• Bhangra discussion is still going strong. Join us in our Facebook group!

    New user registration has been closed (as it was entirely spam). We encourage you to post in our Facebook group, even if it's a followup to an existing thread. BTF will continue to be archived and hosted here - Saleem

A visual history of bhangra

In this thread, I'd like to compile a set of visual (photo and video) examples of bhangra and related DANCE. People will have seen many of the videos before at one time or another, but to have them all together -- in a chronology, and with commentary and details -- will, I hope, give a sense of how dance style, steps, dress, etc. developed.

I suppose what I'd suggest is we go by decade. Start with the 1950s (the first decade of the staged dance) and get a good number of videos/photos up before moving on to the next decade. If it gets too jumbled, we could edit posts in order to re-file things in the proper categories.

To begin with though, if anyone has something pre-1950s to look at, that would be excellent. I'll begin with this photo. This was taken in the refugee camp at Kurukshetra, Autumn of 1947. Refugees from Western Punjab (which had become Pakistan). Supposedly they're dancing for exercise. Looks like it could be bhangra, but probably a mix of different dances the refugees had done in their home regions (where bhangra was only in a small area). In April the year following this, Prime Minister Nehru visited the camp and the residents were said to have done a "Punjabi men's dance" performance on the occasion. Such a mixed dance context, and with migrants from Western Punjab, is what stage bhangra grew from.

1950s - Photos

The Kamboj-caste 'Deepak' clan of Sunam, recently migrated from their temporary location in the canal colonies of Western Punjab (non bhangra area) teamed up with members of a Bazigar clan, refugees also from Western Punjab. Manohar Deepak's attendance at Mohindra College, Patiala, allowed him to team up with others there. Some of the members would be the Deepak brothers -- Monohar, Gurbachan, and Avtar -- and Balbir Singh Sekhon. The Bazigar members brought essential expertise as performing artists. They included the dholi Bhana Rama and algoze player Mangal Ram. They practiced a mixture of dance styles, including jhummar, and which reflected more the regions of West Punjab they'd come from. The non-Bazigars in the group had not much dance in their background, but they were keen on "reviving" the dying forms.

By 1952, the group had gotten noticed by the royalty-cum-administrators of the princely state PEPSU (an erstwhile political unit around Patiala and Malwa area). The state patronized the group and got them to spiff-up their presentation of men's Punjabi dance. Major publicity came after they performed at the 1954 republic Day parade in New Delhi. At or by that time, they decided to call their presentation "bhangra".

Here are photos of the performers from that era. This batch comes from the website of the Mahrok clan, to which the Deepaks belonged. http://www.mahroks.co.uk

PEPSU troupe group shot. Presumably 1954.

The three Deepak brothers: Manohar, Gurbachan, Avtar.

Deepak brothers with Indira Gandhi (who I assume was just hanging out at the time as assistant to her dad, Prime Minister Nehru). The ghungroos on the shoulder would almost seem to symbolize their dance.

At one of the later performances of Republic day? (they performed through 1957). Not sure who the gangsta on the left is.

Avtar Singh Deepak. Calling him a peasant playing the algoze is a bit disingenuous. Mangal Ram (Mangal Singh Sunami) was the real musical expert of the group. Appeared in a 1955 magazine.

Manohar Deepak some time after the late '50s, when he started a film career in Bombay. I believe his first non-bhangra film came out in 1960. His body position and maybe the ghungroos suggest he may have brought a quasi bhangra style to Bombay film.

The next two photos have already been shared on the Web, so I see no issue posting them.
This one shows Balbir Singh Sekhon (w/ T. Dhanoa, the owner of the photo who posted it on Punjab Online). Sekhon was a member of the PEPSU troupe -- the token Jatt, it seems :) Obviously this is not a 1950s photo, but it might help us to recognize the late Sekhon in earlier visuals.

And here is one more of Manohar, scanned from Alka Pande's book (by T. Dhanoa). This would have been taken after 1959, at least I think -- when he shaved his daarhi.

This comes from lalsinghbhatti.com. It's a scan of what looks to be a program from an event in America. Anyway, the photo it includes is of the PEPSU troupe at Republic Day, 1954. (I have a copy of the original in my collection, but this one will do.) At the far left is Gurbhachan, then Manohar. Dholi is Bhana Ram, and Mangal Ram plays algoze in the back. I don't know who is playing sapp.

The dholi for the PEPSU group until 1957-ish was Bhana Ram, from Nankana Sahib area. Her is his portrait as painted by well-known Chandigarh portrait artist R.M. Singh. I snapped this photo in the museum where the painting hangs.

Bhana Ram's son is Bahadur Singh (dholi). He still lives in Sunam (near the Deepak residence), along with Bazigars from his family that were on the PEPSU troupe. He told me a bit about his father's time. From my collection.

