When women dance like mustard seeds: Come, sway to the Rai folk dance of Bundelkhand

Bundeli Rai is the traditional folk dance of Bundelkhand. Rai means mustard seed. The way mustard seed swings around in the saucer, the dancers also dance likewise on the beats of traditional musical instruments of Nagadiya, Dholak, Jheeka, and Ramtoola. This traditional folk dance was fading away when the Jhansi administration stepped in to revive the culture, also support the livelihood of dancers and singers.

Shivani GuptaShivani Gupta   7 July 2022 8:29 AM GMT

When women dance like mustard seeds: Come, sway to the Rai folk dance of Bundelkhand

Rai means mustard seed. The way mustard seed swings around in the saucer, the dancers also dance likewise. Photo: Yash Sachdev

Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh

Wearing bright pink, yellow, green, and blue traditional Bundeli attires, women of Jhansi swirl on the beats of tabla, harmonium, nagadiya, manjira, ramtoola, and on the folk song as they smile and look towards their partner blushing.

The dance known as Bundeli Rai is performed by men and women of Bundelkhand villages to celebrate merriment of villagers.

Watch Rai dance

Bundeli Rai is the traditional folk dance of Bundelkhand. Rai means mustard seed. The way mustard seed swings around in the saucer, the dancers also dance likewise on the beats of nagadiya, dholak, jheeka, manjeera, harmonium, dhapli, lota, ramtoola — all musical instruments of Bundelkhand.

"When you place mustard seed on earth it swirls around and comes to a stop only after infinite rounds. Similarly, a Bundelkhand gori (woman) dances wearing her nav gaj lehenga and heavy traditional jewellery of benda, tikuli, kardhani, painjana, along with gaon ke gorey (rural men) with dignity in her eyes," Niti Shashtri, a Jhansi-based social worker told Gaon Connection.

Wearing their traditional Bundeli attires, women of Jhansi dance on the folk song as they smile and look towards their partner blushing. Photo: Yash Sachdev

Of 140 various forms of folk dance in the Bundelkhand region, the traditional Rai dance has been performed to celebrate the good harvest, marriages, and success of kings in war. Its lyrics go like

Gori nainan ke teer, gori nainan ke teer, daiyo na mar jein gailaarey…

Ghunghta na dayo rey, mar jein gailaarey…

Gori naina na maar, gori naina na maar, bharke dunali chahe mardey…

Explaining the lyrics of the song, traditional folk singer Harvind Neeraj Kumar told Gaon Connection: "In this song, a man requests a woman to not throw arrows of gaze towards him as it will cause excruciating pain. He asks her to fire a bullet instead."

"It is easy to escape a bullet but not the arrows of the gaze of a woman," he giggled.

In the song, a man requests a woman to not throw arrows of gaze towards him. He asks her to fire a bullet instead. Photo: Yash Sachdev

A move to revive the dying culture

With the western and Bollywood influence, the traditional folk dancers have been struggling to earn bread and butter out of this. However, the district administration stepped in to provide employment opportunities to folk dancers, musicians, and folk singers.

"Sadly, there came a time when all musical instruments including tabla, nagadiya, manjeera were hanged on hooks on the wall as there were no job opportunities for these artists. They quit folk singing and dancing and started doing the labour jobs," informed Shashtri.

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Situation worsened when these artists struggled to earn livelihood amid the COVID19 pandemic when cultural programmes took a hit. "During the pandemic, the situation of these artists worsened and there was no work. We wanted to provide them with regular incentive support as well as revive the art and culture of our Bundelkhand," Ajay Shanker Pandey, Commissioner, Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh) Division, told Gaon Connection.

"We have identified sixty one such artists in the Jhansi division who excel in various artforms but are not getting any job opportunities," he added.

Atal Kala Manch

This is when the district administration set up Atal Kala Manch in Atal Ekta Park of Jhansi this February. Every day, an artist performs and showcases the culture of Bundelkhand and the administration provides incentives to them.

"This is giving artists a regular income and makes local people aware of their art and culture. Sound, light, mic, and stage — everything is free of cost. We want younger generations and those who have quit this to come back to their traditional culture," said the Commissioner.

Every day, artists perform and showcase the culture of Bundelkhand and the administration provides incentives to them. Photo: Yash Sachdev

Apart from Jhansi, over 200 such folk groups have been revived in Orai, Jalaun, Lalitpur districts, and Garautha, Gursarai, and Tehroli of Jhansi district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh since the beginning of the year (till April).

"Earlier, the situation of singers and dancers was not good here. But thanks to the consistent efforts of our Commissioner who constituted a committee that has Niti Shashtri ji, and others that we have been provided this platform and get incentives regularly," said folk singer Neeraj.

The folk singer informed a group of seven artists earn upto Rs 5,000 for the government programme and in a month, they manage to perform in 10-20 programmes.

Meanwhile, social worker Niti Shashtri suggested the government organise workshops and training centres for these folk dancers and singers. "The artists not only perform but also look after their financial empowerment. And they train children so that the culture is passed on to younger generations," she added.

Last December, a group led by folk dancer Radha Prajapati was also invited to perform in Dubai Expo. Photo: By arrangement

From Bundelkhand to Dubai

Over the years, the folk dancers and singers of Bundelkhand have been performing in several government programmes in the region, and before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The folk dance will also hold centre stage when PM Modi will visit Jalaun in mid-July to inaugurate the 296 km long Bundelkhand Expressway. Folk dancers will perform the Bundeli Rai dance.

Last December, a group led by folk dancer Radha Prajapati was also invited to perform in Dubai Expo. This was the first such opportunity for traditional folk dancers in Jhansi to showcase their cultural dance abroad.

"Art is art. Our identity is with our culture. I do not want to be famous but I want my Rai to become so popular that like people learn Kathak and hip hop, people learn Rai as well," Radha Prajapati, told Gaon Connection. The 27-year-old folk dancer has dedicated her career to the folk culture of Bundelkhand since childhood.

If you happen to visit Jhansi, chances are you will witness this vibrant dance of Rai and similar folk culture of Bundelkhand in Atal Ekta Park. Bless your evening with traditional folk dance of Rai when in Jhansi.

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