Seasons are closely connected with the agricultural operations. Since agriculture is the main stay of the people of India, especially those living in rural areas, seasonal changes are of great importance. Majority of folk dance forms can be said to be seasonal, because they are performed in particular seasons. For instance, all the harvest dances are seasonal. We will now discuss dances which are performed to celebrate or welcome the season. Their connection with the agricultural operations is secondary.
Indians divide the year into six seasons, namely Grishma (summer), Varsha (rains), Sharat (autumn), Hemanta (also autumn), Shishira (winter), and Vasanta (spring). The Indian year begins with the lunar month of Vaishakh and the solar month of Mesha, the beginning of the summer season. The year ends with the lunar month of Chaitra and the solar month of Meena, the end of spring season.
Most of the seasonal dances are performed either in spring or in autumn. The dances performed during the rains and in winter are predominantly associated with agricultural operations or have ritualistic overtones.
One of the many dances that celebrate the spring season is Rayee prevalent in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. The cold winter months over, the pleasant spring air inspires village folk to go gay. The harvest reaped and garnered, create a sense of security. It is the time for the rural folk to hold night long sessions of Raye. It is performed by dancing girls known as Bedani. The risqué overtones in their dancing and accompanying songs inspire spontaneous giggles and cat calls. The Bedani dancer wears an ample skirt which falls down to the ankles and a chic tight fitting blouse. She covers her upper part of the body with veil called Odhani. She wears a broad silver band on her waist. She also wears ornaments on her wrists and arms. The ornament worn over her head is called Shishphool, literally meaning head flower. Accompaniment is provided by a drummer who dances with the Bedani while playing the drum. The other accompanists do not dance and forming a group they play on the Timki, a small drum played with lean bamboo sticks, the Dhapla, a side drum, cymbals, and an S-shaped trumpet. They also sing in chorus picking up the refrain from the dancer. In the beginning of the dance invocatory songs are sung which are followed by more mundane songs highlighting the intimate, warm, and earthy aspects or rural life. Love lures naturally abound and the most intimate moments ate evocatively portrayed by the dancers.
In the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, spring season is celebrated with the Bana dance. It is performed only by men. Each dancer holds a bamboo stick of about four feet long. Most probably the dance originated as a martial dance. Later, its character changed and it became a joyous dance to celebrate the spring season. The most avid on lookers are young girls of the village. Quite a few of the youthful dancers have their girl-friends in the audience. While dancing, a pair of lovers may exchange meaningful glances and quietly slip out and go to a predetermined place of tryst. None notices a dancer slipping out and again joining the dance. It is said that earlier the Bana dancers used to wear masks of different animals, but now none wears a mask. The drum Dhol rules the dance. The drummer has to be an expert player, because the tempo varies and the rhythmic phrases are really crisp that inspire the dancers who dance in circle around the Dhol player. Occasionally, Thali, a plate like idiophone made up of bell metal is played to enhance the appeal of the percussion music.
The Korku tribal community of Madhya Pradesh performs the Phagnoi dance to welcome the spring season. It is performed at the rime of Holi which is one of the most important festivals of the Korku community. As the name indicates, the dance is performed in the lunar month of Phagun, derivative of Phalgun corresponding to February/March. It is in this month that Holi festival is celebrated. The dance is performed only by men of all ages. It is a vigorous dance executed with great enthusiasm. The youthful dancers perform it well but some of the dancers advanced in years perform with such verve and dexterity that both onlookers and young dancers are amazed. The songs that accompany the dance is usually of amorous character that goes well with the festive spirit. The dance has acrobatic elements and the accompanying instrumental music is provided by Ghera and Dholak the drums and Jhanj, the cymbals.
In the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh a fascinating dance called Churkula is performed close to the Holi festival. Some particular villages like Oomri, Khemri, Sonkh, Mukhrayi etc specialize in this dance and onlookers from even far off villages come to watch the dance. Different dates near about the Holi festival are fixed for different villages for the performance of the dance. Churkula actually is a fabrication of either iron or wood which is like a circular cage that holds 108 burning lamps. This is balanced on the head by the trained female dancer. While balancing the Churkula on her head, the dancer also holds in both her hands two burning lamps put on lamp stands and balancing the Churkula dances mostly in circular movements. It is basically a solo dance and is danced in darkness so that the dancer is not visible clearly, but the moving lamps will be visible. It is indeed a fascinating experience to watch Chirkula in its native atmosphere. The dance is accompanied by a huge drum with one face called Bamb. It is put on a wheeled frame work that is pulled by ropes tied to it and the drum is played by more than one players with thick blunt batons. Besides the huge drum, idiophones like Jhanj and Chimta are also played to provide the percussion music for the dance. When one dancer completes her round the Churkula is passed on to the head of another dancer. Since the Churkula is quite heavy, the dancers are fed with healthy food for a few months before the performance so that they have the required strength to balance the Churkula on their heads on the day of the performance.