The next three photos, presumably of the late 1950s, are from a remarkable out of print book simply titled Panjab and edited by Mohinder Singh Randhawa (1960). I scanned them.

Kids doing something called bhangra. Notice the cup and fake booze bottle.

Player of tumba. My guess is this might be Nhama, from the PEPSU troupe.

Chimta player.
Basim said:
Also, if the pictures could be hosted by BTF, that would be preferred so we don't "lose" them if the host website (http://www.mahroks.co.uk/) goes down.
I see you point, but in that case if you're worried about them disappearing I recommend you just download the photos to your computer for your "private use" at this point. They are not public domain, and BTF hosting them amounts to taking them from their owners (without permission, presumably). Links to the original sites keep their origins clear, so they don't become "floating" property where no one remembers whose they were.

EDIT: I have some more/different photos of the PEPSU group, incidentally, but they were obtained from an archive on the condition of giving them credit and only using them in official publications. So I will not post them on the Net until my languishing article on bhangra is finally published :D
1950s - Videos

I know lots of people have seen these videos, but, as I said, it is nice to have them all in one place to "study" them -- and maybe with a little historical context.

So... When the PEPSU troupe appeared at Republic Day, New Delhi, they garnered attention from film stars. STories tell of Vijayanthimala and Nargis being enamoured. Raj Kapoor was also impressed. Perhaps this is why he invited Manohar and some of the others to make a cameo in his 1956 film Jagte Raho -- the first commercial film in which they would appear.

Bhangra scene from "Jagte Raho" (1956)

This also marks a dramatic appearance of sapp, which had been introduced to "bhangra" by the group.

Also notable is the fact that they are singing a song. Singing songs (as opposed to short, boli-like snatches) was a feature of the entertainment presentation of the PEPSU group, though it had not earlier been a part of village bhangra.
The next film to feature the PEPSU troupe, along with some other dancers of the Patiala area, was Naya Daur (1957). We actually see their dance in this one. ;)
One of the big standout things here is all the tumbling and acrobatics, the baazi. The Bazigars were responsible for this; at least 4-5 members of the group were Bazigars. The trick of standing on the pot was one of their tricks, and it had not existed in "amateur" bhangra earlier. Neither has stuff like that really appeared since, because trained Bazigars would generally (after this point) not be part of bhangra teams. Bazigars are a minority community that would not have been in college on bhangra teams much! (Just the dholis for the college boys were Bazigars often.) So "stunts" did not return until later on when, I think, a Bazigar dholi re-introduced the idea.

Also notable is that you have instruments being played here, by the Bazigars. Dhol, algoze, tumba, chimta. I've not seen much evidence that any of those, except for dhol, was played with village bhangra. In fact, earlier bhangra may have had the shahnai/surnai as a wind instrument, but not the other stuff.

BTW, I digitized and posted the clip from Jagte Raho, above, from an old VHS. An old friend, Amit (whom some will know) excerpted and posted the following clips from Naya Daur.
Bhangra/Dhol from Naya Daur (1957), Clip 1

Bhangra scene from Naya Daur (1957), Clip 2

In the first clip, there are basically just 2 actions. About 3 actions in the second. I'd be curious how people might relate them to current stage bhangra.

Also note the rhythm (second clip) is the rhythm called "bhangra" the whole way through. The kahirva/"luddi" beat had not yet come to dominate the presentation, i.e. people danced "bhangra" to the bhangra rhythm!
So the film actress Vyajyanthimala was inspired after watching the Republic Day "bhangra," and she went and included a dance inspired by it in her 1956 film New Delhi. (This was actually before Naya Daur came out, in which she also starred.)
There is an obvious nod to the PEPSU troupe in the use of bughdu, algoze, and chimta. It is still not absolutely clear to me, but one idea is that all these small instruments in the PEPSU troupe's bhangra had been merely inspired by the men's giddha of the local Malwa area (where they lived). In Vyjayanthimala's dance scene, they do a set of boliyan that seems like the Malwa style. If we presume she only got her Punjabi dance knowledge from the PEPSU guys (?), then this suggests they were doing some giddha-like stuff in their "bhangra," too.

Tum Sang Preet Lagai Rasiya - Superhit Dance Song - New Delhi
It would be interested, from someone more knowledgeable, to compare just what Bombay film dancing looked like earlier. I wonder to what extent one could say that "bhangra" styles revolutionized film dance. (I know that , to date, the influence has been great. What I mean is, it would be interesting to see the details of when and how.)


Staff member
Awesome topic! Pinned. You can link to the photo but also attach it to the post, so it's 'backed up' but the original content owner is cited.
The next major film to feature the PEPSU troupe was Mirza-Sahiban (1957). There are two scenes.

