A visual history of bhangra

1960s - intro and photos

I don't have much in the way of 1960s photos, unfortunately. In the 1950s, the PEPSU troupe was a big deal, so there were a lot more photos and documentation. 1960s bhangra was taken for granted a bit more, I think. If one (one with some time!) were to sift through some 1960s Punjabi movies, I'm sure s/he would find some interesting stuff. Anyone have photos?

In any case, to contextualize the 1960s:

I consider this a new era of bhangra. PEPSU troupe as such had left the picture. Starting from the year 1960, and extending at least into the late 1970s continually (story varies), Master Harbhajan Singh was leading the bhangra groups that went to Republic Day and some other events. (I don't have any 1960s photos of Harbhajan Singh; I have 1970s photos, but unfortunately I cannot post them at this time.) In lieu of photos of Master Harbhajan Singh, I'll just link to this video -- which I know has been posted to BTF a couple times already, but it is useful to have here. And I know it is from a recent event BUT seeing Harbhajan Singh dance in his style would, presumably, give some idea of what he was doing/coaching in the 1960s-70s.
punjabi baba bhangra jatt babu maan gippy must watch

The import of Harbhajan Singh taking over the lead at Republic Day is this. The PEPSU guys, as discussed, were not from bhangra areas. And they were coached by skilled Bazigars that, nonetheless, were not advocating a "pure" bhangra, but rather just men's dance from the areas they'd traveled in and which looked good and was entertaining. The PEPSU group almost immediately inspired many others to create bhangra groups, after their 1954 Republic Day appearance. Dholi Garib Dass, for instance, was playing for a bhangra team in Chandigarh area already in 1955. And many lads had been recruited and trained to go along with the Deepak group to fill out the ranks at Republic Days.

Other groups meant other interpretations. Remember that the name and concept of "bhangra" had been applied to the routine in 1954, so others would be thinking along the lines of doing stuff that specifically represented, whether accurately or imagined, the village bhangra.

Harbhajan Singh, b. 1938, emigrated at Partition while just a boy. But the people from his area were not displaced very far. He'd been born in the subdistrict Shakargarh, which was part of district Gurdaspur before Partition. Partition split district Gurdaspur; Shakargarh ended up on the Pakistani side. Harbhajan Singh resettled in Khokhar Faujian village on the Indian side, not far from Batala. Others settled in his village that had some sense of village bhangra. (Note: parts of Gurdaspur district and Jammu are the only Indian districts considered to have been in the historic village bhangra area.) So he had some sense of village bhangra style.

As leader of the Punjab state bhangra team, my sense is that he would have reformed it somewhat, introducing movements he knew, and, perhaps, eliminating some that seemed too out of place. The style of dancing would have changed, too. I don't mean it as negative criticism (just observing) when I say that Harbhajan's style was maybe a bit harder, more angular and rigid, as compared to the PEPSU troupe's softer, more flowing and loose style. Again, please understand that I am not saying Harbhajan Singh and his trainees do or ever did dance in a way that was "too rigid" ore whatever -- I am just speaking relatively. I think part of it is explained by the fact that dances of the southern parts of Punjab (where the PEPSU people had come from) just tend to by "softer" whereas the northern, bhangra area was "harder."

We see, perhaps, that in Harbhajan Singh's 1960s area, so of the "nonsense" disappeared. No more Bazigars playing the multiple instruments. No acrobatics. More straightforward formations as opposed to guys doing individual actions.

But whatever Harbhajan Singh did to insert village bhangra actions and/or style into the folkloric (staged) dance -- and I think he did do stuff -- he had to do it within a paradigm that had already been formed. The mixed and staged routine had certain conventions, expectations, and a history of several years of many people doing it, so it could not be turned into a "pure" replica of village bhangra.

