24 comments on “The Adivasi Chain Dances (Santali and Dhimsa)

  1. I’m always amazed by the things about my culture that you find interesting, Richard. :)

    I have seen these circle dances among the women who used to come to harvest rice in the fields behind our house in Kerala. What’s interesting to me is that dances such as these transcend geographical borders. There are variations of this all across India, and as you noted in many other parts of the world as well.

  2. Thank you, Anu. I don’t exactly know why you are amazed, but it is nice to see that you are!

    I am trying to picture how you witnessed these dances… Do you mean that you could just go behind your house, look ahead at the fields, and (once in a while) see the women performing them?

    I have never ceased to be amazed, over a good number of years now, by the stories I have heard about Kerala. :)

  3. Another place where I’ve seen chain dances is Kashmir. In the Kashmir Valley, they definitely have chain dances – I remember, when I was studying in school in Srinagar, our school’s function always featured at least one local song-and-dance performance. The only Kashmiri folk song I know dates from back then. ;-)

    Here’s something I found on Youtube:

  4. Hi, Madhu. Thanks; that’s a nice one. (And, by the way, I think it’s also interesting that you went to school in Kashmir.)

    Yes, that is a chain dance. But they do break the chain sometimes, so it seems like a somewhat looser chain dance that the ones I’ve been looking at. (I guess context has something to do with it, too, though… The Rockettes do a kind of chain dance, but I wouldn’t consider it to be connected to the ancient tradition of chain dances or circle dances. But, who knows, maybe it is in a distant way.)

    Because of the attire and appearance of the dancers and the fact that Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, I would (culturally) associate this chain dance more with the kind I’ve seen done by Middle Easterners or tribes around Turkey (Kurds or Laz people). It doesn’t seem very connected to the Adivasi chain dances.

    But, I will have to look into that more… I also might add some examples of the other chain dances that I mentioned – sometime later…

  5. Yes, that’s a much looser chain than that of the Adivasi dancers you’ve posted… before Kashmir went completely haywire and nearly all Kashmiri Pandits left the state (which was in the late 80s – I was in Srinagar from 1982 to 1985), this attire and the dance style was common to both Muslims as well as Hindus, so I’m not sure if the dance here was closely related to that of the Middle East, but yes, it’s possible, I suppose.

    I remember having seen some very interesting dancing in Ladakh, too. Not chain dancing, but dancing in a circle (though not holding hands or linked in any other way). What I found most delightful was that the Ladakhi was so slow and non-exuberant. At that altitude, with such low oxygen, I was not surprised!

  6. The way the Kashmiri dancers are dressed, they remind me of certain tribes found in northern or central Pakistan (such as Pashtuns or, maybe more so, Hazaras) and in the Middle East and Turkey more than any Adivasis dancers that I have looked at and more than any Indian dancers with a Hindu tradition. I was thinking more of a cultural influence that seems to be shared by a number of mostly-Muslim countries more than of the idea that the religion has to have directly influenced the dance. (I don’t think there’s any religious content… In fact, I Googled that dance, and I see that it is about bees. So this is the original “Bumbro,” before it was taken over by Bollywood.)

    I suppose I first got charmed by chain dances by looking at Kurds do it (though I had seen the Dabke dance by the Arabs as well). In news clips, we can see the Kurds of Rojava doing their chain dance in celebration of victories over ISIS. Of course, both the men and the women are wearing military clothes. But the traditional Kurdish attire of Rojava is something different entirely:

  7. P.S. I don’t think I ever watched Ladakhi dancing…until now. They aren’t chain dancing, but they do seem to be doing some line dancing. Madhu, did the dances that you saw look like this?

  8. Your dancing with the unfamiliar real keeps the uninitiated interested and curious.So I too went dance surfing.With a limited attention span and yet trying to be clever I found this pic of the Dongriya,Kondh tribe tribals of Niyamgiri,Western Odisha ,bauxite mountains fame. https://ruralindiaonline.org/media/uploads/Articles/Purusottam%20Thakur/Niyamgiri/dsc_0243.jpg and https://ruralindiaonline.org/media/uploads/Articles/Purusottam%20Thakur/Niyamgiri/dsc_0179.jpg

  9. That Ladakhi dance is nice, Richard – the one I saw was somewhat similar, but much, much slower. This is like disco (when it comes to pace and tempo) compared to that. :-)

    I see what you mean about the general cultural influence that extends from Central Asia to Kashmir, irrespective of religion. I can relate to that in terms of food – just the other day someone on my Facebook feed was very surprised to learn that samosas aren’t of Indian origin. ;-)

  10. Sunil (Wingedream), thank you for the compliment, and those are very nice pictures, too! Doing some Wikipedia surfing, I see that the Nyamgiri hills exist in the Ryagada and Kalahandi districts. Meanwhile, the dhimsa dance is known to have originated in the Koraput district, just to the south of those, and all were part of the same ancient region. So, I wonder if the dances that they are doing there are dhimsa dances. If not, they are something close.

