Chhokra, Ghatu and Leto: Bengali Folk Dances (Part 2)

Folk dancing in Bangladesh is a very popular pastime and forms an integral part of many religious, cultural and social gatherings. Chhokra, Ghatu and Leto dances are primarily attended by Muslims, but they also attract people from other communities, showing that music and dance can very often transcend any perceived barriers among people of different religions and backgrounds.

Chhokra dance, literally meaning “dances by young boys”, is performed by youths who take on the roles of women and young girls. The dance is accompanied by Alkap songs and is performed on a stage in an open field or mango grove. The performance includes a large team of singers, musicians and dancers, with a clown forming part of the troupe. The musicians sit along the sides of the canopied stage, while the dancers wait in the dressing room for their cue to perform. As with many other Bangladeshi folk dances, the saga of Radha and Krishna is a well-liked theme.

Ghatu dance, accompanied by Ghatu songs, has no specific religious or social significance. Its purpose is simply to entertain the audience by playing out the story of Radha and Krishna, or other popular love stories. The main instruments used to provide the music for the show include the drum, cymbals, the flute and sarinda – a traditional stringed instrument similar to a fiddle, with three strings and played with a bow. Ghatu dance can get quite risqué and is aimed at an adult audience. In the past these performances would take place in secluded areas away from the general population, but these days Ghatu dance is performed on modern stages in the Dhaka Division’s districts of Kishoreganj and Netrokona.

Leto dance features a boy dressed as a girl, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of Leto songs. This popular form of entertainment is generally presented at poetry contests, which is a fitting venue seeing as in his youth renowned Bangladeshi poet, musician, philosopher and revolutionary, Kazi Nazrul Islam, also known as the “Rebel Poet”, composed Leto songs and even took part in performances.