As an illustrative example, here is a photo I took of Harbhajan Singh demonstrating his version of the "jhummar" step in the bhangra routine. Harbhajan Singh was absolutely clear that jhummar did not exist in the area that he grew up in. Yet we also see that the PEPSU group, even though those guys were pros at jhummar (supposedly they even brought jhummar to Republic Day very early on, and it was the more dominant dance of their home areas), had not put anything (at least not anything I recognize) of jhummar in their bhangra. So it seems that jhummar step was added on Harbhajan's watch. And it is a rather "generic" jhummar step; it's style (not to criticize negatively) lacks finesse of actual jhummar. BTW, I believe this jhummar step was added into the bhangra routine in 1961. That's the year that Pokhar Singh's group did a big jhummar at Republic Day.

So to repeat, though Harbhajan's influence was to bring the stage dance back in line with some "authentic" village bhangra style, the dance would still develop as a form into which one added steps from various places. Here's the photo, from 2005.

More photos (to be added to as more come in):

This is dholi Lal Singh (née Lal Chand) Bhatti (3rd from left, standing) with a group. My best idea is that it is Khalas College, Jalandhar, but please someone correct. And I'm posting it here because it looks to be 1960s. From lalsinghbhatti.com.

When Harbhajan Singh started his run at Republic Day in 1960, he took dancers from several college groups. DAV College Jalandhar was one of them, but Khalsa College, as far as I know, was not. I don't know exactly when Khalsa College Jalandhar people would have started doing the Republic Day thing. I'm guessing this is a few years before Lal Singh got involved.
I think this picture is from the 1960s. PEPSU style is out, Harbhajan Singh's style is in. Harbhajan Singh might actually be one of the two dancers in the front, but I can't see their faces clearly enough. The good clue is the presence of the dholi Biru Ram. Biru is cousin of Bhana Ram and that whole Bazigar clan, and he accompanied groups in PEPSU era. Then he was dholi in 1960 when Harbhajan Singh first appeared at the Republic Day. He was phased out by the very early 1970s, which is why I think this must be a 1960s photo.(Credit: This is a used and re-used and re-used photo; the ownership has been rather lost, as you can find it around "everywhere".)

To verify the image of the dholi as Biru Ram (Viru), here's a pic of me with him and his son in 2005.

Next pic is kind of random. It's the dhol ustad Munshi Ram of Ludhiana, Jogi caste. He was a traditional dholi that spanned the Partition period. I don't know much about what he did (of anything) with respect to the development of bhangra (he was simply an outstanding dholi). But his son Madan Lal was Pammi Bai's dholi in the early years and his grandson is "Ravi Dana", who has evidently suddenly become quite well known in North America in the last few years. Munshi Ram's student was the famous Janak Raj ustad, who did play with bhangra a lot. I took this photo-of-an-old-photo from the family.

As a bonus, here's what Madan Lal 'Maddi' looks like (the late father of Ravi Dana). These are screen shots I made from videos, from the 1990s.

A note:

I've been editing earlier posts to add more material to them. So anyone who reaches the end of the thread may like to check back and see if there is something new since last visiting.

Also, I'm not sure if I should be scaling the pictures down (?). Is there some code I should be using for that?
1960s - Video

One of the biggest bhangra scenes ever filmed came in Heer Ranjha (1970). I've been told they filmed it either in 1966 or 67, in a village near Ropar/Kharar. It featured 4 prominent dholis: Harbans Lal Jogi, Ghuggi, Biru Ram, and Charan Das. The first two, from Amritsar, were masters that straddled the Partition era. They weren't so much into accompanying bhangra -- more interested in "classical" stuff. You'll see that Ghuggi (if that's him --the image gets mixed up with Charan Das) is playing the bass side with his bare hand. He did that for nuance. There is lots of jugalbandi, reflecting the interest of these two. Biru and Charan Das (a Mahasha from Jalandhar) were Republic Day guys.

Notice there still isn't that much of a kahirva beat. It is happening when they are doing the move called "luddi" -- one of the signature moves (hands clapping in front of chest) that dates back to the PEPSU team. (In fact, dholis from that generation call the beat "luddi" as in reference to the step.)

The jhummar is there -- very plain and simple, as it had been introduced.

Incidentally, notice how most of the dhol masters, here and in other pictures in this thread, played with the bass of the drum on the right. I've seen people in books and in America try to say the bass must be on the left, because that is how tabla is, etc. That's complete nonsense. It can be held either way, but right side was more common.

