Tribal Dances of India-Adivasi Dances

  • Know about ten Adivasi dance forms from various parts of India.

Indian dances can be categorised into three segments, namely classical, folk and tribal. There are eight distinct classical dance style of India but there are several folk and tribal dances. Every state has folk and tribal dances. The common factor of folk dances, as the name suggests is for the people, by the people and of the people. There are several tribes across India, each with their own distinct style of dancing. The dance form reflects their life style, customs and traditions.


There are many types of tribal dances in India, performed during social and religious occasions like the weapon dances, pertaining to martial dances, fertility, sun and moon worshipping dances, initiation, war and hunting dances.


Here I enlist some of the most popular ones like the Santhali dance performed by the Santhal tribals from West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. The Cherav Bamboo dance from Mizoram, the Kalbelia dance from Rajasthan, Elelakkaradi dance from Kerala, Bhagoria from Madhya Pradesh, Chhau dance from West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha, Dhimsa from Andhra Pradesh, Shad Suk Mynsiem from Meghalaya etc


1. Santhali dance


Santhali dance is performed by Santhali tribals from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa and Assam. They are the third largest tribal community in India. Performed by both men and women to the music of percussion instruments like Tamda and Tumda drums along with enchanting flute music. Here are the lyrics of a Santhal song in Odia-


Muj leke Suluk banu banu huno, Anatege Akash Sukol, duhahdhah hoyaa, Seme set chapadhiri timin,gharij tahen aa, Muj lele suluk banu banu kuno, Anatege…..huyaa


Dr Atul Bhowmick interprets the song in English “Unless united together like ants, Life will bring sorrow, For want of unity, suffering comes in our life, How long will a stone thrown up remain in the sky? How long will a drop of water, remain over the forehead, Unless we are united into a coherent whole like ants, Life will bring sorrow, For want of unity, suffering comes in our life”. 


The song signifies unity in spirit and actions. Thus the tribals dance with perfect unity and uniformity, which is a pleasure to behold. Women holds the arms of each other. Moving in arcs and semi-circles movements, dancing to perfect rhythm. The dance is of joy and happiness, hence performed on different social occasions like the birth of a child, marriage or religious occasions.


To see video of live traditional dance performance   3.06 minutes.  


2. Bamboo dance (Mizoram)

Sangai Festival, Imphal. 2014

Bamboo dance from Mizoram is a playful dance by the Cherav tribals, performed by both women and men. Colourfully attired the women, with striped skirts, dance to the rhythmic beats of drums. Men normally hold the bamboos on the floor, expanding and contracting the bamboos. Meanwhile the dancers step in between the bamboos and move out fast in perfect rhythm, otherwise you will hurt your feet. This dance needs lot of practise and perfection otherwise you cannot dance with the group in fine unison.


3. Kalbelia dance (Rajasthan)

Jaisalmer Desert Festival. 2013.

Kalbelia dance is from Rajasthan performed by the Kalbelias. It is also called gypsy dance (perhaps name given by the British). Women, in long colourful skirts, move to the Been music of snake charmers in extremely flexible movements like the snake, twirling and swaying around signifying the typical gait of the snake. There is a certain zing in the dance and music such that you might get up and start dancing.


This community is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about snakes. They can easily catch them and can differentiate between  poisonous and non- poisonous snakes. Also, they trade on the unique snake skin and venom too.


To see video of well-known artist Gulabo 3.55 minutes  


4. Shad Suk Mynsiem dance (Meghalaya)    


The Shad Suk Mynsiem dance from Meghalaya symbolise the advent of the spring. It is performed by both women and women with a lot of excitement and joy. This dance is also known as thanks giving dance as the dancers express their gratitude to Mother Nature and the divine grace for peace and prosperity. A special significance of this dance is that the men folks show their reverence, concern and protection for women. Men are attired in dhotis and women wear colourful skirts.


To see video of live performance   7 minutes.


