BY Amarjit Chandan

[Bazaar. London . Summer 1987]

Bhangra isn’t a folk dance, but a spicy mixture of nine Punjabi folk dances – Dhamāl, Gidha, Jalli, Jhummar, Luddi, Pathania, Phumania, Sammi and Sialkoti bhangra

Bhangra performed in this country is not authentic; not to speak of the bhangra performed in Bombay films and youth festivals in East Punjab . Parbinder Singh, the captain of the Indian national team for almost ten years during the 70s once told me: “The bhangra is not at all a Punjabi folk dance. I’ve been to almost all the countries in the world and I was ashamed of the dance we performed. It isn’t a folk dance. You could call it something else – bhang’n roll, bhang disco.”

Some years ago in the national competition held in Acton Town Hall , a Southall team even went further – they brought a huge aluminum sheet to give the effect of the Chenab river, to enthuse patriotic spirit a hangman’s noose was hung from the ceiling, muticoloured smoke effects were created. They won the trophy. East Punjabi teams have their own way. They enact scenes of wars with China and Pakistan . Maoists in Canada perform an inqlabi (revolutionary) bhangra – heads of Indian feudal lords, comprador bourgeoisie and leaders of two super powers roll on the stage.

Bhangra as a harvest dance is unknown in East Punjab . The first ever public show was performed by one Manohar Deepak for visiting Russian leaders Bulganin and Khrushchev at Nangal in 1953. He took this dance to Bombay before it became a part of Indian Republic Day celebration floats. East Punjab State public relations department adopted it for its crude propaganda. Master Tara Singh, the Sikh Akali leader, called these cultural programmes as kanjral (pimp) shows, thus demonstrating his incapacity to comprehend cultural issues and the vulgar approach of the India state towards culture and arts.

None of my acquaintances – young and old – ever saw bhangra performed in open fields. However, bāzigars (folk acrobats) beating drums during the wheat harvest used to be a common sight. The sickle moves faster and makes the work less tiresome. Disco-like bhangra, which is performed on Punjabi weddings by men and women together, is a recent thing. West Punjabi refugees brought this healthy tradition to East Punjab , otherwise sexually-mixed dance was unimaginable in pre-Partition days.

It is heartening to note that in West Punjab bhangra has not been vulgarised. It is still performed in its pure form in two carnivals. People start making preparation three months ahead; sangs (groups) from different areas throng to Sakhi Sarwar on horses and camels. Men and women join hands and dance in circle; the drummer remains the hub of the choreography.

Punjabi folklore has been introduced in post graduate curriculum in East Punjabi universities. Dr Nahar Singh is an authority on the subject. Once a bhangra dancer himself he says: Bhangra isn’t a folk dance, but a spicy mixture of nine Punjabi folk dances – Dhamāl, Gidha, Jalli, Jhummar, Luddi, Pathania, Phumania, Sammi and Sialkoti bhangra.

Jhummar and Sammi are common dances and could be incorporated in bhangra, but Gidha, women’s dance, shouldn’t be jumbled with bhangra. Jhummar is basically a dance of slow movements; some of its movements can go with bhangra but in stages – i.e. from Sialkoti to Phumania and then Jhummar. But in modern bhangra Jhummar is given double beat, which looks like Punjabi women’s lamentation.

In India bhangra is the only dance which does not reflect any aspect of the life of its origins – though its fast beat and evocation symbolise Punjabis’ chivalry, robustness and virility. The modern bhangra is nothing but reckless beating of drum and gymnastics. The British teams have also included gatka (sword playing). Needless to say all this is done to imitate cheap Bombay films.

What is needed is a bhangra with the character of Punjabi heritage blended with new innovations in choreography and design. Silly gestures, spicy beats, unnecessary commentaries, vulgar songs and theatricality need to be discarded once for all. But who would face the music?