Folk Dances of Eastern India
The Bihu is a folk dance connected with the Bihu festival, celebrated to mark the arrival of the new year at the spring solstice. There are two other Bihu festivals, at the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, but the dance is associated with the April festival. Bihu festivals are secular, marking the seasons significant to farmers, and have roots in ancient fertility rites.
The Bihu dance is performed by both young men and women, sometimes with the dancers all of one gender, while the others are spectators. The dance has quick steps, particular movements of the chest and shoulders, and rhythmic movements of the arms and hips, depicting the joys of spring and youth. Bihu is usually performed in the open under a tree or in natural surroundings. It is accompanied by specific songs with themes ranging from love poems to welcoming the new year, to daily village life. Dancers wear traditional Assamese clothing.
This dance is named for the Santhal community, a tribal people living throughout Bihar, Jharkhand, and Bengal in India. The Santhal dance is performed by men and women. The women wear distinctive white saris with red borders. The men wear dhotis.
The dance is performed during harvest festivals, and some of the steps and movements of the dance resemble the actions of harvesting. The men beat dhols, or carry mock dhols, during the dance, to announce the good harvest. The dancers form various patterns during the dance. Notably, the women form a line, dancing hip to hip, with arms around each others’ waists.
Known popularly as the Bamboo Dance, Cheraw is performed by various tribes in Mizoram. It is performed at all festive occasions. Similar dances are popular in the Far East and the Phillipines, and Cheraw may be of foreign origin, brought to Mizoram during a migration.
Long poles of bamboo are laid across logs on the ground, one at each end. Each pair of poles is held at each end by a person who sits on the ground, holding one pole in each hand. Sometimes a number of such pairs are laid out parallel to each other. Sometimes two pairs are arranged in a cross. The bamboos are struck against each other, and the logs on the ground, in rhythm with the music. The dancers skip in and out between the bamboos, and avoid getting caught between them. Generally girls and women in traditional attire perform the dance, and skillfully weave patterns through the bamboo poles in time with the singing and drumming. The steps have variations, and sometimes mimic the movements of birds or other familiar actions. The dance gets faster and faster as it proceeds, demanding fast and precise footwork.