The sequence starts at the beginning of the clip, and ends when Heer runs off to see Ranjha.
Heer Ranjha (1970) Part 3
Bombay stuff, 1960s

I say "Bombay," because although they are in Punjabi, these movies seem to be produced in Bombay with lots of locals and in the typical pan-regional style. Bombay films seem to have adopted their vision of what a "bhangra" looks like, then kept on doing it.

So, continuing the bland, Bombay version of dance that followed the movie Bhangra (1959) are the next few clips. I already posted Khedan de din Char (1962) and Kashmir ki Kali (1964), with Raj Kapoor Shammi Kapoor imitating Manohar Deepak, but with some contribution by actual bhanrgra performers, too.

Do Lachhian (1960). Wow, they got really obsessed with the nagoze.
Teri Kanak Di Rakhi (Do Lachhian 1960)

Guddi (1961), Indian Punjabi. Starts 5:17.
Guddi Movie Part4 old Full Punjabi Movie

Pind di Kudi (1963 [67?]) is an Indian Punjabi film. Now Mohinder Kapoor seems to have wanted to get in on the action. Starts 8:53.
Pind Di Kudi_03 Old Punjabi Movie 1963

Mamaji (1964), Indian Punjabi. Similar. Apparently the thing they need to run around in concentric circles at the end, or it's not bhangra :-\
MamaJi Movie Part5 Old Punjabi Full Moie

Dupatta (1970). K, now it's Ravinder Kapoor being the expected Bollywood imitation of Manohar Deepak. Starst 12:10.
Dupatta Movie part 3 old Punjabi Full Movie Indian

No specialists imported here. Just the same unison dance actions of Bombay, with women jumping around with chunnis tied across their bodies and the fake, fat dholi bouncing around.

Ok, one more: Kankan de Ohle (1971). Another Ravinder Kapoor flick.
Kankan De Ohle (1971) - Kankan De Ohle - Mohd.Rafi & Usha Timothy

Incidentally, who are these Bombay dholis? I have heard of Ramzu Muhammad, but I wouldn't be able to recognize him.

I'll make a better intro to the 1970s era later. For now I just want to get some videos up.

Do Sher (1974) has a bhangra group. They seem a bit less lively (?) than films in the past...the pro bhangra dancers move a bit more like the Bollywood background dancers of the past. I dunno. This is the first time in the chronology that I am seeing these new stunts, too.
Do sher Punjabi full movie {HD}part 4

This is Sat Sri Akal, released in early 1977. The scene has some real bhangra dancers (mixed in with extras), whom I recognize from Republic Day photos from mid-70s. The dholi is Garib Dass.
A song from SAT SRI AKAL (1977)

A still I made of Garib Dass in Sat Sri Akal:

This is Jatt Punjabi (1979). Also with Garib Dass dholi! Looks like it could almost be the same team of dancers, too. They do a few stunts. Starts at 2:55
JattPunjabi full movie part 7
1970s were another decade of change for bhangra. If parents of people on bhangra teams remember anything of bhangra in India, this would generally be there era they remember, if not even later. hardeep_singh said,

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...

Consider that people in India who came of age and started college in the mid 70s would have been seeing something that had been established for 2 decades -- maybe since before they were born. The PESPU troupe innovated the concept in the mid 50s, it was reified in films, and in the 60s bhangra dancers interpreted "bhangra" literally, trying to make this stage thing represent the village dance, but also forced to develop it, too. For the lay public, stage bhangra was the "state dance" by then, it was presented as traditional, so one must assume it was. From that point, no matter what people did to it, however many moves they added, etc, so long as people were not aware those things were contrived then it still represented tradition and, supposedly, "all" Punjabis.

We can note add this point that a man named Bhag Singh, an officer in the Public Relations department, entered the picture. From ca1968, he was in charge of sort of managing the state bhangra team. He had come from the Pothohar area (i.e. he was a "bhappa") at Partition, and was keen on the dances from there -- glimpses of which would eventually be added to bhangra. (Images of him will turn up later.)

