music and dance

— Sharanya Sahay

Religiosity, season, migration, and rites the passage – birth, marriage, and death – are the themes around which the music, dance, and amusements of the village folk of Bihar revolve. This is common to both men and women. Here religious entertainment takes the form of amusement for the masses.

The region's folk songs are associated with the various events in the life of an ordinary person. The historical ballads dealing with the heroic deeds of the freedom fighter Kunwar Singh have also been immortalized through folk songs in the plain tracts of Bihar. Religiosity is the pivot around which the music and amusements of the village folk of Bihar revolve. There are songs like sohar - performed during childbirth, sumangali - associated with wedding, ropnigeet - performed during the season of sowing paddy, katnigeet - performed during the paddy harvesting season, purbi, Fagua- Holi festival song, Ghato-Chaita & Chaiti is very popular in the month of Chait (Hindi calendar), bidesia, birha, kajari, irni/ birni, pachra, jhumar, jatsari, aalah, nirgun and samdaun. There is also the tradition of war songs called Beer Kunwar. There is a great tradition of folk songs started by Bhikhari Thakur, an artist from the Bhojpur region.
The influence of Bihari music in seen in regions such as Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean, where a large number of Bihari indentured labourers were taken during the nineteenth century as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh where many Bihari Muslims migrated to after the partition of India.

Other wandering folk singers include the Kathaks, who travelled in groups and performed accompanied by dholak, sarangi, tamburu and majira. Other musician classes included Roshan Chouki, Bhajaniya, Kirtaniya, Pamaria and Bhakliya.

Bihar, in the ancient times has been an important place for dance and music. In places like Vaishali and Rajgir, in ancient Bihar, beautiful girls acted as Nagar Shobhinis or town ornaments (courtesans). Lord Buddha himself accepted this fact and he himself received an invitation from Amrapali, the chief courtesan of Vaishali. These girls were proficient in music and dancing and were part of processions of religious and social nature. It appears that singing and dancing were the chief amusements of that age.

The regular history of Mithila music dates back from Nanyadeva (1097-1133), a great patron of music and author of a treatise on this art. He developed the popular ragas on systematic lines. This Mithila music was carried to Nepal, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, etc. Later during the Muslim period, music and dance met with many set-backs as these were tabooed for them. But the famous saint of Bihar, H.Sharif-ud-din Ahmed Manari was not averse to music, vocal or instrumental.

Folk songs, folk dances and religious songs of the Vaishanavas were also popular in medieval period.


During the famous chhath parva of Bihar, there is much music and a lot of singing of folk songs, both at home and on the river bank. The historical ballads dealing with the heroic deeds of the freedom fighter Kunwar Singh have also been immortalized through folk songs in the plain tracts of Bihar. The folk music of Bihar has survived all attacks of modernism. Some performers of Bihar's traditions have achieved commercial success. For example, Sharda Sinha (b. 1953) sings Bihari language folk songs in concerts throughout the world and has released many recordings. Maithil musicians, who seem to have been more popular outside Bihar, enriched Nepalese music and carried the traditions of their Folk songs. Some of the ragas, which may be claimed as special to Bihar, are 'Nachari', 'Phag', 'Chaita', 'Purbi',’lagani raag’etc.In the religious-type of dance the gods and goddesses are invoked through dance accompanied by folk-songs and music.

Religiosity is the pivot around which the music and amusements of the village folk of Bihar revolve. This is common to both men and women. Here religious entertainment takes the form of amusement for the masses. At the slightest pretext, “Satyanarayana Katha” is held in all seasons of the year and some religious scriptures are read and devotional songs are sung. There are some religious songs in praise of Satyanarayana who is a convenient deity that could be worshiped at any time.

Reading of the Tulsidas Ramayana is another form of common religious entertainment which keeps the village folk enthralled.

