so that our rich culture is preserved and transmitted to the posterity.
(The writer is serving as Sr. Lecturer in English, Govt. Hr. Sec. School, Thial (Udhampur)