Nepali dances were practised since the time of the Licchavis (c. 450 – c. 750 AD), but it was during the Malla period (1200-1769 AD) that Nepali dances really flourished in the Kathmandu Valley inhabited by the artistically inclined Newars. Among all Nepali dances, the Newari dances are perhaps the most elaborate. Among these are:
Mahakali dance: This dance re-enacts Goddesses Mahakali, Mahalaxmi, and Kumari’s battle with demons. This two and a half dance is performed during the Indrajatra festival (September-end) and depicts the 10 days of Dashain, the country’s biggest festival. A mix of many dances, it includes: Mahalaxmi dance, Kumari dance, and the Devi Daitya Sangram dance.
Bhairab dance: Performed during Indrajatra, it is of three types: the Swet (White) Bhairab dance, the Nilo (Blue) Bhairab dance and the Bhairab Kali dance. The first is performed at the end of the Mahakali dance while the second is an independent dance form. The Bhairab Kali dance is an erotic dance between the tantric deities, Bhairab and Kali.
Nava Durga dance: A tantric mask dance in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. Performed in Bhaktapur in October every year and in Hadigaun, Kathmandu, once every 12 years.
Lakhey dance: Performed during Indrajatra and Krishna Astami festivals, it depicts an ancient legend involving a lakhey (demon) and his capture.
Charya Dance: Newar Buddhist priests (Bajracharyas and Shakyas) perform this dance. It was once practiced in secret with the belief that the gods would be so pleased that they would make an appearance.
A Popular Buddhist Dance
The Charya Nritya (dance) has been performed worldwide by accomplished dancers like Radhey Shyam and his wife Narayan Devi Pradhan. It can be of different styles, each dance depicting a Buddhist deity. They are a part of the Vajrayana practice of deity yoga (visualizing oneself as a deity figure) wherein the dancer mirrors the appearance, inner qualities, awareness and ornaments of the deity.
Manjushree dance: Depicts the legend Manjushree draining out the water from the Kathmandu Valley thus making it inhabitable.
Bajrayogini dance: A languid dance in honor of Bajrayogini, one of the four tantric goddesses of the Valley.
Pancha Buddha dance: The main ritual dance of the Shakyas. Distinctive colours are worn and particular postures of the Pancha (Five) Buddhas are depicted.
A popular Nepali folk dance
Jyapu- Jyapuni (Dhimey) dance: A folk dance of the Jyapus (traditional farmers) to celebrate the harvest, it is danced to the beats of the dhime, a big drum. Women dancers wearing haku patasi (black sari) and cholo (blouse) dance to attract attention of partly inebriated men dancers clad in daura-surwal and Bhadgaunle topi (traditional Bhaktapur Nepali cap).
Nepali Dances of the Hills
Maruni dance: In this popular dance of the eastern hills, a joker-like figure (dhatu waray, meaning liar) injects humour into the dance.
Sorathi dance: This dance is performed over a period of 16 days by the Gurungs of western Nepal between the Dashain and Tihar festivals.
Ghanto dance: It is performed by pre-pubertal Gurung girls during Magh Panchami (near January-end) and ends on Baisakh Purnima (around April-end). The dancers dance as if in a trance.
Tamang Selo dance: This group dance of the Tamangs is performed to the beat of the damphu (a hand held drum).
Shebru dance: It is a dance of the Sherpas who live in the Himalayan regions.
Master of Nepali Dance
Dr Kumar Prasad Darshan is probably the only man in Nepal to have a doctorate in dance. He is now 75-year-old and lives in a small house near the famous pote bazaar of Indra Chowk in Kathmandu. He has published more than half a dozen books on dance. These include six volumes titled ‘Nepalese Classical Dance Education’ and one titled, ‘Nepalese Classical and Folk Dance Collection’. He ran a dance academy for almost 15 years. Some well known dancers like Radhey Shyam, Basant Shrestha and Narayan Devi Pradhan were his students.
Nepali Dances of the Terai
Horiya dance: A boisterous dance of the Tharu community, it is performed during the Holi festival (Feb-March).
Mungrahawa dance: A popular dance of the Tharus of western Nepal and Chitwan in which young boys carrying wooden sticks (mungros) dance energetically to their own stick beats and to the beats of many drums.
Kaharba Dance: A professional dance of western Terai, dancers move from door to door in small groups.
Jhinjhia Dance: Takes place during Dashain in the Terai. It is a night time routine performed by young girls who dance with burning lamps on top of water vessels balanced on their heads.
Jat-Jatin dance: A popular dance of Nepal’s Mithila region performed on moonlit nights from midnight to dawn during the monsoon months.
Sama-Chakwa dance: A fortnight long dance that begins on the day of Chhat, the biggest festival of the Terai, and ends on the full moon.
Sakhiya Dance: A popular dance of women of western Nepal, it is performed during the Dashain festival.
Jhumare Dance: In this leisurely dance, women dance in a circle to pass idle time.
Kirtaniya Dance: An ancient dance performed during Satyanarayan Puja (Worship of Lord Satyanarayan).
Nachari Dance: Shiva devotees perform this dance during Maha Shivaratri and Basant Panchami.
Bhagata Dance: A Bhagata is one who is capable of warding off spirits. A group of Bhagatas perform this dance to worship the clan deities Kali and Sokha.
Dhimal dance: This is a dance of the Dhimal fishermen of eastern Nepal. It is performed on rainy days before going fishing.
As with many cultures of the world Nepali dances have become an integral part of the society. If you are looking for more specific information regarding any of the nepali dances mentioned in this article, please contact us. We will be happy to help. For those that have not visited Nepal, the saying goes: “People come to Nepal initially to see the mountains, they come back again for the people”. Nepali dance provides that richness which makes the Nepali people unique and lovaable.