Bhangra originated as an expression of the celebratory mood of the harvest festival called Baisakhi and later graduated to being performed on almost every Punjabi social occasion, such as wedding etc. Though the origins of Bhangra go back to 400 BCE, the present forms have evolved in the last five hundred years.
The expanse and grip of Bhangra is huge – from Bhangra performances at wedding functions and festivals, to being competed at college and public contests both in India and abroad, as well as being consumed at village melas, or increasingly danced to at parties and nightclubs. Bhangra has come a long way.
A more recent development in Bhangra is a new genre of music produced by British Asian youth through the hybridization of traditional dhol or drum beats with western instruments and rhythms that circulates freely between Punjab and the various sites of Punjabi migration and has become a part of global youth culture.
Bhangra celebrates its rural past in the dance steps, which mimic agricultural activities – sowing, reaping, and so on – and in its name, which comes from the word bhang – hemp, which is grown across Punjab.
The exclusively male dancers dress in bright, colourful attire made up primarily of a white shirt, a cloth wrapped around the waist (lungi) and a turban. A performance is normally accompanied by singing and, most significantly, the beat of the dhol drum and an instrument reminiscent of an elegant pair of tongs called chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets, composed in the Punjabi language called Bolis. They relate to celebration, love, patriotism, or current social issues.
Today, Bhangra has gained a popularity across age groups and across nations. Bollywood was the first to embrace this dance style and much of its popularity can be attributed to the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Whether it is “Na Na Na Re” in Mrityudaata, “Makhna” in Bade Miyan Chote Miyan or “Shava Shava” in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, he has helped transcend the flavour of Bhangra to viewers unfamiliar with the style.
As a dance style, Bhangra embodies the word ‘carefree’ to a T. Throwing one’s limbs about in wild abandon to the beat of loud music, the Bhangra dance signifies a release from the stress of everyday routine. That is why today Bhangra classes are famous, from India to America, and beyond.
Bhangra travelled to the West in the 1970s and 1990s when the South Asian immigrants, with a need for a cultural space of their own, took the dance and music to club basements and gave it a new flavour of ‘Bhangra Remix’. Today, bhangra is a crucial way for young Indian-American college students to carve out a space to socialize and explore their culture and connect to their roots.
Bhangra has expanded like a wildfire, internationally. One of the name that pops into mind is, a British team named Josh Valaithian Da, who won first place at World’s Best Bhangra Crew in 2015— one of the most selective and elite competitions in the world.
This goes to show how Bhangra is breaking barriers; something that Learn Bhangra – a team of Bhangra enthusiasts who teach Bhangra both in studio classes and online via their app, believe.
Learn Bhangra, is on a mission to make Bhangra accessible to everyone. It’s not just a dance or music form to them, but rather an experience that connects individuals with themselves and to others.
Check out this fun video from the Learn Bhangra group, which was shot during a vacation. This goes to prove how fun and carefree this dance style is. We are sure this dance on the new hit song “Bamb Jatt” will make you groove.
Reference books/Research Links:
- Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and Beyond By Anjali Gera Roy
- Sikh Diaspora: Theory, Agency, and Experience