    There seem to be a lot of Adivasi groups in Odisha who do this chain dancing. I didn’ t know that. Before, I knew of Odisha mainly for the classical odissi dance. (And by the way, some day I will decide for certain whether dances should be capitalized or not. :) )

    I have also known for a while that western Odisha is a center for Naxals, especially in the Adivasi areas. Do the Naxal Adivasis do chain dances? Can a parallel be made to the YPG/YPJ radical socialists who do chain dances in Rojava, Kurdistan? Ha, my mind is going in many directions now!

  11. Madhu, I am glad that you like those dances, though I did not think of them as excessively energetic, myself. :) Ha, I guess the Ladakhi dance that you saw really did lack exuberance!

    Regarding samosas, I don’t think I knew, myself, that they had originated in the Middle East. But to be honest, I just haven’t previously given much thought to the history of samosas. :)

    There are a lot of food trucks in New York where the distinctions become blurred in many ways. Many “gyro” stands are owned by Pakistanis or Indians, and in a few places in Midtown, the same truck that gives you a lamb gyro can also give you either falafel or chicken byriani.

  12. Coming back to your queries, Richard.
    Why am I amazed about what you find fascinating? Because there are very few people I know, Indian or otherwise, who pay attention to folk dances – most of them pay lip service to the arts, but aren’t fascinated by them – the way you are, or the way my husband is, for that matter. :)

    Secondly, yes, there were rice fields behind our grandparents’house. And all I had to do was go out of my house, down the back yard and across the stream, in the fields, they would sometimes be dancing.

    I have also seen them dance after the harvest is over; if the harvest is a good one, it’s a time for rejoicing.

  13. Thank you, Anu. I am happy to be called amazing for the reasons that you spelled out. (Not just for being an American who knows about a few Indian films, etc. A couple of people did call me “amazing” for that, and it felt a little weird. I like these things and with the Internet and the stores and libraries of New York at my disposal, there has been no problem learning about them. So what’s the big deal? But what you said is a little different.)

    Anyway… In real life outside of the “Bolly” blogging world, people have known me more for my fascination with social-political ideas and (further back) with the art of writing than for my fascination with the arts in general. My fascination with arts is pretty selective. I used to be a pop/rock music critic for a few “alternative” magazines (during which time I went very “global”), and then I got more into the things that I talk about on this blog.

    As with Indian music, I do have a real love of dance that has been influenced and helped along by a few people and things over the years. But if we’re talking about knowledge of specific Indian dances and their origins, I think that my interest has really exploded mainly due to this blog and my related YouTube searches and all the great information I have gotten from this wonderful little community of bloggers that I know. (Of course, it’s a similar story with the films.) I’ve really enjoyed reading a few books on this subject, too, but that’s happened only very recently.

    I suppose that my interest in Adivasi dances and folk dances somewhat melds with my social attitudes. I don’t think it’s specifically politically driven – I would not focus on these dances and pay them any “lip service” if I didn’t love watching them. Nonetheless, sometimes I very much enjoy seeing dance that isn’t centered on particular performers who’ve climbed an individual career path centered in an art that has been highly “classicalized.” (Though I still do love classical dance, too.) I like seeing folk dances, and I like seeing dances that people do in their living rooms. And, once again, I feel immensely grateful for YouTube! (And sometimes Vimeo.)

    Regarding your story about being able to stroll from the back of your house to the fields where you could see women doing these folk dances, I have to admit, I am jealous! I can see so many videos and if look hard, maybe I can find a folk dance stage performance somewhere in New York (provided I can afford the price of the ticket), but I can never experience those dances in the way that you did.

    But I guess I have seen a lot of public dancing and performance that some people in other places wish they could see on such a casual, day-to-day basis, too – just from walking down the streets or taking the subway. :)

  14. Richard,
    I was amazed by this post for a different reason. I started my career with my first posting in a Santhal area. That was several decades ago. I could not have believed that through you I would relive my memoris of those days. Music and dance are obviously an integral part of their lives. A classic book on their music and dance was written by WG Archer (I think he was once Deputy Commissioner of Santhal Paragana), titled, Hill of the Flutes: Life, Love and Poetry in Trbal India: A Portarait of the Santhals. This book was published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Amazon shows it published by Allen and Unwin. You would find this book interesting. Now I find there are many books on their art and culture, but WG archer’s was a landmark, something like Greg Booth’s about musicians in Indian film music.

  15. AK, it is very nice to see that my post helped you relive a personal memory from decades ago. Of course, that is an amazing coincidence! It is also very interesting that you were in a Santal area. However, forgive me, but I do not recall what career you have that could have started with such a “posting” several decades ago. (That was far too early for it to have been your first posting in your blogging career!)

    By the way, I am seeing that everybody is preferring the spelling “Santhal” – with the “h.” Is this the recognized correct spelling, or is it optional as in so many transliterations? (It drives me a little crazy sometimes trying to get used to the idea of spellings being optional. Of course, that is because I have worked for so many years as a proofreader – my main non-career.)

    I will have to take a look at the W.G. Archer book sometime – and some of the other, many books that now exist on the subject. Thank you for recommending this!