One is excerpts of the team in what looks to be their "typical" presentation, at the beginning of the film. Go to the 5:42 mark to see this. (There is sporadic stuff until 8:13.)

Later there is a more choreographed scene in a mela setting. A mix of the group's bhangra and film dance type stuff. I believe this is where the "mirza" step and dhol rhythm originate from; they would have needed to make up something to match the (traditional) song. Go to time point 32:12.


Towards the end we get their most "legit" bhangra. Again, it has just the "real" bhangra dhol rhythm. And there is shahnai playing -- the instrument with most realistically played with village bhangra. (Think: what instruments could actually be heard outdoors over dhol?)

Now here are videos of the late Balbir Singh Sekhon of the PEPSU team, demonstrating his style in later days. He shows "bhangra" in this first one, on stage in 1996 along with fellow PEPSU artists Mangal Singh Sunami (algoza) and Bhana Ram (just standing).
Balbir Singh Sekhon dancing bhangra

Next is the step called "luddi".
Balbir Singh Sekhon - Luddi

Dancing with khunda
Balbir Sekhon demonstrates bhangra with khunda

Dancing with sapp
Balbir Singh Sekhon dancing bhangra with sapp

Balbir Singh Sekhon demonstrating Jhummar

Here is one more video of Sekhon, I guess from the 90s or early 2000s. It is weird because he is being asked to dance to a song rather than bhangra accompaniment.
Virasat - Baba Sekhon with Manak.
A Pakistani Punjabi film Naaji, was released in 1959 with bhangra scenes. It's choreographed stuff mixed in with actual mela scenes. The mela scenes are great -- we can hear the real dhol and chimta.

The choreographed stuff looks to me like it was inspired by the Indian Mirza-Sahiban film! You may think, yeah but they must have had stuff going on on the Pakistan side. True, but based on other info I have, I really think the whole package -- the giddha-like instruments, the Malwa (?) like boliyan, the bakra bulauna -- are modeled after what the PEPSU guys were doing (with the addition of some local Pak ideas, of course). Would love to have this idea proven wrong.

Anyways, the stuff starts at 121:35 and continues to around the 131min. mark. Very interesting and entertaining.

NAJI-1959 - complete pakistani punjabi film- (Tribute to Santosh on his 30th death anniversary )
Here's another Pakistani film, 1955, that shows glimpses of what might have been part of bhangra-isms. Katos, and a cool old school bughdu are there. It seems to early to have been influenced by the PEPSU lads on the other side of the border, so here's maybe some weighting of evidence towards the side that kato was there in pre-Partition bhangra.

A fellow named Sher Sipra actually pointed this film out to me a while back; I would not have known of it if he hadn't told me.

Patay Khan (1955). Go to 12:40 mark.

PATAY KHAN-1955-complete Palistani film- (A Tribute to Noor Jahan )
An Indian Punjabi film called Bhangra came out in 1959. It's obvious they were capitalizing on the bhangra trend. However, they don't have the PEPSU troupe or any Punjab specialists (that I know of) appearing. So it all sort of comes off as a bhangra-inspired film dance -- much like Vyjayanthimala's New Delhi clip, above. Still, I think it is interesting for being perhaps one of the earliest films to do this. There is also real dhol with the song, at least.

The clip starts off with some real kushti da dhol. The "bhangra" song proper, "Jat Kudiyan Toh Darda Maara," starts at 3:36.

Bhangra Old Punjabi Movie Part 6

Another thing to consider about this is that this sort of thing is when bhangra dance started getting linked to popular songs. Songs were not a part of bhangra dance previously. And when people listened to Punjabi songs even afterwards -- until the 1980s -- there was usually not the expectation one would dance. (One listens to an Alam Lohar or Kuldeep Manak or Surinder Kaur for the lyrics etc., not to jump around to.) Scenes in films like this joinhed the idea of dancing and melas with popular music (i.e. film songs).
This, in a way, is my example to end the 1950s era -- even though the Punjabi film, Khedan de Din Char, came out in 1962.

It features Manohar Deepak (co-director), who had started his film career in Bombay by this point (note the cameo by Raj Kapoor). I don't know if any of the rest of the PEPSU troupe joined him. One of the dholis looks traditional -- the skinnier guy! I can't say who the chubby dholi is (maybe he was just faking playing?)! The skinny guy is not Bhana Ram. He ceased playing with the PEPSU troupe ca1957/58, I believe, which is also when Deepak stopped doing the Republic Day thing.

The dancing looks like a kind of poor imitation of the PEPSU style, in my opinion -- as if bhangra was all about jerking shoulders madly. And it's too routine -- filmi formations.

