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In India, tradition and culture is interwoven with religious ceremonies and rituals. Gambhira Dance from the culturally rich state of West Bengal is the testimony of such a union of tradition and religion.

Form of veneration – Gambhira Dance

Gambhira dance is a kind of folk dance form performed in a temple during the festival of Chaitra Sankranti – which usually falls in month of March or April. The devotional dance is performed in reverence of the Shakti – the mother goddess. It is named so as it is performed in Chandi Temple and its tunes and lyrics are mainly in veneration for the Lord Shiva, who is is also called Gambhira. Traditionally the dance form tells stories of love of Lord Shiva and Parvati, and stories of goddess Kali. It also has dialogues of social, economic, political and moral issues pertaining to the contemporary society.

shiv parvati photo

Photo by soham_pablo

The colourful and festive devotional dance is part of four-day festival called ‘Gambhira Utsav’. The festival is held during the last four days of the Hindu month of Chaitra – which usually is in March end or April. During the four days there are various ceremonies and rituals performed at the temple and the folk dance is part of the celebrations. On the first day there is a small ceremony of pouring of pitcher or Ghat hara, which is about worshipping Lord Shiva and Parvati. On the second day there is a small performance of the dance and on the third day there is a grander performance, which starts with ceremonies in the afternoon and goes on till late evening. On the fourth day the festival culminates with rich Bolboi songs, which are the core of the Gambhira dance.

Rich tradition woven with devotion

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The dance has two main characters – a maternal grandfather or nana and his grandson or naati, who are supported by a chorus. Both the dancers wear colourful masks and the dancer playing the grandson also puts on anklets with bells. The masks are made of tree barks, crafted by local artisans. The two characters indulge in various dialogues in lyrical manner and the chorus sings the catchphrases from the song. The dance is performed in a mandap or a specially constructed pavilion inside the temple. The  main musical instrument is the famous enormous drum of West Bengal called Dhak. Other instruments like harmonium, flute, are also used.

Gambhira dance, while is a rich folk form, is an entire entertainment package with dance, dialogues, music and socially relevant messages woven with the performance. It is a grand theatre form with a devotional essence, and is performed all over Malda district in North of Bengal.  The festival is mainly observed by people of Rajbanshi, Chhai and Mahali community.

Though since ancient times the main characters of the Gambhira dance have been grandfather and grandson, recently to entice the modern audiences, contemporary characters of husband and wife are also portrayed. The dialogues and stories also present contemporary issues. In recent times, the folk dancers have also helped in raising funds for causes like flood relief in West Bengal through their performances.

Interestingly, the Gambhira dance is also popular in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, which once was part of West Bengal.

Where and When to witness Gambhira Dance in West Bengal

Gambhira dance is performed on Chaitra Sankranti, which usually comes in March or April. One has to check the calendar for the exact dates every year.  The most famous Gambhira dance is from Malda district of North Bengal. The nearest airport to Malda is the Bagdogra Airport and the district is well connected by trains with major stations in India and also many public and private buses ply to the district.

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Gambhira- Where Tradition Meets Religion

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