Folk theater flavor witnessed at Gaiety


Performance of various Himachali folk theater forms captivated audiences

Shimla-A five days long ; that is from March 1 to 5; folk culture festival organized by the art and culture group Platform at the Historic Gaiety Theatre’s amphitheatre, the Mall in association with the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi and Department of Language Art and Culture Himachal Pradesh finally concluded with a bang.

While informing about the festival Ajay Sharma, President of Platform said, “It was my sincere effort to make people aware about Himachali culture and folk theatre as youngsters are getting away from their roots. We have also organized the five days long exhibition for the people where we exhibited dressed and various native musical instruments too.”

During this, five days long festival people got an opportunity to peep inside the various cultural folk theater forms like Barlaaj – Kullu; Horingfo- Kinnaur; Kareyala- Shimla; Banthana- Mandi; and last but not the least Thoda and Harul – Sirmour.

Though the festival kick started on a disappointing note as the performance of Barlaaj can easily be identified with the story of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem A broken song where Baraj says with hands clasped, ‘Master, our days are gone. New men have come now, new styles and customs in the world. The singer along does not make a song, there has to be someone who hears. . . Where there is no love, where listeners are dumb, there never can be song’ as feelings of the performing group members were mutual.

Though the performance started with full zeal and caught attention of the people but unfortunately I was brought to an abrupt end due to lack of spectators left to enjoy the traditional musical performance. As S.N. Joshi a well known theater personality while sharing his views about each day performance shared “Barlaj is presented in two different styles in Himachal. The first is ‘singing tradition’ and the ‘lokgatha’ (folklore) is sung in Rampur Bushehr, Nirmand, Sarahan, Dutt Nagar, Nirath and Outer Seraj. Slow rhythms accompanied by music from damaru or khanjari generally do not appeal to the people if the dialect is not understood. There is no drama in it. It is the story of Baliraja who was a demon-king and had tried to capture the throne of Indra – the king of Gods, but Lord Vishnu dodged him by incarnating as dwarf. This story was sung on the first evening of the folk-fest but could not impress the audience. The second style of Barlaj is opera-like, performed in the lower parts of Shimla and Sirmaur districts. Because there is drama in it, it attracts the people. Had the organizers brought the opera-Barlaj, it would have been an enjoyable evening.”


“Karyala”, folk-theatre of Shimla, Sirmaur and Solan districts has crude humour in it and the beauty of it is its vulgarity (it is different from obscenity) – the language and behavior of the folk. All the swangs (crude comedy) was nicely portrayed and the Babu, in one of the swangs, with his broken English, stance and carriage was attractive. The second beauty of Karyala is impromptu dialogue delivery and quite a few dialogues were wittily coined there and then.

Whereas, Banthra the oldest form of folk-theatre in Himachal Pradesh. It is performed in Mandi and Bilaspur districts. Banthra that was presented here was from Shiva-Badhar area of Mandi district. Its beauty was its originality. It stuck to the tradition in costumes – even the garland around the performers was made of the remains of corn after taking the grains out. The crudity of Karyala was also visible in Banthra and it started with Devstuti (praising the God) and Manglacharan (auspicious prayer)– as it should – instead of the dance of Chandrauli as in Karyala.


Thoda is a battle-folkdance of Himachal played with bow and arrow. The imagery of fight between Shathi and Pashi with bow and arrow is reminiscent of what happened in Mahabharata when Kauravs fought against Pandavas. The beauty of this sport-cum-dance is the exchange of satirical words between the two parties but the open air stage was so small for this dance that the sounds of dhol and nagara drowned the words of the players and the clarity from those went missing. The words exchanged between the two rivals are interesting but those could not fully reach the ears of the audience. Moreover, there was apprehension that the arrow, though blunted, could hit one among the audience, so the players had to restrict their movements.

To wit, it was a commendable attempt to bring the folk from the villages to the town of Shimla but the venue selected was congested. Folk needs wide open space finally concluded Joshi.

However due to some reasons the Horingfo show got cancelled leaving many spectators disheartened. However the day ended with another much talked about controversy regarding violation of rules in the Gaiety. As few people who where not aware about the cancelation of the show found the poster announcing some other show which too did not take place and instead the man was seen talking in harsh tone near the performing venue yelling at the team member who were suppose to perform.

The exhibition turned out to be a best event as it was able to please all people and did not target any particular audience. The traditional dresses and musical instruments attracted people from all over the city.

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