Sway Me Now

Sway Me Now
A Goma dancer from Gujarat cracking a coconut open with his head, Photo Credit: Labanya Maitra

Tap along in celebration at Chhattisgarh’s inaugural National Tribal Dance festival

Labanya Maitra
March 19 , 2020
02 Min Read

A land of plenty and a hotbed of cultures, India doesn’t shy away from embracing the diversity within its borders. An integral part of this diversity comes from the country’s tribal heritage. Home to over 100 different tribes peppered within the nation, India’s Adivasi culture came to life in Chhattisgarh in December 2019. A tribal-dominated state, it has 42 scheduled tribes, who form 30 per cent of the population. 

With roaring crowds and tribal troupes in traditional attire spreading an infectious cheer through its grounds, Raipur hosted the first National Tribal Dance Festival between December 27 and 29. The maiden festival saw over 1,300 participants from over 25 states and union territories, showcasing over 40 dance forms, both competing and simply spreading joy through music and drama over the course of the three days. 


The Siddi tribe of Gujarat is believed to be of African descent. And the Goma dance troupe had the audience on their feet with their vivid expressions, exaggerated moves, and their jaw-dropping coconut-breaking skills. Yes, you guessed it, the key to the coconut’s demise was a dancer’s head! 

Smiling Muria faces from Chhattisgarh

The festival showcased tribal dance forms from Tamil Nadu to Manipur, Tripura to Rajasthan, and everywhere in between. While a maelstrom of visual delights, each form was introduced with a brief history of the tribe’s customs and culture, highlighting the significance of the upcoming dance. For instance, the Bhotiya tribe of Uttarakhand performed the Lashpa dance, which is in celebration of their homecoming from Tibet with their livestock at the onset of winter. The Koya tribe from Telangana performed the eponymous dance, which showcased men in headgears made from gaur (a type of wild ox) horns, and women in brass headgear, dancing in celebration during weddings, religious ceremonies and fairs. Men play the beat on the dhol and the women match it by beating ghungroo-laden sticks on the ground.

Competing for a reward of upto Rs 5 lakh, the 39 participating tribal groups showed the best of their culture. Audiences witnessed hunting parties in action, wedding ceremonies, and harvest dances, among others.

The opening ceremony of the festival was presided over by the state’s Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel, and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi was the chief guest. 

Around India and the world
A wood carving of the Madia tribe
Stretching from 9am to 9pm every day, the festival showcased not only Indian dance performances but international ones as well. The dance troupe from Uganda enthralled the audience with their energetic moves, while the group from Thailand drew cheers with their lilting routine. Even the Governor of the state, Anusuiya Uikey, felt compelled to join them on stage in their rhythmic sways.  

The troupe from the Maldives added a desi twist to their stage time (by performing popular Hindi songs that took the audience to their happy place). Bangladesh and Sri Lanka’s dance forms introduced the festival to the cultures to the east and south of the country, while Belarus’ energetic pirouettes opened the show to wondrous roars.  The allure of the first ever National Tribal Dance Festival was such that even Rahul Gandhi donned a bison- horned headgear and joined the performers with a dhol!  

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