Migrations and Cultural Encounters: Punjab

February 12, 2019

Welcome to Part 2 of “Migrations and Cultural Encounters: Pakistan”.

In this post we will acquaint ourselves with dance from the Punjab province of Pakistan. There are many dance traditions from all over the country, but Punjabi music and dance has had a particularly far-reaching influence on popular music all over the world.

The region known as the Punjab lies in both Pakistan and India and is the historical homeland of the Sikhs, adherents to the monotheistic religion Sikhism that originated in the 15th century. The majority of Sikhs, however, live on the Indian side where it is the dominant religious group (followed by Hinduism), whereas 97% of Punjabis in Pakistan are Muslim. “Punjab” translates to “five rivers” (in the Persian language), and the region in known for its lush and fertile landscape.

One strong cultural identifier of the Punjabi people, celebrated among diaspora communities at weddings and festivals around the world, is the dance and music genre known as bhangra. While now a popular international phenomenon with university dance groups, competitions, and wide-ranging contemporary fusion influences, bhangra originated as a folk dance associated with the Baisakhi new year harvest festival. The dance developed while men were working in the fields, with the movements mimicking pulling the harvest out of the earth and performing other agricultural-related tasks.

Giddha is another dance that is popular among the diaspora Punjabi community. Thought of as the feminine equivalent to bhangra, in its original form it was associated with a festival celebrated during the monsoon season called Teeyan. Traditionally during this time of year women would return to their family’s home for a period of up to one month. Festivities would include women and girls gathering together to play on swings tied to trees for the occasion, receive gifts from their brothers, and sing songs called boylan.

Boylan are songs sung by women (and men) related to daily life and love. Associated with giddha dance, women pantomime situations and characters in their family and village as a way to have some fun and let off steam. While this ritual is not really practiced anymore in villages, it has emerged in new form as a stage art. While initially there were no set movements, giddha dance has evolved into a very energetic dance rivaling bhangra and danced competitively in universities and on TV.  Boylan and giddha are also traditionally part of women’s wedding celebrations.


While there are plenty of bhangra videos on Youtube, I find these fellas from Canada particularly delightful in how they proudly embrace both cultures.