The origins of Bhangra are imbedded in the farming community of Punjab
(Northern India) as an expression of the celebratory mood associated with the
harvest festival of Baisakhi (April 13). It is a dance that cuts across all
divisions of class and education. Traditionally, the all-male dancers are dressed in bright, colorful attire
made up primarily of a white shirt, a cloth wrapped around the waist called a
lungi, and a turban. Bhangra is performed to the beat of the dhol (drum) or a
smaller version of the dhol called a dholaki. Nowadays, one commonly finds the dance performed at almost every Punjabi
social occasion, such as weddings and parties.
Recently, Bhangra music has
even been fused with house, rap, and reggae styles of music.
Baisakhi is celebrated on the 13th of April every year, marking the new
year of Punjab. Depending on where you are, Baisakhi has several other names
thorughout India: Vishnu in Kerela and Puthandu in the Tamil Nadu.
Baisakhi has religious implications as well. It marks the founding of the
Khalsa brotherhood of the Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh and signals many devotees
of the Hindu faith to dip in the holy rivers before dawn, ushering in the New
Year. In Punjab, a primarily agricultural area of India, this day is especially
important as it commemorates the first day of harvest. The fields are full and
beautiful with nature's bounty, all ready to be cut and collected on this day.
Traditionally, the men and women perform Bhangra and Giddha to the punding
rhythm of the dhol, celebrating the joyous occasion, ringing in the new year.
Lohri marks the end of winter, celebrated on the 13th of January. This
festival is celebrated as a harvest fair, marked with gaiety and feasting.
This festival commemorates more than the harvest, though; it honors the spirit
of the Punjab. The day that follows Lohri is an auspicious one for the Jat-Sikh community.
It is the first day of the Punjabi month called 'mangh' or 'manghi'. This is a
holy month, and it is honored this day with 'daan-punya' (acts of physical and
material charity). In the Jat-Sikh community, clothes, worn night before, are
given away and all the young girls receive 'punya' in the form of money.