Choliya Dance – A Lively Folk Dance Of Kumaon, Uttarakhand

Kumaon is a place in Uttarakhand, which has a unique way of celebrating weddings. A special and unique dance is performed at the weddings called the Choliya dance. It a form of folk dance popular in Kumaon and performed with swords and shields. The performers adorn themselves with colourful attires and dance in pairs. The men folk of Kumaon participate in the dance, accompanying the bride riding on a horse. Bagpipes are used for music and dancers sing with loud voices coupled with rhythmic claps.

The History behind the Choliya Dance

The dance is said to be more than 1000 years old. It first originated in the kingdom of Khasiya Rajputs, also known as the Khas tribes. The kingdom is a part of Khas Desh, a region in the Himalayas, Nepal. The Khas were warriors who used to conduct marriages with sword points. The tribes followed the traditions and customs of the Rajputs. Nowadays the Rajputs had kept alive the old culture by performing the Choliya dance during weddings.

The Exclusivities of the Choliya Dance

The group of performers consists of 8 dancers and 14 musicians. The musical instruments used are the drums and traditional Kumaon Ransing and Turi. The drums are played by the Harijans and the other two instruments are played by the Jogis and the Bairagis. Pair of the Scottish Bagpipe, known as Masakbeen in colloquial language, is also used. It is a unique attempt to fuse Scottish culture into the Indian tradition. The musicians play the traditional Kumaon flutes too like the twin flute and nine note flute.

The dancers demonstrate various sword-fighting techniques accompanied by the rhythmic beats of the music. It is an enthralling experience to watch the energy level of the performers and their skilled movements. The movements are amazingly synchronized as the dancers skip and circle around with vigour and zeal. The entire place gleams with energy and lively songs, music, and dances.

Another attraction is a red flag present at the marriage ceremonies. The flag is very huge, triangular in shape and is embellished with figures of animals. The expression on the animals symbolizes the different human feelings associated with war. It is a combination of fear, astonishment, happiness, pride, and honour.

Attires of the Choliya Dance

The performers usually adorn themselves to portray the picture of a warrior. They imitate the brave Kshatriya Rajputs. The upper part of the body is covered by the Chola which is quite long, almost reaching the knees. The bottom part of the dress is the Churidar Pyjama. Two belts are used in the dress, one is the cross belt and the other is placed surrounding the waist. The head gear used is a colourful intricately designed turban.

The dancers paint their faces with sandalwood paste, colloquially known as the Chandan. Vermillion is also used to beautify the face, imparting a reddish tinge. The men wear ear rings to further enrich the grace and elegance. Before the onset of the dance, they prepare themselves with the sword and the shield of bronze.

Types of Choliya Dance

There are nine different types of Choliya dance. The segregation is mainly done based on the movements of the dancers. Each dance type is characterized by a unique motion. In the Johar valley, the dance type is known as Shauka Shaili. The dancers often engage in mock sword fights through the dance form of Saraanv. The vigorous war dance is named as Rann Nritya. The type Veerangana is significant in portraying the image of a brave lady. To depict the ray of light for victory in a war, the dancers perform the dance type Depanshu. The other types of Choliya dance are Choliya Baja, Sarankar, Paitan Baja and Bisu Nritya.

Almora and Champawat are two prominent districts of Uttarakhand. The Choliya dancers reside in these two areas. In the modern era, this dance is conducted even during any religious ceremonies. It is even held in the famous Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan. The dancers travel from these two districts to different parts of Uttarakhand to participate and entertain the audience with their skilled performance.

The local people believe that Choliya dance wards off the evil spirit and hence it is customary to perform the dance in auspicious occassions to shield against the demons. They felt that demons target newly married couples. The dance will prevent the demons from approaching the couple and keep them happy and peaceful.

The Choliya dance is prominent in different regions of Kumaon, the most popular being the districts of Champawat and Almora which glorifies in offering the best dancers. The other regions were the dance is quite famous are Bageshwar, Garhwal, and Pithoragarh. The dance form has now become quite well-known in various parts of Nothern India. People crowd at the Pushkar camel fair too to watch the lively performances of the dancers.

Featured Photo of ‘Garbyal women rehearsing traditional dance before leaving for the main parade.’ by garbyal under CC BY-SA 2.0

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