As Assam is home to different indigenous tribes and races there are various ethnic dance forms throughout the region which can be broadly classified under two headings – Classical dances and Folk Dances.
This dance was first created in the 16th century by the great saint poet Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva and was originally in the form of mythological dance dramas practised by celibate monks in Vaishnava monasteries known as Sattras. It presented mythological stories in a simple way so that the principles of right living and truth could be easily comprehended by the masses. This dance is accompanied by Borgeets based on Classical ragas and composed by the Saint duo to the accompaniment of traditional instruments like Khols(drums), taals and flute. These days the dance is performed by both male and female dancers. The traditional costume is made out of the famous Paat Silk of Assam with the male costume comprising the dhoti and chadar and the female costume comprising the ghuri and chadar. Both male and female wear the waist cloth or kanchi with traditional Assamese ornaments.
This dance is performed as a theatrical description of the one-act play Ankiya Nat in the villages in Satras and Namghars to promote Vaishnavite culture and was initiated by the Saint poet Sankardeva. The Sutradhar recites the Shlokas and explains the various stages of Bhaona through song and dance. The Natuwa or the Cali dance is included in the Bhaona dance and one of its subdivisions is Hajowaliya which is a combination of Lasya and Tandava and is basically a woman’s dance.
It is a form of classical dance which comprises of a group of chorus singers and dancers with Oja as the leader and Pali as the
assistants. It represents the cultural heritage and rich tradition of Assam.
It is the most popular folk dance related to the Bihu festival of Assam celebrating joy and is characterised by rapid hand movement and brisk dance steps and is performed by both men and women. They wear colourful costumes and are accompanied by musical instruments like taal, gogona (bamboo and reed instrument), toka (bamboo clapper) and xutuli (clay whistle) to the songs or Bihu Geet which are songs relating to various topics like social, political, daily life of farmers, welcoming the Assamese New Year etc.
This dance is generally performed by young girls holding each other’s waist and arms while the men play the musical instruments. It is performed as ritual worship to Gods and Goddesses, or as a prayer for rainfall or for courting and to express love etc. The songs depict the aspirations and yearnings, the joys and sorrows and the cluster of bells worn in the ankles gives it a clanging noise. It is mostly said to be performed by the tea community of Assam.
This dance can be performed in a group by 3 or 4 females or solo and is associated with the worship of the Snake God Manasa. The dancer is generally an unmarried girl who moves in a trance like state dancing to the beats of the drum (Kham) and the flute (Ciphung) to the songs sung by an Oja. Legends state that a character in Padma Purana named Behulaa had to dance before Goddess Manasa in order to get back the life of her husband Lakhindar. The dancer even performs a virile war dance with a sword and a shield at one stage of the dance in honour of various Gods and Goddesses.
Ali Ai Ligang Dance or Gumrag
This dance is performed by the Mishing community in the Sonitpur and Lakhimpur regions of Assam during the Ali Ai Ligang festival. It is performed by encircling the courtyard of the houses of the villagers to the accompaniment of songs of the day to day experiences in the lives of the Mishings, their joys, sorrows, expectations, love etc with musical instruments like drums, gong, cymbals, flutes etc.
Dhuliya and Bhawariya
These are dances accompanying Bhawuas which were theatrical performances ranging from acrobatic dances to vigorous dances to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. These are said to be similar to the miracle plays of Europe which were performed in the Middle Ages.
This dance was originally developed by the Sattriya artiste Narahari Burha Bhakat and propagates the Sankari culture of Assam and is performed by 6 to 10 dancers with cymbals in the Barpeta region of Assam.
This is performed by the Bodo community wherein Bodo girls dance with outstretched hands and slow steps in colourful costumes to the accompaniment of the tribe’s musical instruments.
This is performed by the Lalung tribe in which they worship bamboos and dance using them.