Himachal Pradesh is a land of festivals and dances that form an inherent part of its culture. There are wide variety of dance forms that add color and life to the monotonous lives of the people. These dance forms are the embodiment of the rich cultural heritage for which this state is well known. The dances in Himachal Pradesh are of varied forms and styles; they, in fact, reflect the true spirit of the people.
Chham dance is one of the most popular dance forms of Himachal. It is usually performed by the monks and lamas who reside at monasteries. The dance is performed on special occasions and festivities. Chham Dance involves wearing big masks and colorful costumes. The dance is known to ward off evils and spirits. The dancers are dressed in monstrous appearances and embody the evil spirits that are supposed to bring natural disasters and diseases among mankind.
Kullu Nati is another famous dance of the state that is performed with much fanfare and dressed in ethnic attires and dance to the beats of several musical instruments like dhol, nagara, narsimha etc. festivities. People gyrate their bodies in slow swaying movements; they dance either by making circles or by standing in rows. This dance form is performed during the New Year and celebrates the new harvest that is ready for reaping.
Thoda is one of those dance in Himachal Pradesh which form a part of martial arts. It is played using weapons like arrows and bows. Performed by a number of artists together, Thoda involves two teams which are supposed to be the descendants of Kuaravas and Pandavas. The two opposing parties made continuous attempts to attack each other and defend themselves at the same time. The artists do their best to throw arrows on their opposite ones. This form of war dance has remained very popular from centuries.
Another dance that closely resembles the dance forms of Ladhakh is Lahauli dance. It is a dance that is native to Lahaul & Spiti. The dancers, with their hands interlocked, make circles and take big steps. Their bodies are adorned with beautiful gowns which have embroidery designs on their borders. This exclusive dance is accompanied by the beats of instruments like Daman and Surna.
Losar Shona Chuksam is a modified form of Kinnaur dance. This dance has immense religious significance for the people of Himachal Pradesh who celebrate it in the months of April & May. As agriculture is the main occupation here, this dance symbolizes the significance of farming in the lives of rural people. The knee movements of the dancers move in the same manner as the knees of farmers that move while sowing seeds in their farms. It is one of the popular dance in Himachal Pradesh that is close to the culture and civilization of the people. The use of musical instruments like nagara, dhol, bugjal, and karnal is very common.
A dance that is native to Kangra Valley is Jhamakada. This peculiar dance is commonly known by the name of Nanoo Vianayaka. This group dance is performed only by women of the society and usually performed at sacred ceremonies including marriage. Men cannot take part in the festivities and are forbidden to watch it. These women sing songs, dance and make merry during the night. In their dances, they present incidents related to their day to day life.
Gugga dance is performed to pay homage to the famous peer called Gugga. The artists present this ritualistic dance around the grave of this great saint, sing praising songs as a token of respect. This great peer is worshipped at many places including Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana. The artists carry out a procession in the name of the saint, sing devotional songs and dance on the beats of thali, chimta, and deru. The procession is led by a man carrying a bamboo stick. The dancers carry with them a "chhattar" or a big umbrella that is taken to the place of Gugga.
Simple Nati dance is among the most famous dances in Himachal Pradesh and has many forms and styles depending upon the region in which it is practiced. For example, various forms of nati like Kullu nati, Gaddi nati, Shimla nati, and Sirmouri nati have found a special place in the culture of the state. This special dance is performed in colorful attires that are embellished with ornaments.
Other dances that are exclusive to this culture-rich state are Dandras and Ghurehi. Dandras is all-male dance that is exclusive to the "gaddi" tribes of Chamba district. The dancers perform this dance form on special occasions like fairs and festivals; they spend long hours dancing to the tunes of musical instruments. Ghurehi, just like Dandras is a dance that is restricted to women-folk and is performed during long journeys.
There are several different types of dances in Himachal Pradesh that form part of the festive occasions and display the enthusiasm of native people.