Here, Manohar is clean shaven (his Bollywood image). Turbans have changed by this point from the shamle-wali kind (two thingies hanging down) to a turla style. But it's not today's turla style, it's more of a natural style...kinda resembles Pathan style.

Roop tere vich chade suraj (BETTER QUALITY)

The thing to think about is whether/how this is how India at large (and others) began to imagine bhangra.

*Even though I'm imagining this as a close to the 1950s, let's still add videos and photos from that time as we find them. And please...DISCUSS! :D


Well-Known Member
Gabbah Shareef Bhalwan said:
*Even though I'm imagining this as a close to the 1950s, let's still add videos and photos from that time as we find them. And please...DISCUSS! :D
I think you're in a class of your own with respect to the understanding of the development and evolution of bhangra. Everyone has different experiences but it seems like most of my generation has grown up accepting that bhangra is a traditional part of punjabi culture and completely ignorant of the actual development of it. Growing up in punjab bhangra was something that was done at weddings and in movies and music videos; it just seemed to be socially accepted that bhangra went along with punjabi music. I did a gig recently at a desi wedding and one of the older guys who was attending came over and talked to me afterwards, he told me that he had danced for a college group back in the 70's and they had traveled to other countries to perform bhangra. When I asked him his opinion on the origins of bhangra he told me that he was under the assumption that it was a few hundred years old and for some reason related the development of bhangra to the development of sikhism in punjab. He didn't really have any insight for me when I mentioned what I had learned from your previous threads that based on historical info bhangra could only be dated as far back as the 40's or 50's. So if our elders are relatively clueless about the history of bhangra I'm not sure what information we might be able to provide to help you create a clear picture of where and when bhangra really started. I haven't had a chance to go through everything you've posted on here but seems like there is alooot of information to process that will definitely change peoples views on bhangra. On the topic of bazigars, I recall going to see a bazigar performance with my grandfather when I was around 4/5 but I don't have any recollection of a dhol being played during the performance. I do remember seeing a 2 man tower with a guy standing on a manja on another guys head and I think they might have done a 3 man tower also and definitely some flipping and acrobatics.
Hmm, ok so I have one more clip for the 1950s. I knew that the PEPSU group were supposedly in the 1959 Indian Punjabi film Jagga Daku. But this is my first time seeing some of it. I don't know of this is the only bhangra clip from the film.

Song led by Dara Singh!
I'm not clearly seeing the PEPSU troupe though. My explanation for this would be that they had "moved on" by this time -- though some incarnation (without Deepak), had continued.

OK so turla-style pagg is here by this time.

Jatt Dara Singh "Proud Jatt"

Another observation was that these films put women into the "bhangra." My understanding is that women would not be dancing in the public eye in melas (much less in traditional bhangra). So perhaps these images helped make it possible to imagine women doing bhangra, for later generations.

The rhythm started at 6:06 sounds unusual -- I don't immediately recognize it as a Punjabi dhol rhythm you'd hear today. I have some sense that there was a Pathan rhythm like that -- unless it is just some "Bombay" rhythm I don't know!
Hey hardeep,
don't worry man, just post any thoughts that may come to mind. Everyone will notice different things in the videos. I am make comments to try to contextualize them, but not commenting on everything. I think even pointing out the details we see that seem "obvious" gets us thinking about things.

Whereabouts were you when you saw the Bazigars perform? In my experience, they "always" play dhol with it, but it may have been an exception when you were there. They usually play the "dhamaal" rhythm with the baazi-s. It attracts attention and creates excitement (the same rhythm is played with wrestling, sports, etc.).
1960s - transition

The film that comes to mind for this decade is Kashir ki Kali (1964). Shammi Kapoor has taken over the role from Raj as bhangra promoter. He seems to be dressed up in imitation of the (old) style of Manohar Deepak. There seems to be at least one guy from the old PEPSU squad, at least he looks familiar from older film(s). Lots of the moves seem like they were already there in the PEPSU days, too. We'll have to compare the two closely and see what may have been innovated since then (and what, perhaps, is just filmi junk).

The look of the background dancers has developed a bit. The paggs with turlas. They are kind of floppy (shall we say "natural"?) turlas with pointed edges. But they are more in the front, more splayed out than in the past. Sashes around the waist. Jackets a bit longer.

The dholi is a traditional one, a Bazigar, succeeded Bhana Ram. I forget his name, but he was in Khedan de Din Char, too.

I uploaded this clip a few years ago, but my copy was crappy. There is a better copy on YouTube, but it cuts out the important view of the dholi at the beginning.

Crappy copy, with dholi.
BHANGRA in "Kashmir ki Kali" (1964)

Better copy, but with 20 seconds missing.
Meri Jaan Balle Balle - Sharmila Tagore & Shammi Kapoor - Kashmir Ki Kali