5. Elelak Karadi and Thavala Kali dance (Kerala)


It is performed by tribal men of Kerala. The Elkelak karadi dance is a heroic dance that signifies the hunt and attack on wild beats. With rhythmic drums and vociferous shouts and war cries, the dance is performed with lot of vibrancy and vivaciousness portraying the fight with animals


The Thavala kali is known as the frog dance as young boys dance and jump like frogs which is quite exciting and entertaining for the audience.


To see video of dance  1.56 minutes.


6. Kaadar Nrittham (Kerala)

Performed by the Kaadar tribals of Kerala. It is performed by women hailing from the Kochi area. This is a joyful dance as women hold the tip of cloth and wave it gently with slow movements, slowly moving to a different rhythm in fast tempo.


7. Edaya Nritya (Kerala)

This is performed by tribals who are shepherds, they sing and dance with joy, imitating the gait and mannerism of different animals that they finally attack. This is performed by young boys and men.


8. Naga Dance (Nagaland)

AO Tribe, Hornbill Festival 2014. 

The popular Naga dance from Nagaland is performed by the Nagas (consists of about 18 key tribes). This is known as hunter dance and the head gear is adorned with leaves and feathers of birds. Along with the tribal chants, men perform the complete hunting act with lot of enthusiasm and spirit. Along with shorts, men adorn themselves with lot of leaves, feathers, flowers etc.


9. Chhau dance

Dastari Haat festival, Pune. 2015. 

Hailing from Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, there are three types of Chhau dances namely Sereikela, Purulia and Mayurbhanj Chhau. In Mayurbhanj the tribals do not use masks but in Purulia and Sereikela dancers dance with masks. The dance portrays various stories from their tradition. They are stories of love between nature, birds and animals.


The Chhau dance has become extremely popular as many classical dancers learn Chhau and would like to give this dance form a classical status.


To see video of Chhau dance   7 minutes 

10. Dal Khai and Duph dance from Orissa

Dal Khai dance. 

Dancers from Orissa recently performed these dances in the Lok Utsav organised by the cultural secretariat of Maharashtra Government. The Dal Khai dance from Sambalpur was performed by men and women. While the men play the drums, the women dance in uniformity signifying initiation of marriage and the marriage ceremony. The dancers danced in fast rhythm enthralling the audience.


Music of Tribal dances

While the regional flavour of the tribal dances differs with the lyrics, what is most exciting about these dances are the extensive use of percussion music with the usage of different types of drums like the dhol, dholak, mardal, mridangam, daph, dafli and varied usage of stringed and wind instruments like the flute, shehnai, clarinet and the long circular wind instrument which is used to signify the advent of any social or religious occasion.

Lastly, Dr Tushar Guha of Nrityanjali academy who has several folk dance presentations to their credit says, “What is most amazing about the tribal dances is that it is very close to life and nature, performed with lot of involvement and team spirit which is really quite exciting and gratifying.”


The three days National Tribal Dance Festival was held from 28-30th October 2021 at Science College Grounds in Raipur featuring one thousand artists from 7 countries, 27 Indian states and  6 Union Territories. This one of its kind festival featured dancers from Uganda, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Swaziland, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Syria. The dances were broadly categorised into two segments, namely Wedding Ceremonies and Traditional Rituals.


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Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi, Kathakali exponent, dance teacher, choreographer, actor and arts critic for over four decades, contributing for national and international publications. He is particularly credited for his lecture-demonstrations on Indian classical dancing which is a fine combination of both education and entertainment.


Also read

1. Kalbelia dance of Rajasthan

2. Folk Dance of Odisha

3. Folk Dance forms of Assam

4. Ghoomar – an elegant dance form

5. Tribal dance at Sangai Festival Manipur Part 1

6. Tribal dance at Hornbill Festival Kohima


Dance is BAJASALIA. Kalahandi is endowed with many folk dances like Ghumura, Bajasalia and Dhap. Here BAJA means instrument used in the dance and SAL means the place where these instruments are played.


Dalkhai Dance is the one the famous folk traditional dances of Orissa. Dalkhai was a tribal goddess of Kalahandi people.

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