Traditionally, the women of Punjab celebrate Baishaki through "Giddha" dance, which has been derived from an ancient ring dance. Today the name "Giddha" is synonymous with the culture of Punjabi women all over the world.

In the olden times, women used to perform "Giddha" in the privacy of their parental "Havelis".  The practice of "Giddha" spread from one "Haveli" to the other and travelled from one village to the other.

Some believe that "Giddha" originally developed in the rich and politically powerful "Majha" region of undivided Punjab consisting of the districts of Lahore, Amritsar and Gurdaspur. But others believe that it originated in the then culturally more liberal and financially well off "Malwa" region comprising Ferozepore district, which included big land owning sub-divisions of Muktsar; and rich areas of Fazilka, Abohar, Moga, Zeera, and Jalalabad. From Moga, it spread to Jagraon in Ludhiana, wherefrom it transmitted to the princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot and Kapurthala. Wherever from "Giddha" may have originated, it flourished in Lahore, neighbouring Amritsar and the district of Jalandhar in "Doaba" region.

Being traditionally performed at social gatherings, Giddha does not follow any rigid set pieces or sequences. It is free-style, spontaneous and creative, displaying the excitement and high-spirited mood, and exhibiting teasing, fun and exuberance of Punjabi life.  Harmony is the essence in Giddha dance movements that are inclusive of swinging and twisting the body, shaking of the shoulders, bending to a double and clapping.

"Giddha" is essentially danced in circles. Girls form rings and one of the dancers sit in the centre of this ring with a small drum (dholki) played with the hands. The drum is used to provide an accompanying beat, but this is not essential as the clapping provides a strong and definite rhythm. One participant generally sings a verse (boli), which represents folk poetry at its best. When the last but one line of the verse is reached, the tempo of the song rises as others pick up the refrain and join and all start dancing. Usually, girls dance in twos. It is a very vigorous folk dance and like other such dances of Northern India is taxing on the legs of the performers.

In "Giddha" performance, the verses alternate with the dance sequence and it continues for a considerable period of time.

The verse in "Giddha" performance can be quite comical as they provide an avenue for the young women to vent some of their feelings and frustrations. Mimicry is also very popular in "Giddha". For example, one woman may play the aged bridegroom and another the young bride; or one may play a quarrelsome sister-in-law and another humble bride, and this dramatisation often provides a very comical spectacle. In this way "Giddha" provides best forum for venting of one's emotions. One instance of a "Giddha" verse is when after marriage of a young couple, the boy has to leave home to earn for the family, and the girl feels the pangs of separation and longs for his arrival. She blames her mother-in-law for sending the boy away from her. She sings –

Balley-balley, sassay ni manga le put nu
Rataan kaalin, kalli nu dar aabey
Sassay ne managa le put nu

It means – O’ my mother-in-law! Call back your son; I am alone here. The dark nights are scaring me.

"Giddha" dance also incorporates village life scenes of woman spinning cotton, fetching water from the well, grinding, and the likes, which is accompanied with appropriate verses and songs.

"Giddha" is a bright and colourful dance. The participants dress in traditional wear consisting of short female style shirt (choli) with loose shirt up to ankle-length (ghagra or lehnga) or ordinary Punjabi salwar-kamiz, rich in colour, cloth and design. Along with this dress, ornaments are worn from head (suggi-phul) to anklets (pazaibs), and include gem-studded golden necklace (haar-hamela), or a long necklace made of solid gold (raani-haar), and jewellery around upper-arm (baazu-band). The traditional dress for "Gidda" is quite elegant; and adds charm to feminine grace and is comfortable enough to allow women to perform the dance with ease. 

"Giddha" dance is just as energetic as Bhangra, and the vitality of Bhangra is also there. But, "Giddha" dance is stylistically simple. Jingle of the bells, thumping of the feet, beat of the drum and the splendour of the striking traditional dress creates an enchanting atmosphere, creatively displaying feminine grace and elasticity.

However, "Giddha" has not yet achieved the prominence as Bhangra enjoys; and one of the reasons could be that it is not yet patronized by Bollywood and seldom introduced in the dance sequences of their movies. But what makes "Giddha" popular is that it is not performed according to any cut-and-dry rule. It is hard not to join in or at least clap along the dance performance.

The writer is a Development Practitioner based in New Delhi.