The beautiful hill state of Sikkim is cradled by the majestic Himalayas. Folk songs and dances, which embody the colours and sounds of the mountains, form an integral part of Sikkimese culture. Some of the dances describe the beauty of the natural surroundings, some depict the harvest season and others are performed for good luck and prosperity. Many of the rural folk dances are based on the social customs and religious practices of the people. Several musical instruments that accompany these dances are unique to Sikkim. With its one hundred and ninety four monasteries, Buddhism seeps into everyday life, yet it intrudes into nothing. Padmasambhava or Guru Rimpoche is the patron saint of the state. The breathless beauty of Sikkim’s landscape lends an air of magical unreality to it.
Some of the main tribal and folk dance forms are:
Mount Khan-chen Dzongpa (Kanchanjunga) is the third highest mountain in the world. This towering creation of nature is sacred to the people of Sikkim. It has been decreed the guardian deity of Sikkim by Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). This majestic mountain stands guard over the land holding in its crevices the sacred mountain peaks known as the Five Treasures. Its associate peaks look like the legendary snow lion, fierce and fiery, with a gorgeous mane hued in turquoise. The snow lion is considered an important cultural symbol of the state and is elaborately depicted in the ‘Singhi Chham’ or the Snow Lion Dance. The snow lion is a mythical animal. The Sikkimese people believe that if one sights the animal it brings good luck. This cultural symbol of good luck comes alive in this dance.
High in the mountains, the Sikkimese herdman’s best friend on the ragged slopes is the yak. The yak is his sole means of transportation, besides providing him with milk and meat for sustenance during the long winter months. Its rich mane is woven into cloth that protects him from the biting cold, its rich milk is churned into cheese and butter and its rich fibre is woven into blankets. This dance depicts the movements of the yak and the simple lifestyle of the herdsmen of the mountains. The dancers don the costume and mask of the yak, and tune their steps to traditional songs and instrumental music.
Tamang Selo is a traditional Sikkimese folk dance patronised by the Tamang community of the state. A traditional musical instrument of the Tamangs, called the Damphu, accompanies the dance. The spellbinding dance, which is full of fun and vigour, depicts the colourful lifestyle of the people of Sikkim. It is performed during the Dasain or Dusserah festival, and expresses the joy and happiness of the people. The young and old come together to take part in the dance.
Shelo is a Nepalese folk dance that is performed during Vasant or the season of Spring. As new leaves or buds appear on the trees, young hearts are filled with love and longing. The young boys express their love to their beloveds. Through their songs, they compare the beauty of the girls with the beauty of spring and propose to them. When after a lot of coaxing, the girls accept the proposals, they dance together with the joy of Spring in their hearts.
Sikkim’s Sherpa Dance is a unique dance form. The costumes and headgear worn by the dancers are similar to Tibetan costumes. The difference with Tibetan dances lies in the foot movements and the language of the songs. The songs praise the colourful flora and fauna of the land and the dances depict the lifestyle of the Sherpas. The Sherpas are very attached to their land and proud of their heritage. Through their songs, the religious and God fearing Sherpas thank God for the beautiful Mount Everest which protects their land. Through their prayer dances, they pray for peace and happiness all around.
The Ghantu dance is a Sikkimese folk dance patronised by the Gurung community of the state. This ancient folk dance form depicts the colourful lifestyle of the people of the land. The dance, which is full of fun and vigour is performed by young girls in traditional costumes and headgear.
Kinchum – Chu – Bomsa
Through this popular folk dance the scenic beauty of Sikkim is beautifully expressed. The Lepchas of Sikkim thank God for their beautiful land – Ney Mayal Lyang – which means a hidden paradise on earth. The snow-covered mountains, the falls, rivers and brooks, luxuriant valleys with vast green meadows, serene monasteries, sacred caves and holy lakes lend sanctity to this wonderful land. The young boys and girls perform this dance wearing their colourful traditional costumes. The dance is accompanied by traditional music and singing.
Nyongri – Nyot
Cultivation of maize is an important agricultural activity in Sikkim. The dance depicts the entire process of ploughing the fields, tilling and sowing the seeds, weeding and harvesting the crops. Artistes wearing colourful Sikkimese costumes perform the Nyongri–Nyot dance. The dancers hold different traditional implements in their hands, making the dance a visual representation of the agricultural process.
The Gayley-Yang Dance depicts the hospitality of the people of Sikkim. The young girls of the village perform this welcome dance to receive Guest of Honour. To pay respect to the guests, locally made beverages like Chhang and Bangchhang are offered to them. Melodious songs accompany the dance.
Sangey Chham Dance
The Sangey Chham is an annual ceremony observed by all the monasteries in Sikkim. This grand festival lasts for two or three days, on the concluding day of which, the dance is performed. The statue of Lord Buddha and religious scriptures are taken out in a palanquin, for everyone to see. People from all walks of life join in the dance. The dancers wear traditional Sikkimese dresses.
This is an ancient dance of the Lepcha community of Sikkim, performed in honour of Kanchanjunga and its four associate peaks. The dance is performed on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar every year. Dancers hold butter lamps and green bamboo leaves during the performance.
Sikkim is a land steeped in religion. This beautiful land with its bounty of gifts from nature, has received the blessings of saints and sages through the ages. Guru Rimpoche had said when he blessed this land, that the people of this land had hidden treasures in the hills and valleys. The hidden treasures were not precious metals or gems, but scriptures of teachings. In the Denzong Neh–Na dance, the sanctity of the land is highlighted through the songs and the movements.
Damsang – Lyang
The Lepcha community of Sikkim is a community of very hardworking people. Many of them are involved in agricultural activities for a major part of the year. To lessen the burden of their work, they go around the villages singing and dancing. Through the dances, they depict the graceful movements of different birds and insects.
The Maarooni is a rare dance form that has its roots in ancient Nepalese culture. The songs that accompany this dance have a variety of themes ranging from mythology to every day life. While some depict heroic events from the lives of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva and other Gods of the Hindu pantheon, others deal with simple day to day incidents of the people of the land. The dancers move rhythmically, balancing on their palms copper thaalis with lit diyas arranged on them. In the olden days, the dance used to be performed by young boys dressed as girls. Two accompanists, one playing the madal (mridanga) and the other acting as the prankster, were also part of the troupe. The Nepali Brihat Shabda Kosh (Royal Nepal Academy) and the Nepali Shabda Parichaya (Mahananda Sapkota) carry elaborate descriptions of the Maarooni Dance. Today both boys and girls take part in the dance, singing as well as playing the instruments.