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Punjabi Culture

Dances of Punjab


People traditionally performed Bhangra when celebrating the harvest. During Bhangra, people sing Punjabi Boliyaan lyrics, at least one person plays the the dhol drum, and other people may play the flute, dholak drum, or other musical instruments. While Bhangra began as a part of harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and New Year celebrations. Moreover, during the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae.

Krishna Lila or Ras

Krishna Lila has its roots in folk-dance. From primitive times dance has been a common form of propitiating gods and goddess and Ras is likely an off-shoot of such religious dancing. Worshippers of Lord Krishna dressed as Gopis, danced round his image. This form of worship later came to be called Ras. The performers of the Ras are called Rasdharis. Besides musicians the troupes include boys in their early teens. One of these boys with a handsome face is given the role of Krishna. His make-up is very scrupulously done. He holds a flute in his hand, wears a peacock crown on his head and looks impressive. Another younger boy plays Radha. Other boys play the roles of Gopis and all perform through dance and drama various incidents from the life of Krishna. Ras Lila is an assortment of devotional songs, music, dance and acting. The rainy season during which the birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated is the most appropriate period for these performances.

Ram Lila

Ram Lila starts on the first Naurata and continues evey evening for the next ten days. The epic is roughly divided into ten parts and every night one part is performed. There is zeal and devotion all along. All the participants are amateurs and boys in their early teens perform the roles of girls. Great care is taken in the choice of proper costumes and make-up. The main scenes shown in the Ram Lila are Sita's swayambar, Ram's exile, cutting of Saroopnakha's nose by Lakshman, abduction of Sita, Hanuman's meeting Sita in Ravanas Ashok Vatika, war between Ram and Ravan, resuscitation of the unconscious Lakshman, Hanuman's carrying a mountain on his palm, defeat of Ravan and victory of Ram. The greatest attraction of the Ram Lila is in the presentation of scenes and great effort is made to make them absorbing.


Swang is a sort of semi-religious metrical play in which episodes from the lives of celebrated heroes  are depicted. It is partly  acted and partly recited and is performed by professional ballad singers at festivals like Holi, Basant and Dussehra. There is generally preference for a hero whose virtuous life may help arouse religious feelings among the people. Some of the favourite Swangs present incidents from the life of Puran Bhagat, Gopi Chand and Hakkekat Rai. Nala Damayanthi and Roop Basant are the other popular Swang. On important fairs, groups of entertainers enact these Swangs in order to instill religious feelings into the people.


Nautanki is a form of Swang. It takes its name from the legend of a beautiful princess of the Punjab who fell in love with Phool Singh. The drama of her life when played and replayed before audiences became so popular that in course of time all plays performed on its pattern came to be called Nautanki.


This form  of entertainment is very popular in the villages of Punjab. It is enjoyable in as much as it presents subtly and sarcastically the seamy side of life. Those who specialized in this art were generally Mirasis, Naqaals and Bhands. A Naqaal troupe comprises, besides dancers and singers, clowns and musicians. The leader of the troupe is generally called Ustad. Legends and semi-historical tales like Dulla Bhatti, Sohni Mahiwal, Kima Malki, Hodi and Koklan form the popular repertoire of the Naqaals.


Puppet shows are held at night because the wonderland atmosphere required is more easily created in the darkness of the night. Stage setting is very simple. Two or three bare cots are placed sideways and curtained with some multi-coloured cloth. Puppets are dressed according to the character that they are supposed to represent. The strings tied to the puppets are not visible in the dim light of the earthen lamp. The roles that the puppets play are all manipulated by the puppeteer. He keeps in his mouth a pipni, an improvised bamboo gadget through which he filters his speech, for transforming his voice. The puppeteer being generally an expert artist, presents various phases of human life on his stage and in doing so adds his own touches of humour and satire.