Ramlila, Nautanki and the Bhikharia songs enthral thousands of men and women in the fairs and gatherings. Ramlila is essentially religious and based on active presentation of the story of Rama and Sita. Nautanki are social plays, where many social evils are caricatured and they have an educative value. Bhikharia songs have a wide range of themes and usually they aim at social inhibitions and drawbacks of the society.
Festival songs mark another important category of folk-song. Navaratra is religious and ritualistic to the core. People, especially women-folk, worship goddess Devi for nine days with proper rituals and observe fast. During the festivals, music conferences are arranged. There are certain rural centres where fine forms of music have been developed. Darbhanga, Panchgachia in Saharsa district, Ara and Jhabua towns have developed prolifically the music of various forms. There used to be a school of music where village girls and boys were being trained in playing of Mridanga.

Some of the rich local Zamindar families in different parts used to hold regular music conferences every year. This form of entertainment has become rare now.   
Pastoral songs express the thoughts, aspirations and sorrows of the villagers. Kuvar-Vijay folk songs are historical while Sobhnaika is sung at the time of marriage. Folk songs are widely recited and appreciated on religious and social occasions like Nagpanchami, Janmasthami, Teej, Chauk Chanda, Anant, Chhath, karma etc.

The marriage ceremony holds an important place among the ceremonies prescribed by both shastras and folklore. This ceremony lasting for several days is equally important for folk-songs. For example, some songs are called  nehchu songs, sung on the nail-cutting ceremony of the bridegroom. Jyonar is also a form of folk-song which is sung when the bride and the wedding party enjoy a feast. These jyonar songs enumerate the things which are being served in the feast. Marriage songs can be said to be of three categories. The first one is ritualistic and has an air of magical charm about it. Various spirits are involved by a song and imagining that the spirits are coming in they are shut up in the cap, which is pasted on the wall of a room, and which during these marriage days is called ‘Kohbar’. There are other songs imploring the presence and protection of various divinities and spirits.
Purely seasonal songs are those which are sung during raining season, especially in the month of Savan and Bhadon. A class of these songs is called malhar. These songs express the pleasure of ladies when they enjoy ‘rimjhim’ or light showers. They insist in swinging (jhula) while singing with their friends and relatives.

A category of songs are those in which women are free to sing according to their own choice and pleasure, expressing feelings and emotions for different occasions. As this is a very important occasion in the family life, there are many glimpses of delicate family relationship and finer sentiments.

Folk-song (lok geet) is a very important form of folk literature. One of the categories of folk-songs is the ceremonial or sanskar songs. These songs form an essential part of rituals of various ceremonies relating to child- birth, initiation (yagyopavita or janeu) ,marriage and in some areas with rituals of death as well. Child-birth, initiation and marriage and other ceremonies are accessions of great happiness and joy. But on such occasions great care is taken to avoid any misfortune; hence the ceremonial songs and rituals are believed to have a magical potency.

There are some folk-tales and folk-songs where the impact of Hindu mythology is clearly seen. There are stories of Rama and Sita from the Ramayana.Fairs, festival and melas have also contributed a lot in preserving the folklore. Being great hubs of social life, these melas have kept up the traditions, stories, ballads and songs. When people attend the Ramnavami or the Janakpur Mela, they are all imbued with the immortal saga of Rama and Sita. Pastoral songs form another important element in Bihar's folklore.

The tribal Folk songs of Bihar
The folk songs of the tribals have a strong ethical background. Just as in their dance there is no semblance of base. In spite of the absence of a script, many of the songs have been preserved. They have been handed down from generation to generation by the old men and women singing the songs to the younger generation and making them sing. The younger ones have the dancing floor to themselves. But the older generation, men and women, sit, watch and correct mistakes and provide guidance in music or rhythm. Purity and the primeval form in tribal poetry, songs or dance has been preserved wonderfully, although without any written literature.
In their social life there is no place for the individual and it is the community for which the individuals exits. So the tribal songs have a moral and cultural bearing which makes them the common property of the entire community and the world at large. The universal appeal is a remarkable feature of the tribal songs and music.

Songs, dances and dramas are accompanied by various musical instruments. Musical instruments of various kinds are common among various tribes and communities in this region. They comprise of the Dhol, Dhak, Dhanaka, Madal, Mandar or Madol, Nagara, flute, Pipahi (Shhehnai like), Jhanjh, clappers etc. Sometimes a C- shaped hom, Narsingha also called the Sakoa is used. Kandra and Banam are two uncommon instruments used by the Mundas and the Santhals respectively. Chatkola, cymbals of different sizes, flutes of different kinds, the popular among them being Tirio, and many types, shapes and sizes of percussion instruments are used. Tumdak and Tamak are two percussion instruments played together.

