Siddi Dhamal: A unique dance form

Siddi Dhamal: A unique dance form

Tribal dance

colourful Dhamal dancers. Photo by Dilip banerjee

Siddi, also known by the names of Sheedi and Habshi, is one of the major tribal communities of Gujarat, while a few of them also live in parts of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra

Most Siddis are believed to be the descendants of slaves, sailors, servants and merchants from the Bantu-speaking parts of East Africa who arrived and became residents of the subcontinent during the 1200-1900 CE period. In fact, it is believed that a large influx of Siddis to the region occurred in the 17th century when Portuguese slave traders sold a number of them to the local princes.

The cultural heritage of Siddis dates back to almost 300 years. Their dance and music are quite exquisite. Dhamal is one such dance form that reflects the Siddis’ passion for hunting. In the olden days, also known as Mashira Nritya, this dance was performed by Siddis after returning from a successful hunting expedition. During the reign of kings, Dhamal was the main source of entertainment for rulers.

Although Siddis have adopted the language and customs of their present residence, some African traditions have remained undisturbed. 

In the earlier days, dhol (known as dhamal in their tongue) or mushira, as well as small dholkis were played as essential instruments.

An action-filled dance, the dancers are sometimes seen throwing coconuts in the air which fall on their heads and get broken into bits and pieces. Sometimes dancers  even dance barefoot over burning embers.

When it comes to costumes, they hardly wear anything above the waist while they wear either a piece of fabric or peacock feathers below the waist. However, a waist belt with shells is a must.

Siddis, known for their physical strength and loyalty, are proud of their cultural heritage and participate in the dance as and when they get an opportunity.

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