Kheora is a form of folk entertainment which is a high-pitch singing usually performed at weddings and festivals. Two groups sit on the terraces of two different houses and in the solitude of the night, converse with each other through metrical compositions- a unique setting, so different from a regular stage. Most of the compositions are sung in popular tunes. The most appropriate time for such performances is the earlier part of moonlit nights. Sometimes Kheora singing lasts through the whole night.  


Giddha is the folk-dance par excellence of women. It has almost the same intensity as Bhangra. Women perform this dance mainly on festive and social occasions especially marriages. Giddha is danced in a circle. The girls form a ring. One of them taking up a small drum (dholki) and sitting in the centre. If a dholki is not available an earthen pitcher is substituted. The deserved rhythm is produced by striking it with a pebble. The starting procedure is the same as in Bhangra. One girl comes forward and sings a boli. As she comes to the end of it, the others pick up the refrain and join. As the dance proceeds they sing more and more spiritedly, keeping time by clapping. The girls dance in twos. The dance is stylistically simple, the jingle of the bells the thumping of the feet and the beat of the drum creating an enchanting atmosphere. 


Kikli is generally popular with the younger girls. They form pairs and then the two girls of each pair stand opposite each other holding each other's hands crosswise. Then they lift their heels and swing round and round on their toes. The movements gets faster and faster, the upper part of the body bends backward and the arms remain fully stretched. As the spinning gathers momentum, it creates an ecstasy and the girls go on and on till they reach the point of exhaustion. Even though they move very fast, they are very careful to maintain rhythm and keep singing various kinds of songs about the mother, the father, the brother, the mother-in-law and about various incidents connected with daily life.


The Jhumar is a folk dance of the harvest season. Although it shares many features with the Bhangra, it can be clearly distinguished from the latter on account of its thematic content and its emphasis on recreating the gaits of animals and birds. Two men become bullocks of the field, a third plough and the fourth a farmer. The gaits of the animals, the ploughing of the field, sowing of the seeds and harvesting are shown step by step. The crops are cut and then the dancers again rejoin into a circle and dance very much in the manner as of the Bhangra.


Karthi is the only mixed dance of men and women, which used to be more popular in the hills, than in the plains. While the Bhangra and the Jhumar are not preceded by any ritual to a deity, in the Karthi, offerings are first made to a deity, at a harvest time. This is followed by women leading the processions and singing songs. The men follow, and then a circle is formed with men and women alternating and linking hands. The accompanying songs are sentimental, and tell of battles fought and victories won, of the union and quarrels of lovers. The tempo of the Karthi is a slower than the tempo of the other two dances. There is much clapping of hands both singly and in pairs. While no wind instruments are used in the Bhangra and the Jhumar, a folk Shenai and other wind instruments are in evidence in the Karthi.

Folk Instruments of Punjab


The simple earthen pitcher serves as a musical instrument in a number of folk songs. The Garah player strikes its sides with rings worn on fingers of one hand and also plays on its open mouth with the other hand to produce a distinct rhythmic beat.


Toomba is a famous folk instrument of Punjab, which is entirely based on Iktara (single stringed instrument), used by the legend singers. Now it's been adopted by a number of Punjabi folk singers. Toomba is made of wooden sticks mounted with a Toomba or wooden resonator covered with skin. A metallic string is passed on a resonator over a bridge and tied to the key at the end of the stick. The string is struck with a finger or sometimes with the Mizrab, and the Swaras are made by pressing the string to the stick.


Dhol is a favourite folk instrument of Punjab. It is a percussion instrument, which is used not only at male dance performances but also during social rituals and festive celebrations. The drummer is called Dholi or Bharaj. The dhol is a barrel-shaped wooden drum with a mounted skin on both sides. It is played with two different types of wooden sticks. The skin on either side is tightened at a different pitch.


Dhad is a small percussion instrument of the Damru style. Held in one hand, it is struck on either side, with the other hand holding the skinned sides vertically or horizontally. This instrument has been very popular with the Dhadies, who sing traditional ballads of brave warriors and heroes drawn from history.