Folk-music is an integral part of daily life all over rural Bihar. The songs of shepherds grazing their herd, riders hauling produce or goods on their bullock-carts, or menfolk gathered under the shade of a banyan or peepal tree are amazing. Radio and television have added new dimensions to folk music, making different styles known outside their language area. There are a number of people, who earn their livelihood by means of folk music. 


Bidesia Dance deals with the many social problems prevailing in the society. It is believed that the creator of the dance Bhikari Thakur, who was a barber by profession, used funny and sarcastic comments to bring forth the serious issue and still not hurt the feelings of the people. The stories portrayed are so touching and realistic that they bring back the memories of yesteryears when men were taken away as slaves in distant lands and when used to feel in the pain of separation. They are also used to spread awareness among the masses about poverty, poor status of women in the society. Bidesia is performed in theater style with rhythmic language, soothing songs, and attractive music that makes it the most famous dance of Bihar.

Jhijhian dance is a ritualistic dance that is performed during times when there is absolutely no rain and the land is sun parched. The motive of the dance is to lenify the God of rain, Lord Indra and ask for his favor in the form of rains. The dance is accompanied by a song which is full of prayers to Lord Indra. The participants of the dance include a lead singer, harmonium player, a bansuri player and a dholak player. The dance is only performed by women.

After the time of Jhijhian dance is over and its motive is successful, it is time for Kajari Dance. The dance is performed along with Kajari song which is a monsoon song . Starting in the Indian month of 'Shravan' which is the start of monsoon season, the dance is performed till the time rainy season persists. The songs describe the sudden and pleasant change in the nature that has happened and also account the refreshing and relaxing feeling that people of the village feel.

Paika dance is a form of martial arts dance that is performed in in the tribal area of Mayurbhanj. The dance is performed with shields and swords that with dancers displaying their ability to control these weapons. Paika name is coined using the Sanskrit word 'Padatika' which means infantry. The dance is performed only during special occasions. For this dance, the grounds are prepared with soft earth pattered with oil and water. Men, wearing colorful turbans and tight dhotis come to the grounds to perform as warriors. They stand in two rows and enact a scene of fierce combat. Earlier the specially made grounds were called Paika akhadas which were the village gymnasium where people used to come in the evening. Some people still like to call it that.

The foremost event in one’s life is his birth. The birth of a child is celebrated all over the country with different traditional rituals. In Bihar, ladies always sings Sohar on the occasion of birth ceremony of a child. They sometimes compare the child with Lord Rama, sometimes with Lord Krishana and so on. Sohar has its own distinctive dictions. The ladies bless the baby while singing and acting the tender words of Sohar like “Machia baithal sasu puchelli …”

Holi is a well known festival to the whole nation. We all know that the first day of the Hindu Calendar, that is, “Pratham Chairtra Mass” is the day of “Holi”. A colourful festival which conveys the massage for religious integration apart from any sort of bigotism. There is a typical style “Dhamar” of holi singing in our villages in which the villagers celebrate it in a form of group with full joy and dances with musical instruments like dholak, jhal-manjeera, etc.

Jumari Dance of Bihar is similar to “Garva of Gujrat”. Specialized to the married women, it is a folk dance of Mithilanchal of Bihar. After the month of Ashwin (September-October) comes Kartik. The sky is crystal clear, there is no cloud, it is full moon spreading milky rays all over. Maids in love go on dancing, singing and celebrating the turns of the season. The amusing words of jumeri are – “Kartik Mas na Aakashey Badari ...”

Bihar is an agriculture-based State. In the harvesting season, male and female villagers do their work with dance and song in the field. Their happiness and joy is the symbol of good crop. The popular melodious tune of the harvesting song is “Chal Dhani Khetwa mei gaye…”

Institutions Promoting Music & Dance

Bihar Lalit Kala Akademi / Bhartiya Nritya Kala Mandir College of Arts and Crafts