  16. AK and Richard, Somewhat unrelated to the post but possibly related to film songs. I have come across another book by W.G.Archer ” The loves of Krishna in Indian painting and poetry”. He says in the book “During the next two hundred years, from the tenth to the twelfth century, the Krishna story completely alters. It is not that the facts as given in the _Bhagavata Purana_ are disputed. It is rather that the emphasis and view-point are changed. Krishna the prince and his consort Rukmini are
    relegated to the background and Krishna the cowherd lover brought sharply to the fore. Krishna is no longer regarded as having been born solely to kill a tyrant and rid the world of demons. His chief function now is to vindicate passion as the symbol of final union with God. “

  17. Richard,
    Yes, the word ‘Santhal’ should be spelled with ‘th’ as in ‘thigh’.

    I didn’t realise that ‘posting’ would be such an easy target for punning :). My first posting in civil service was as Subdivisional Officer (SDO) of Pakur. A subdivision is a sub-unit of a district. Pakur was one of the six subdivisions of ‘Santhal Paragana’ district (area inhabited by Santhals). All the six subdivisions have since been upgraded as districts; Santhal Paragana itself has been upgraded as a Division or Commissionarate (now headed by a Divisional Commissioner, instead of a Deputy Commissioner). Wikipedia has a brief description of Santhal Paragana. I hope I have not confused you, and this primer gives some idea about the job of these functionaries.

    Mr Gaddeswarup,
    I should also add that there are views that Lord Krishna of the Great War (Mahabharat) who preached Karma Yoga through Gita to a confused Arjun at the battlefield might be another person. And later all the different forms: a playful child, an adolescent romantic lover, and a great strategist, were merged into one entity.

  18. Note: AK’s comment at first didn’t appear in this section, because of a link formatting error that caused it to be sent in the spam box (now fixed, btw). So, he sent me his comment in e-mail, too, where I responded:

    Thanks for clarifying re. your career. That is interesting that you have been working in civil service. Your description is a bit confusing to me right now, but I’m also in a bit of a rush. [But, later… I am still a bit confused by it.] I will have to hear more about this sometime.

    I have yet to decide whether I’m going to correct “Santal” to “Santhal” everywhere. Reference sources such as Wikipedia do list both options, and the spelling in Ted Shawn’s book was without the “h” (that’s why I started out spelling it that way). But thanks for your answer regarding that. Now I’m sure that with “h” it is the preferred spelling.

  19. I use both t and th, t was more common in Telugu words written in English when I was young and th is used more often these days. May be there are some difference in the usage in North and South. Some sounds from Vedic Sanskrit have disappeared in classical Sanskrit and in in North India except Maharashtra, for example different versions of la and na and ra. There are other sounds too in the south, I think, not all are derived from Sanskrit. My impression is that th or t is softer than the th in thigh, may be closer to th in withheld. Anyway, in our family both my mother and one of my daughters are named Lalita and we do not pronounce the t as in thigh.

  20. Swarup, thanks for your take on this.

    I have read about transliteration from Indian languages mainly via my basic Hindi language learning books….through which I have come to understand that an “h” after a “t” is not there to represent the “th” sound in “thigh” (or in “there,” for that matter), but, rather, to indicate an aspirated version of the “t” by itself (whether it’s the retroflex “t” or the dental “t”).

    Doing a quick search, I found this interesting page:


    During the discussion here, one participant addresses the issue very directly by saying:

    “What the hell are you talking about? There is nothing remotely like the English “th” (a voiceless
    dental fricative) in any Indian language I know of. The “th” digraph in transliterated Indian languages is aspirated t (t + h), a completely different thing.”

  21. Oh, OK. (Thanks for the reference. It will, of course, be a long time before I learn Telugu.)

    But looking and listening around a little, I am gathering that where the word is spelled “Santhali,” the “h” is there to indicate that the “t” should be aspirated, not that the sound should be that “voiceless dental fricative.” :)

    By the way, I looked a little into the Santali language, and I found this interesting video about the guy who invented the script:

  22. But before we get too far away from the original topic of this post, Swarup, I think that I should finally post the video that you sent in your e-mail. [Note to others: There were also technical difficulties in Gaddeswarup’s first comment to this post – this time, a link that wasn’t liked by my anti-virus, so I decided to keep that comment out. And then we took the conversation to e-mail (just as with AK). Not having a lot of luck with links coming into the comments section lately…)]

    Anyway, so this is a Warli tribe dance. I have seen that the dance is also a kind of tarpa dance. (The tarpa is the instrument being played.) It reminds me a little of the dhimsa dances, a little less of the Santali dances – but, obviously, it is yet another prominent Adivasi chain or circle dance.

    P.S. Oh, I see that embedding is disabled, so people will have to go to the YouTube source for this. I also see the aspect ratio is very bad. (Unfortunately, a while back, Tom Daniel influenced me to become very conscious of the aspect ratio.) But, yes, the dance is good!

  23. And now I’ll add another, very nice dance video that I just found. This clip is taken from a longer documentary, about the Dalkhai dance of Sambalpuri, which I also watched. It is not entirely a chain dance, but part of it is. Sambalpuri is in Odisha. The dhimsa dance originated in Odisha, and many Santals live there too.

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