The Santhal and Ho tribal communities living in Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, celebrate the Baha or Baa Parab in February/March when the Sal trees are in bloom. Parab means festival. It is the most important festival for the Santhals and Hos. The region where the two tribal communities live is full of dense forests of tall Sal trees. They use the wood and leaves of the Sal trees for various purposes. Therefore, they admire the Sal trees which are in blossom with the advent of the spring season. Baha or Baa in the tribal dialect means flowers. On the day the festival begins, the village priest called Diuri offers Sal flowers to the presiding deity of the village along with the sacrifice of a fowl. During the offering, the ritual is performed strictly according to the tradition. After the ritual, the young girls go to the forest to collect Sal flowers. They offer the flowers to their brothers as a token of love and affection. It is similar to the tying of rakhi by the girls of non-tribal communities, especially in North India. After the offering of flowers the dance is performed. The girls and the boys stand in two files, facing each other. While dancing, the two files come closer and separate alternatively according to the rhythm. Dances are performed in as many as ten different rhythmic cycles, namely, Saar, Baa, Racha, Jape, Ghanguriya, Gaudua, Daonria, Gena, Jadur and Khemta. Some of the rhythmic cycles are influenced by the-non-tribal music of the region. The drum that rules the dance is called Mandar, a conical drum with two faces. The melodic content of the accompanying music is provided by Basni the bamboo flute.
The Munda tribe of Bihar also celebrate the Baa Parab. The tribes are very meticulous about the festival. The songs and dance performed at the festival are never performed at any other time. They will not touch the Sal tree or use its leaves for about one month before the festival. They are so particular that they will not even touch the water of a pond where by chance a Sal flower falls before the ritual of the festival.
Like many tribal communities, the Oraons of Chhota Nagpur region of Bihar perform dance to celebrate each of the seasons. They perform Karma dance during the rains, Boroya dance during the autumn, Soharai just before the winter, Kharia during spring and Jadur, on the threshold of summer towards the end of February and beginning of March. Both men and women participate in the Jadur dance. For the musical accompaniment the instruments used are : Mandar and Dholak, both drums with two faces; Turhi, a straight trumpet; Jhanj, the cymbals; Theska, a wooden idiophone; Soynko, a circular iron rod attached with jinglebclls and shaken rhythmically.
In the Khasi hills of Meghalaya, the Maring tribal community celebrates the spring season in a dance performed consecutively for four days. On the first day, rituals are performed and God is prayed for the prosperity of the community. From the second day the dance proper are performed at a particular place called Madan Duwan-Lyngdoh where huts have been made with bamboo and grass. The villagers assemble there and the dance begins. Both men and women participate in the dance. The dancers stand in a line putting their hands on the shoulders of the nearby dancers. At both the ends of the line, two men dance holding a shield made of Rhino skin. The dance is performed in memory of the legendary heroes who fought and defeated the enemies. The most fascinating feature of their costume is the headgear which is decorated by two long feathers of the tail of Rynnaiw, a black bird with a long tail. These two feathers are a must. To further decorate the head-gear, feathers of other birds like peacock are also used. The musical accompaniment is provided by the native drums, flutes, and cymbals
The fishermen community of Orissa, especially in the district of Ganjam, perform Chaiti Ghoda nata in a festival that lasts for about nine days beginning from the full moon day of the lunar month of Chaitra (April). It is a dummy horse dance. Similar dances are performed in other parts of the country, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan. The dummy-horse dance in Orissa is performed traditionally when the spring season is departing leading to the on set of summer. The fishermen community in Orissa is known as Keuta, derived from the Sanskrit word Kaivarta. The dance and the festival is closely associated and inspired by an Oriya puranic literature named Kaivarta Purana which tells the story behind the fishermen's killing fish. The puranic story in brief is : The Supreme God slept on the leaf of a banyan tree that floated on the ocean of milk. To keep the leaf-bed steady someone is required to hold the rudder firmly. Therefore, he took some dirt from his ear and shaped a man. He breathed life into the man and asked him to hold the rudder firmly. Once while he was dozing, a gigantic fish came and swallowed up the man. When he did not find the man, the all-knowing God could realize the reason behind the disappearance of the man. He was angry. He caught the fish and pulled out the man from the stomach of the fish. The man was re-engaged in his duty. From that day man became one of the most vindictive enemy of fish. As ordained by God the first Kaivarta (fisherman) and his descendants earn their livelihood by catching fish. A part of the banyan leaf was transformed into a horse. The God ordered Vishwakarma, the celestial craftsman, to build a boat. Relieving the man from his duty of holding the rudder of the leaf-bed, he asked the man to cross the ocean in the boat with the horse. The divine horse died on the eighth day of the lunar month of Vaishakha. God consoled the man saying that the horse was the goddess named Basuli and her worship will bring him salvation. From that day the Kaivarta (Keuta in colloquial Oriya) community hold the festival in which goddess Basuli is worshipped and the dummy-horse dance is performed.
