Gambhira, Jari and Fakir: Bengali Folk Dances (Part 3)

Gambhira dance is accompanied by Ghambira songs, and while the dance is not as popular as it once was, it is nevertheless still performed and enjoyed in Rajshahi. Through song and dance, the two main performers in their roles of maternal grandfather (nana) and grandson (nati), address issues of social, political, economic and moral concern. The dialogue takes the form of both verse and prose and there is a chorus repeating the refrain of the song. Musical accompaniment for Gambhira dance includes the harmonica, flute and drum, with the nati wearing strings of bells around his ankles.

Jari dance, accompanied by Jari singing, is generally performed by Shi’ah Muslims during the holy month of Muharram. The dance recounts the tragic death of Imam Hossain at Karbala. Between eight and ten youths perform the Jari dance, with the leader of the group being the “ustad” and the other members referred to as “dohar”. The dancers wear ordinary clothing with red cloth tied around their heads across the forehead and around their wrists. Sometimes the dancers will wear strings of bells around their ankles as well. The beat of the dance is maintained by clapping or the playing of the chati and jharni. The dohars move in a circle around the ustad, with the ustad singing the main verses and the dohars singing the song’s refrain, while showing their grief through movements of hands, feet and heads. In keeping with the religious significance of the occasion, Jari dance performances begin with the sighting of the moon. Dance groups then go from house to house with their performance, collecting food and money along the way. On Ashura – the tenth day of Muharram which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hossain – all dance groups gather together at a place which has been designated to represent Karbala, where they give a final performance.

The Fakir dance is performed by the followers of Madar Pir on the occasion of his urs (death anniversary) each year, when they gather to burn candles and incense at Madar Pir’s mausoleum at the end of Chaitra. Distinctive with their long hair, and wearing long, loose garments with strings of bells around their ankles, devotees dedicate a red-draped bamboo pole to their object of devotion. A fire is lit, meat is burnt as an offering, and devotees dance around the fire, swaying their heads to and fro rhythmically to the beat of the music.