1970s are marked, in my mind, by the addition of lots more stuff to bhangra routines.

The most significant event was the trip by the Bhag Singh managed bhangra team to an international dance festival in Tunisia in 1971. (You may have heard me speak of this before because it is so significant!) The team was asked to perform for ca 45 minutes, but their bhangra, usually designed to be on a loop in parades, was only about 10 minutes. Evidently it was Bhag Singh that asked Harbhajan Singh and his team to make up 8-9 new actions then and there. A couple decades later, Bhag Singh expressed his regret for this decision, which really opened the door for bhangra to be filled with all sorts of made up stuff.

Lal Singh Bhatti (formerly Lal Chand, note writing in photo) was the dholi on that trip, so he must remember developing the new moves because he would have had to create rhythms to match them. This picture from lalsingbhatti.com might be from that event (1971). I can't imagine it being from much earlier, ie.e. the 1960a, because I don't know when else a bhangra group would have interacted with a dance team from New Zealand! But someone please correct me, if this is not the right visual aid.

I think that the PEPSU guys of the 50s, even though they may have been playing around with forms, were dancing in a way that came from somewhere. The Bazigars had trained them in moves that were aesthetically satisfying as "folk" dance, and which came out of some style. But consider what could happen by the mid 1970s. All these new moves had recently been added, though the dance is given to you in college and you're told its "traditional." You have no past experience dancing folk dances, really, so your style is off. There must have been a lot of "going through the motions" of stuff that was just someone's choreography.

Here is a video of Pammi Bai (in 1996) demonstrating some of the actual "International chaals" created in the 70s. Note that the last couple actions seem to be older actions.
1970s - Photos

Here are some 1970s photos. Some are hot-linked from lalsinghbhatti.com. Well, I have appraised them as 1970s vintage (heh heh); the site does not describe them, but there are some clues. Details subject to change and correction!

But before that (to stay chronological) here is an image of Garib Dass and dancers at 1970 Republic Day. (This is one that has been used and re-used and seems to have become unattached to ownership.)

I have more Republic Day photos like this from when Garib Dass went, but I cannot post them (they are in my dissertation though). Another from 1970, with a rather small group of dancers. Harbhajan Singh is there, and the other dholi is Charan Das.

Another is from 1972's Republic Day. Garib Dass and Charan Dass are the dholis. Bhag Singh and Harhajan Singh are in the picture. They are posing with C.M. Parkash Singh Badal. There is an algoza player.

Now this is a typical Republic Day group shot (with Indira Gandhi). I would estimate ca1973, though I would like to say earlier. Lal Singh Bhatti is there, and the second dholi looks like Biru Ram. Behind Lal Singh Bhatti is Gill Surjeet (who people might be familiar with, for example, as the choreographer of the dances in Jee Aaya Nu). Master Harbhajan Singh is lying on the ground at right. Same algoza player as in 1972 photo (seated near bottom left). There seem to have been about 30 performers.

In this photo, which looks to be from the same year as the preceding, we see Master Harbhajan Singh (Lal Singh Bhatti standing behind) meeting President of India, V.V. Giri.

And this should also be from the same year, Republic Day (at India Gate). On the far left, at the end, is Bhag Singh, the Public Relations officer who sort of "managed" the team.

Another Republics Day group shot I've seen (not posting), is I believe, from Jan. 1978 (he went with a Bazigar dholi called Durga). What I think is notable in that one is that the bhangra dancers are wearing the turlas on their turbans in the stiffer and sorta rounded style -- for the first time that I see.
These photos of Ustad Lal Singh Bhatti, from lalsinghbhatti.com, could be from near the end of Indira Gandhi's first term ca1976/7. But my guess now is that their from her second term after 1980. The turlas are of a new type, which I think leans towards the early 80s!

Surrey India Arts Club was founded in British Columbia in 1975. Here are two photos from the Museum of Vancouver's bhangra.me exhibit, from the blog of curator Naveen Girn. They are from a 1979 performance. Interesting that they chose a style of pagg similar to the old PEPSU style.