This is a percussion twang-type instrument used in Punjab and neighbouring areas. The tradition of playing it with songs goes back to the Naths or Jogis. This instrument consists of two long, flat pieces of iron with pointed ends, and rings mounted on it. The joint is held in one hand, while the two parts are struck with each other to produce tinkling sounds. Chimta has become popular in professional singing and devotional music in temples.


Sarangi is a popular bowed instrument in Punjab. It is wooden instrument about two feet long, cut from a single log covered with parchment. A bridge is placed in the middle. The sides of the Sarangi are pinched so as to bow it. The instrument usually has three major strings of varying thickness, and the fourth string is made of brass, used for drone. Modern sarangis contain 35-40 sympathetic strings running under the main strings. This is used for accompaniment by artists and is an ideal instrument for producing all types of Gamks and Meends.


This is a stringed instrument made of dried gourd (Ghia). A piece of skin is mounted on one side of the hollowed gourd while the other side is kept open. A gut string (Tand) is crossed through the centre of the skin and a small piece of wood is tied to the end of the string, which passes through the body of the gourd. To maintain a drum-like rhythm, the string is stretched or loosened while playing.


Algoza consists of a pair of wooden flutes. It is also called Jori (a pair) and is played by one person using only three fingers on each side. Folk singers of Punjab use this in their traditional legend singing like Mirza, Chhalla, Jugni etc. The instrument is also used as accompaniment with folk dances.

Arts and Crafts of Punjab


The spectacular embroidery of ‘phulkari ‘consist of simple darning like damask done from the back by counting the threads. With skillful manipulation of the darning stitch intricate designs are made through horizontal, vertical and diagonal stitches. The bagh or garden style embroidery is done all over by a connected pattern. There are several kinds of baghs like shalimar bagh, chand bagh, mircha bagh, duniya bagh, satranga (seven coloured), panchranga (five coloured) and so on, each splendid in its own way. Today phulkari has steered away from the geometrical style and has stylized flowers, animals, birds, jewellery patterns etc.

Wood Work

Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Bhera are known for their ornamental furniture featuring carving in low relief, trellis work etc. Today the craftsperson reproduce every kind of contemporary and period furniture.

Wood Inlay

Hoshiarpur in Punjab specializes in wood inlay. Here mostly sisum wood is used, occassionally black wood, both as ground, and sometimes with ivory inlay. Originally only ivory pieces were used but now due to its scarcity and very high cost, substitutes such as old piano keys, even badla (zinc) are utilized for the inlay work. Of late plastic is also being widely used for this purpose. Examples of inlay articles produced in this region are table tops, teapots, trays, table legs, screens, bowls, cigarette cases and chessboards. The designs are largely of the traditional Moghul variety with emphasis on flora, fauna and geometrical patterns.


Amritsar and Jalandhar make traditional lacquered furniture with bold and pronounced designs characteristic of Punjab. Legs for beds and divans are a speciality as also a box known for its purple coloured lac. The work here is in the nakashi style.

Leather craft

Hoshiarpur in east Punjab is a famous centre of leather applique work. Here, applique work is done with colored leather pieces particularly on black leather.

Floor Coverings

Punjab at one time was very famous for its durries. Nikodar is a big centre that makes two types of durries - one for the bed made on pitloom and the floor made on a loom called adda on which about three weaves are used. The former are in multicolour stripes while the latter are confined to two contrasting colours. Mani Majra just outside Chandigarh makes very distinctive textures and designs. Khes is a floor covering made from yarn from used quilts and mattresses, spun into rather coarse yarn. Sometimes half the yarn is dyed into black and chequered designs are woven in black and white. The most colourful and interesting durries are made by women as a domestic vocation from handspun yarn. These colourful durries have folk designs and bold animal figures besides other motifs and are mostly found in the villages of Punjab. Bhantinda makes durries from a plant whose fibre has a very different texture.



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