The folk dances of Nepal are the visible rhythmic expressions of joys and beliefs of Nepalese rural folks. For these simple people, living mostly in scattered villages, life continues to be something of a ritual, and dance is an integral part of it. Religious rituals influence and enrich folk songs and dances, and the Nepalese village folks sing and dance to please their deities.
Because of widely differing topographic and cultural influences, the folk dances of Nepal are both rich and varied and reflect the day to day activities of the rural inhabitants. Simplicity and spontaneity are the chief qualities -of Nepalese folk dances, steps which have sprung from the lives and activities of the rural folks, like sowing and harvesting. Peasants and frolicking shepherds enjoy dancing and singing mellifluous songs while working in the corn fields or herding the sheep and goats in the hills. Nature unobstrusively mould?s these dances: as the dancers from the mountains sway and bend they suggest the vast undulating ranges of the mighty Himalaya.
Each region of Nepal has its own typical ethnic dances. The regional coloring in dress and ornaments, in song and instruments make them rich and varied. Rural melas or fairs are the proper venues to witness the deep-rooted folk songs and dances of Nepal. But conveniently for the city visitors, some Nepalese folk songs and dances have now emerged on the modem stage in hotels and performance halls of Kathmandu and Pokhara. Below are described some of the best known among Nepalese folk dances, according to the festival or season of their performance, and their geo-ethnic distribution.
Rateli and Deusi
To the accompaniment of the madal, the Rateli or Rateuli dance, a slow tempo at first, gradually mounts to an exciting climax when spirited women participants sing and dance with the whole body pulsating to a fast rhythm. The Rateli is danced at weddings among Brahmin and Chhetri peoples only.
During Tihar festival, which takes place in October/November, young boys go about in groups chanting deu-shi-ray to the beat of the madal, and dancers collect tips in cash and kinds in a playful seranade known as Deusi. Madal, a narrow barrelled drum, mixes with the voice poignantly and when played solo during interludes the entire surrounding rings with it.
Gaine, a song rich in expression, is performed by street singers at fairs and community centers. The Gaines do not observe conventional social rules, but have their own sectarian customs. Those in the Pokhara region, Palpa and Gulmi districts, are most famous for their originality.
The colorful stories of dazzling epic heroes of Nepal, of fishing, sowing, harvesting, rowing, of pheasants and mammals, of flowers like rhododendrons and poinsettias, of Himalayan snow clad peaks have all inspired the Gaines. While singing to the rhythm and tune of a sarangi, a primitive string instrument which has three to four strings and is played with a horse hair bow, the Gaines dance beautifully, giving exuberance to their sentiments.
Ghatu and Sorathee
Pokhara region?s breathtaking scenery provides a fascinating theme for the dancers of Ghatu and Sorathee. The Ghatu is a folk song cum ritual dance drama to the accompaniment of musical instruments. It is associated with the spring season.
A folk dance still practiced in the traditional art form is the classical style dance of Sorathee, performed during the ten nights of Durga Puja (Dasain) festival and at the end of the paddy harvesting. Sorathee is popular in parts of western Nepal, among the Gurung, Magar and Gharti communities.
Night life among the Gurungs of Pokhara region is sophisticated and also gay. Country club houses or Rodi Ghars, located in almost all highland Gurung villages, invite young boys and girls to gather at the end of the day?s work to sing and dance.
Tamang Selo or Damphu Naach
Among the popular dances of the Tamang community of the central highlands, the best known is the Tamang Selo or Damphu Naach, danced at weddings, religious ceremonies and fairs. A boy and a girl dance with equal vigor to the beat of a damphu or tambourine.
Ya Lang is a harvest dance performed by the Limbu tribes of eastern Nepal after the paddy fields are reaped. In this dance, Limbu boys and girls link arm to arm and move in a circle with steps backward and forward. Ale rhythm of their slow, staffing step gives rhythmic expression to the meaning of their love songs.
In rural areas of Nepal, tantricism still predominates. The Jhankri or witch doctor dances to the beat of a brass plate in order to drive away evil spirits.
The Newar, especially Jyapu (farmers), community of Kathmandu Valley have their own folk songs and dances which epitomize rhythmic loveliness in a way peculiar to itself. The costume for this dance appears to be an adaptation of the Jyapuni (women) dress: a hand-made black sari with a red border, full blouse and shawl.
The Jyapus especially find pleasure in popular folk music. The melody of dhimey (a drum).echoes a flute melody. These folk tunes can be heard on several ceremonial occasions such as the Mataya festival in Patan, on pilgrimage to Shilu or Gosainkund, and during Holi - a festival of color.
Folk Dances of Terai
Among the popular ethnic dances of the Terai lowland region are Kahara dance ? a popular dance of Nepalgunj. Here, dancers earn a living by entertaining the people by their lively dance. In the Jhijhiya dance, a young girl parting company from a bevy of chorus singers performs with a water jar on top of her head. Her company follows suit. During the ten nights of the national festival of Dasain, they go from door to door singing and dancing in devotion to Durga Bhavani, goddess of victory.
Sattar and Dhimals
Among the tribal (adivasis) dances of Nepal the best known are the dances of Sattar and Dhimals of the eastern Terai. Male Sattar dancers go to fairs in groups from their jungle hideouts, dancing with the vibrating rhythm of ghungroo and dhol in order to frighten the wild beasts.
During Dhung Dhunge mela the Dhimal boys and girls dance in devotion to God Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi to ensure worldly gains and welfare to the community, invocation of monsoon rains, and stimulation of farm output.
Folk Dances of Tharu Community
A very popular group dance of the Tharu womenfolk of western Terai is Sakhia dance which is performed during Durga Puja festival. In Sakhia dance the girl dancers move rhythmically to the beat of the madal holding handkerchiefs in their hands. Jhumara, based on the Geet Govinda, a Sanskrit text, is also a popular folk dance of Tharus of Nepal, performed during Durga Puja festival.
Another popular folk dance of the Tharus of west Nepal is Mungrahawa or dance of mungro (wooden stick). It is characterized by hand and hip movements. Tharu boys holding wooden sticks in their hands dance to their own stick beats and that of the madal.
Ethnic Dance Performances
If one is not lucky enough to encounter a village mela, religious fest, or wedding celebration while travelling in rural Nepal, take heart: there are many splendid opportunities to see Nepalese folk dances performed nightly for the visitors in Kathmandu and Pokhara.