Paul Binning and colleagues created a bhangra group in Vancouver in the early 1970s, part of their Punjab Cultural Association. Here is a photo, again from the Museum of Vancouver site, of the group performing at the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane Washington.
1980s - Videos

I'm going to be out of commission for a while, so I just wanted to throw up these 1980s videos quickly, out of my notes. Less commentary for the moment.

Chann Pardesee (1980) is a celebrated Indian Punjabi film. Not bhangra, but this jago + giddha scene is classic. Consider that giddha does not seem to have been given as much exposure in earlier films. "Bhangra" was something that just became a generic dancing in movies, whereas it is harder to "fake" giddha. Consider, too, how much this rendition of jago may have influenced what people did in real life afterwards.
Chan Pardesi full Punjabi movie part 2

And here, starting 7:33, is a giddha scene at Lohri. There's a traditional dholi tapping along in the background.
Chan Pardesi full Punjabi movie part 4

7:34 has the this film's bhangra-type scene. It's within a 'drama' context. Around this time, Bhag Singh's dance "ballets" were popular.
Chan Pardesi full Punjabi movie part 7

Aasra Pyar da (1983). Wish I could read the dhol to see who the dholi is -- Something "Lal". This has a Chandigarh feel to it; there was a group of drama-dance-performer people, connected with Bhag Singh, who this seems to resemble. Bhag Singh is actually seen in the clip - at 0:38 with red beard.
Aasra pyar da full Punjabi movie part 3 (with english subtitels)

And another bhangra scene from this, somewhat fake. But some familiar moves, stunts.
Aasra pyar da full Punjabi movie part 4 (with english subtitels)

Mamla Garbar Hai (1984) was also a significant movie. Gurdas Mann's first film. A Bhag SIngh creation. According to Garib Dass, Gurdas Mann had performed at Garib Dass' son's wedding, and that is where/when Bhag Singh (he was a guest, because GD was dholi in his productions) asked Mann to be in the film. The giddha scene staring 1:12:21 is a classic. Panjabi MC or someone like that remixed the song with a dumb beat. The ghori song is sung by a Bazigar woman, I think -- notice the unique way that she sings. Garib Dass' dhol is in the background, played with bare hands.
Mamla Garbar Hai Full Movie - Gurdas Maan Sahib ([url=http://www.jogiya.net]www.jogiya.net)[/url]

Mamla Garbar Hai was supposed to have a big bhangra scene in it. Garib Dass was in that, with "Harbhajan Singh's group," but evidently the scene got left on the cutting room floor.

Long da Lishkara (1986) was also a celebrated film, slightly more artsy and classy than previous movies. Directed by Harpal Tiwana, who was actually a major bhangra dancer in the Republic Day stuff since at least the '60s. There is a good bhangra scene, starting 9:14, with a traditional dholi. Lots of stunts/baazis. For the first time in all these visuals, perhaps, the movements and style really look like today's bhangra.
Long da Lishkara full Punjabi movie part 2
Part 2
Long da Lishkara full Punjabi movie part 3

Batwara (1989) has a bhangra scene with the dhol master Charan Das. Starts 6:37. The whirling dhamaal step is notable.

Here's a still I made of Charan Das from the film.

Bhabo (1989) also has a scene, at 10:25, but it's pretty bland, like fake dancing of guys dressed up.
Bhabo full Punjabi movie part 6
Finally, the 80s would not be complete without Learn Bhangra in 7 Days (1989). These are Chandigarh based dancers with Garib Dass as dholi. People that consider Bhag Singh to have been a guru. The whole set of actions, full of "chaalaan", is here. Stage bhangra had been standardized by this point.

Learn Bhangra in 7 Days

Bhangra Dance

Pammi Bai, in 1996, dancing the style of his "generation" -- which I'd say was early 80s. The one except is the Pokhar Singh style jhummar move that would not have been adapted by Pammi until after 1985 at least.
Pammi Bai demonstrates bhangra

Good one, ComtonDa. Thanks for sharing.

