Spirit of Bhangra
Bhangra is a beautiful and spirited form of expression that will engulf you
in its spirit of celebration as soon as you experience it. It’s a celebration
of life and is done with zest, enthusiasm, and energy. It is perhaps the most
vigorous form of South Asian Dances. Bhangra originated in the fertile land of
Punjab means land of five waters (rivers); it is a Northwest region of the Indian Subcontinent, currently spread amongst Indian states of Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, and parts of Himachal, Hariyana and Pakistani Punjab.
If you ever attend an Indian wedding reception, most often the music that people end up dancing to is Bhangra. It’s an energetic and free spirited dance that once you hear the music, you can’t help but move your feet to the beat. When listening to Bhangra, you will find genuine expressions of happiness and joy being shared among those dancing. You will often find people dancing in circles with anyone and everyone around them. The music is so vibrant and has almost an intoxicating effect on those listening as if some chemical gets released in their bodies when the dhol(drum) beats kick in. You will find people smiling, shrugging their shoulders, looking up at the sky as if thanking heavens for that moment. It’s truly a beautiful thing to watch as it brings out the free spirit and inhibited emotions and allows people to move their bodies freely in a way that brings release.
Though Bhangra may have existed longer, its history can be traced as far back as 500 years. Bhangra was created among farmers while they worked in fields. Traditionally performed to celebrate the harvest, bhangra reflected the enthusiasm and appreciation shared among rural folk as they witness their hard labor bear fruit. Bhangra season concludes with Baisakhi, a festival that marks the arrival of the harvesting season. Baisakhi always falls on April 14th, and marks the beginning of the solar year and is therefore also celebrated as the New Year among Punjabi’s.
The basic movements in Bhangra
relate to farming activities like ploughing, sowing, and, harvesting. The main
instrument played during bhangra is a barrel size drum called the Dhol. Its
strong bass beats are so contagious and can lure even the most dedicated of
wallflowers onto the dance floor. Other instruments played during bhangra are a
instrument called the tumbi, and a multi layered string instrument,
somewhat similar to the violin called, sarangi. Some other small instruments
used to add more sound, are sapera, supp, and chimta (clamps) and
smaller drums such as the damru and dholki. Though traditional performances
most often include many of these instruments, Dhol is still the most important
and most common instrument used in Bhangra.
Unlike devotional invocations and prayers attached with other classical Indian dances, Bhangra is closer to nature, and down-to-earth. Its sprit and energy celebrate nature and all its glory and its expression represent a genuine and humble appreciation for all that the universe bestows on us. Bhangra is truly one of the most joyous and celebratory forms of dancing. It is no longer done just among farmers and can be seen at any happy/festive occasions and celebrations especially weddings. Many popular movies such as Monsoon Wedding and Bend it like Beckham show Bhangra being performed as part of family celebration.
Bhangra tracks are a combination of 4 on 4 drumbeats played on a dhol. Now, dhol beats are also often fused with other instruments such as flutes, tablas (a smaller Indian drum), and synthetic sounds. Oftentimes hip-hop or Latin grooves are also mixed in. If you've heard Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On", you've heard Bhangra bass.
Over the last 40 to 50 years, Bhangra has really grown in popularity. With a large number of people having migrated from
To get a taste of Bhangra, you can check out San Francisco’s very own NonStop Bhangra monthly. Dedicated to sharing the spirit of Bhangra, and teaching and promoting this beautiful art form, NonStop Bhangra happens every month at the Rickshaw Stop and gets 3-400 of the most diverse audience coming together to revel in its spirit of celebration. It combines lessons, performances, drummers, musicians, DJ’s, dancers, all dedicated raising awareness about this vibrant dance form. NSB is hosted by Dholrhythms, which also offers classes, workshops and performances all over the San Francisco Bay Area.