The festival in honor of goddess Basuli and the Chaiti Ghoda dance ends on the eighth day of Vaishakha. At times, a female dancer joins the man with the dummy horse. The accompanying music is provided by Dhol, the drum, and Mahuri, the reeded wind instrument like Shehnai.
In Rajasthan, several dances, such as, Gher, Gait Geedad, Duff Nach, Chang Nach, Dandia Gair, etc are performed to celebrate the spring season, particularly at the time of Holi festival.
The Dandia Gair dance is performed only by men on the occasion of the Holi festival held on the full moon day of the lunar month of Phalguna (February/March). The two main aspects that make the dance fascinating are the costume worn by the dancers and the swirling pirouettes executed by them. The dancers wear white Chudidar Pyjamas and red Angarakhas, a gown-like garment highly flared from the waist with numerous pleats. For making one such Angarakha, twenty five to thirty meters of cloth is needed. When the dancers make fast swirling motion, the flared skirt opens up like an umbrella. The dancers move in a spiral-like formation with swirling motion. It is feast for the eyes when the dancers swirl fast. The red and white combination and the moving umbrella like skirt present a grand spectacle. A long strand of jinglbells (ghungroo) spirals from the ankle up to the knee.The sound of these myriad jinglebells mingles beautifully with the percussion music provided by Dhol, Nagara (bowl shaped drum with one face), Thali (gong-like idiophone) and Khartal, the castanets.
In Haryana the Loor dance, performed only by women, celebrates the spring season. It is danced during the later part of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Phalgul (February/March). At the time of Holi festival men and women of all ages perform the Phagun dance.
Autumn is the other season which inspires celebrative dances almost all over the country. The season is so inspiring because when it comes, the rains are over and the sky is gloriously azure, small patches of white clouds go languorously floating across the sky. This is the time when transplantation of seedlings is over and the villagers are hopeful of a good crop. Many of the dances performed to celebrate the autumn have ritualistic preliminaries which are performed for healthy growth of the plants in the fields.
In the western part of Orissa, especially in the districts of Sambalpur and Phulbani, the Dalkhai dance is performed to celebrate the autumn. It is associated "with a ceremony known as Bhaijauntia which is observed by the women wishing longer life of their brothers. According to the custom prevalent in western Orissa, all the married daughters come back to their parents' house before the Bhaijauntia that falls on the eighth lunar day of the bright fortnight of the month of Ashwin (September/October). The sisters wishing long life and prosperity of their respective brothers go with a new earthen pitcher to a stream or a river and fill the pitcher with sand from river bed. A twig of the Mahua tree is put on top of the sand. The pitcher is taken to the temple of Mahamai (the supreme mother goddess). Offerings are made to the goddess playing her to bless the brothers. While the mother goddess is being worshipped inside the temple, Dalkhai dance is performed outside. The dancers, while dancing, sing tuneful Dalkhai songs in the Sambalpuri dialect. The musical accompanists are all men. The songs, besides describing the beauty of the season, are love songs. The musical instruments used are : flute, Dhol, Nishan, a bowl shaped drum decorated with two deer horns and Timki, another smaller bowl shaped drum. Although the ritual is performed only on the first day, the dance is performed till the full moon night that comes after seven days.
In southern Orissa, the Paraja tribal community of Koraput district perform the autumnal dance called Hemant. The autumn includes two seasons : Sharat, comprising two lunar months of Bhadrava and Ashwina and Hemanta comprising the next two lunar months of Kartik, and Margasheersa. Thus the autumn is spread over a period from the later part of August to the later part of November. The Hemant dance is performed on the festival called Nandi Parva that is held in November. It is also danced only by women. The accompanying songs are known as Nandi songs. Musical instruments used with this dance are : Dhol, Nishan, Tamak, and Mahuri, the reeded wind instrument.
Concentration of tribal population is highest in Madhya Pradesh. They constitute 23% of the total population of the State. There are quite a few folk dances performed by both tribal and non-tribal communities. Such a dance is Madai named after the fair that is held at the time of Diwali, the festival of lights that falls on the new moon day of the lunar month of Kartik (October/ November). Actually, this dance and the fair originally was being organized by the pastoral community called Abhir. Later, the community adopted cultivation and are known as Yadav. A legend associated with the festival is as follows : Madan Abhir is the forebear of the Abhir (also called Ahir) community. When he came from the heaven to the earth, he brought a cow with him. All the cattle found now are her numerous progeny. Once an epidemic decimated the cattle herds. Madan Abhir worshipped the Marhimata (mother goddess) with great devotion. The goddess was pleased and rooted out the epidemic. Highly obliged Madan Abhir made a silver umbrella and offered to the goddess as a token of deep gratitude. He also organized the Madai fair and festival in honor of the goddess. That day is commemorated even now by the community.