It's Ghabru Putt Punjab dey from 1969 -- fairly late in the game. I still wonder if the use of all the instruments wasn't simply the influence of the bhangra style created by the PEPSU troupe.
Not much dancing -- generic Punjabi stuff. Seems natural, for the most part, but hard to call anything distinctly "bhangra" IMO. The women going by at 1:50 seems notable -- something a don't recall seeing in Indian movies. To maybe state the obvious, Pakistani movies may have some elements of dance that are authentic to an earlier time, from their perspective, whereas other elements may copy the trends in Indian movies. I can't say I'm sure yet all of what's what.

Keep posting, guys. There will be plenty of other Pakistani Punjabi movies (maybe even right at the Suggested Links) that have mela scenes that will be interesting. The earlier the movies, the better.
1990s - Photos

Here are some scans of early 1990s bhangra performances. From Panjab de Lok Nach by Balbir Singh Momi (second ed., 1995).
Both of the first two feature the gimmick of the bullock cart. This has remained popular, though I'm uncertain when it started. The dholi is Des Raj, son of Garib Dass.

Doing the lahirian action, this is def. from Nov. 1992.

Now some photos from Dhillon's 1998 book.

Clothes here look consistent with the above. Interesting they are doing a shoulder stand with tumbi, which harkens back to the 1950s. It's possible that acrobatics had gone out of fashion but now they were coming back. I remember Garib Dass mentioning a youth festival performance which seemed to reinstate acrobatics as something desirable. And again we have the bullock cart action.

Noting again the way the body posture had become such where they spread the legs a lot.

This is a visual of the "luddi" action, popularized by the PEPSU troupe. In this 1990s pic, they even seem to be nodding to the style of the 1950s with their (presumably southwestern Punjabi style) paggs. Garib Dass is the dholi. Leader of the dance is Narinder Nindi (who had been in Learn Bhangra in 7 Days).

Here, for interest's sake, is Baba Pokhar Singh, leader of a famous jhummar troupe and creator or a specific routine. He appears doing a saang (pantomime) while others repeat the prescribed step behind him. This is from Momi's book, so ca. early 1990s photo.

This jhummar photo would be from several years later, after Pokhar Singh's influence was incorporated among other dancers. From Dhillon's (1998) book.

Jabar Jung

New Member

These 2 pictures are of my cousin's team, "Rangla Punjab" from Ludhiana, made up of mostly GGN college students. On India's 50th Independence anniversary, they went to 7 different countries to represent India. In the first picture you can read the description. Meshi Ustaad was their dholi, then came Ravi Ustaad, along with some of the famous names like Ravinder Singh Ranguwal. Thought I'd share it since it's 15 years old.
That's great, Jabar, thanks!

I know Meshi and Ravi -- I don't know Ravinder Singh Ranguwal. Is he a dancer?

I think the photos are interesting because they definitely show a style we'd recognize nowadays, but maybe not that much earlier.

The turlas in that really "rounded" form seem like they date from the mid/late 80s? --- it was there in the late 70s, I think, but not standardized so much.

The dance action in the news clipping is really unlike what dancers did much earlier, it seems to me. What do you guys think? Will have to go back and watch Learn Bhangra in 7 days and see if the style differs much.

Similarly, the way the gent is standing (with khunda) on the left in second photo. Very much a pose we see nowadays, but I don't remember seeing that kind of pose in the earlier stuff. There is just a style to it, the deepness of the squat or something, that looks like a development to me, since the 80s.

Would some people agree that between the 50s to 60s/70s to 80s/90s there seems to have been different ways that bhangra dancers tended to move and position their bodies? That is, even if they were performing the "same" actions, they did it in a different style, e.g. knees lifted higher or legs spread more or arms spread wider, or stiffer/looser, etc.

Maybe I am just dreaming here, but I wonder if any current bhangra teams would be interested in emulating the style of a specific earlier era, rather than unconsciously following the current style.

I would not put any judgement on style with respect to bhangra. However, I can say that re: jhummar I see a difference in today's dance that personally looks "bad" to me (opinion) and which I heard critiqued several time by older jhummar dancers. Interesting how aesthetics change. And I wonder of these changes are all out of personal choice (which is fine) or if they occur in ignorance or without good "coaching."