All forms of folk music and dance date back to no particular phase in time – they are passed on from generations to generations. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the peasants, and as music with unknown composers. Same can be said for the songs that accompany these forms. From the beginning of human history, the biggest wars that human race had to wage were against the very elements of nature, whose essential disposition was to put the human endurance to demanding tests.
The same principle can be applied to Uttarakhand. Living was a very difficult business in old times. Life under the rugged climatic conditions was unimaginably difficult in those days, although in certain parts it still remains the same, if not worse.
The simple and hardworking people took refuge in the consoling lap of music which more often than not was accompanied by a song and a dance. They realized that after every hardship that nature posed in front of them, it always opened up its chest of generosity too.
Folk music, folk song, and folk dance are comparatively recent expressions. They actually are extensions of the term folklore, which abound in both Garhwal and Kumaon. Of course the exceptional beauty of the Himalayan landscapes rendered equally exceptional colors to the folklore.
Thus there are folk songs for every occasion and reason – there are devotional songs to invoke the local deities, auspicious songs to celebrate occasions like marriages, religious songs praising the gods, heroic songs narrating in length the heroic deeds of kings in the battles, ghost songs addressing the elements beyond logical human comprehension, seasonal songs, songs teaching morality and last but not the least, songs about romance, passion and the inevitable separations.
The song-form Nyauli of Kumaon finds its equivalent in Khuded and Jhumeilas of Garhwal. These are love songs interspersed with tones of separation. Then there are other forms as Phag, Bair, Baramasa, Saiddhali, Pavada, Hurkiya Baul and Pandav Songs to name a few.
Customarily most of the folk songs were accompanied by dancing. The dances can be broadly classified into occupational, seasonal, martial, devotional and ritualistic dances. The prominent folk dances are the Bhotia Dance, Chamfuli and Chholia. The Bhotia Dance, Dandala, Chamfuli, Dhusaka and Dhurang are the group folk dances of the Bhotias and are quite similar to the Garba dance of Gujarat. The dance forms are greatly influenced by mythology, religion and social events. Chamfuli is a popular dance form of the Garhwal region. In this dance, men and women dance to the rhythm – separately and together in pairs with vivid facial expressions. The Chholia dance is performed exclusively by the boys and men at marriage processions. A few of them dress up as soldiers and enact the scenes of fierce duels. After this dance, the bride is carried away by her lover. This dance is a war dance and has existed for more than 2000 years.
The Pandava dance performed during Dussehra and Deepawali is enacted by narrating the story of the Mahabharata along with dance and music. The Badra Nati dance is performed by men and women wearing colourful costumes, during religious festivals and on other social occasions. On the occasion of the bride’s first visit to her parent’s home after marriage, the Tharu dance is performed to welcome the newly-married couple. The Chanchari dance is a dance related to the Garhwal and Almora region. The Jhoda dance of Kumaon is staged spectacularly on a full moon night by young men and women, specially during the colourful season of the festival of Holi.
The Hurkiya baul is a community dance, prevalent in Kumaon, and is still part of rural life during the sowing season. Owing to lack of manual labour in the rugged hills, people customarily work together. It is common that all the families of a village do the sowing in all the fields collectively one by one. A singer sings tales of bravery from local history, accompanied by the beats of the traditional instrument Hurka, while the women work together with their laboring hands following an almost dance-like movement. Most of the stories narrated in Hurkiya Baul are about the brave Chand kings of Champawat of a bygone era.