In course of time other non-tribal and tribal communities began participating in the fair and the dance. Both men and women participate in the dance. The leader of the group of dancers holds aloft a bamboo shaft, to the upper end of which is tied a bunch of peacock feather. The dancers perform to the lilting tunes of the flute palled Bansuri. The accompanying percussion musical instruments are : Mandar, Dholak, Timki and Jhanj (cymbals). The dancers wear elaborate ornaments made of cowries.
The autumnal dance of the Baiga tribe of Madhya Pradesh, mostly living in and around Mandla district, is called Bilma which literally means the union of two groups. A group of Baigas living in one place is called Chak. Dancers of one Chak go to another Chak. Dancers of both the Chaks perform Bilma together. The accompanying melodic music is provided by Bansuri (flute), and the drum music by Mandar, Dholak and Timki.
The Oraon tribal community living in the highlands of Ranch! in Bihar perform Jitia dance towards the later part of autumn in the month of November. Dressed in traditional costumes of red, green, and yellow and wearing brass and silver ornaments, young boys and girls participate in the dance. At the beginning of the dance the boys make a bow-like semi-circular formation and the girls, with arms interlocked, form a circle round the musicians in the centre. The accompanying music is provided by Mandar; Nagara, Manjira, and Jhal. The boys form an outer circle. The dancers move backward and forward and at intervals sit down clapping their hands.
The women of the Kunabi (also called Kullabi) community, considered to be the earliest settlers of Goa, perform the autumnal dance called Bhadap, derived from Bhadrapad (also called Bhadrav), the lunar month corresponding to August/September. Bhadap dance is ceremonially performed on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi that falls on the fourth lunar day (tithi) of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrapad. The Kunabi women dance it informally throughout the autumn whenever they find an opportunity. The Kunabis are agriculturists. During autumn the crops growing in he fields require watching at night to save them from the predatory animals. The men folk go to the fields after dinner to watch the crops. Women find it an opportune time to dance, especially if it is moonlit night. They often dance through-out the night. Although the dancers are all women the accompanying musicians are all men. The accompanying percussion music is provided by Ghumat, Samel and Jhanj. The songs that accompany the dance depict the family life, social life and the beauty of the nature. The dancers wear their nine yard handloom saris typically attired. They wear other ornaments including the nose ring.
The Gallong segment of the Adi tribal community of Arunachal Pradesh, mostly living in the West Siang district, perform the autumnal dance called Riju Dune to welcome the winter. It is therefore performed towards the later part of autumn in November /December. According to a myth of the Adis : Gute Cambre, the summer god, goes back from this world to his original abode in the month of September and along with him summer season quietly departs. It is now time for Podi-Barji, the winter god, to visit this world. With the departure of the summer season all the blood sucking insects perish, snakes disappear and human beings feel relieved. Podi-Barji visits this world from the later part of October and stays here till the advent of spring.
To welcome the Podi-Barji, the Gallongs perform the Riju Dune dance. Both men and women participate in the dance. The dancers stand in three rows holding each other's hands. The leader of the dance is called Miri. He sings and brandishes his sword called Dao which produces a tinkling sound since iron rings are loosely incorporated in the sword. The dancers repeat the line sung by the Miri and swinging their hands go forward and backward. There are four movements in the dance and each movement begins with a new stanza of the song tendered by the Miri. The female dancers wear a typical costume called Jese-Kore, which is a white lungi like skirt with a black border at the bottom and a black band with design in the middle. The costume also includes a red blouse. They wear necklaces made of colored beads and very large size earrings. The male dancers wear white loin cloth and a black sleeveless jacket called Labuk. No musical instrument other than the Dao is used.
The Kinnauri tribal community of Himachal Pradesh perform the Namagen dance to celebrate the autumn. It is formally performed in September and informally at other times of the year. Both men and women participate in the dance. The women wear Gachi, the upper garment, and a shawl called Pattu. They also wear various silver ornaments. The men wear pyjama and shirt-like upper garments. Musical accompaniment is provided by Kangarange, a chordophone, Bhopal, a wind instrument, flute, and Damane and Anga, the drums.
Majority of folk dances of this country are performed formally in particular seasons. There are quite a few dances which are not allowed to be performed informally during any other season than the specified. Others are not so strict about the traditional performance season and are performed as entertainment.