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Chholiya Dance, Uttarakhand, India

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Renowned for using a “sword” and performed mainly during marriages is an Indian dance form known as Chholiya.  This “sword dance” is said to have originated from the Kumaun region in the state of Uttarakhand. It is also considered to be extremely popular in the Pithoragarh, Champawat, and Almora districts in the state. Apparently, this dance form is about 1000 years old, and has been created from “martial arts” belonging to the Kumaun region. Furthermore, this dance style is performed in a group of 22 mainly composed of males (i.e. 8 dancers and 14 musicians). In addition, this dance is performed mainly by the “Rajput” community during marriage.

a. History/origin of the Chholiya:

According to the cultural history of the Kumaun region, this dance style is said to have been developed by a “Kshatriya” community called the “Khasas”. Furthermore, it is said that marriages within this community happened to occur frequently at the point of the sword. It was thus from this unique practice (marrying at the point of the sword) that this dance style was then eventually created. In addition, it was the exodus of the Rajput community to this region that ensured that this dance style permanently became a part of the culture.

b. Costumes used in the Chholiya:

The costume used in this dance style mainly comprise of a set of Churidar-pyjama, a cross belt, one long Chola, one waist belt, pattis worn on the legs, and a turban. In addition, this elaborate costume is backed up with some makeup which includes sandalwood paste and vermillion (red in colour). Furthermore, jewellery such as earrings along with a bronze shield and a sword also forms a key component of the costume of this dance style.

c. Music used in the Chholiya Dance:

The music for this dance form (which is similar to a war song) is composed by professional musicians known as “Dholies”. The musical tools used by these musicians include

  1. Percussion instruments: Like Dhol and Damau.
  2. Bagpie: A wind instrument also known locally as “Masakbeen”.
  3. Woodwind instruments: Such as Nausuriya muruli i.e. a nine note flute and Jyonya, a double flute renowned throughout the Kumaun region.

 d. Training availability and dance technique involved in the Chholiya:

This dance form is essentially performed in a group (i.e. 14 dancers and 8 musicians) mainly comprising of males. The technique essentially involves the dancer armed with a sword in hand in perfect synchrony (and in accordance to the beats of the accompanying war like music) engaging in a mock fight with the other performers. As for training, since this dance style is essentially linked to the tradition of the Kumaun region there are no schools/centres available in the state or in the country as of today.

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