Art, Music, Dance, and Textile Traditions of Punjab

  • This article comprehensively tells you about the different forms of art, dance, crafts, music and textile traditions of Punjab.

In part one we covered Maharashtra. Part two is about Punjab - literally, the land of five rivers! For the uninitiated, Punjab is synonymous with swathes of swaying, green fields, replete with exuberance, self-sufficiency, and satisfaction. Area-wise, it is the 20th largest state in the republic of India. It is home to different communities who revel in the beauty of the land’s strategic location, rivers, hills, places of worship, and vibrant festivals.

Over thousands of years, multitude of factors such as climatic, political, foreign invasions, regional, religious, historical, and so on have led to the emergence of a peculiar culture of the state. Here’s a deep dive into the crafts and performing arts of the state - a noteworthy window to the culture of Punjab.

1. Crafts of Punjab


The womenfolk in Punjab took to making baskets to carry multiple utensils and other household articles at once. Carrying multiple items in a basket at once eased the task of carrying these articles, one at a time. Baskets, assembled with thin straws of wood that remain after wood shaving, were merely for their convenience and were not considered as artwork or pieces of home decor.

However, as their skill gained popularity, women began to try creative ways to embellish the baskets they made. Thus, the craft of basketry came to be practised widely across the state of Punjab. Today, it is celebrated as one of the most prominent crafts of Punjab.

Baskets made in Punjab.


Punjabi artisans engaged in woodwork are the much sought-after artisans (read carpenters and craftsmen) across the country. The state of Punjab proudly promotes its wooden furniture and woodcrafts. Wooden beds with beautiful backrests, intricately designed with mirrors are renowned and find patronage of those with an eye for traditional furniture. 

Among other furniture, wooden stools made with low seats, called Pidhis, are also sought after.  Carved from wood, covered with lacquer, and woven with colourful threads, the Pidhis are a functional product that adorns the homes of those with a taste in ethnic décor. The curl-ended hand fan made from wood called Kundaldar Pakkhi, is so famous that tourists visiting Punjab make a beeline to purchase them at local stores.

The regions of Batala, Amritsar, Kartarpur, and Hoshiarpur are known for skilled artisans engaged in wood carving. Beautifully carved wooden vanity and jewellery boxes, bangle stands, toys, mirror frames, trays, dining chairs and tables, and decorative art pieces, inlayed with ivory are exported by the state of Punjab.

Examples of woodwork in Punjab.

Needle work

Needle work, by the proverbially beautiful women of Punjab, is as exquisite as the women who design it. Phulkari, a fascinating needlework-based textile folk-art deploys colourful threads that trace flower motifs and petal shapes.

Phulkari is believed to be a symbol of marital bliss and hence Phulkari-designed scarves, shalwars, dupattas, handkerchiefs, bedspreads, odhanis, suits, and shirts find special presence during weddings and in the bridal trousseau. What’s striking is that no two phulkaris are alike and hence diverse designs make appearances on varied textures and fabrics.

Dupatta made of Phulkari needle work.

Punjabi Juttis

Punjabi juttis - bright and seeped in colour and verve, are a rage among those who visit Punjab! Juttis made in Punjab are so light that cobblers refer to them as ‘shoes that even birds could wear while taking flight.’ What’s equally appealing about the juttis is that they are made of sweat-free cloth!

The golden and silver wires used to weave designs into the juttis give them a heavy and luxurious appearance. The richness of the juttis lies in their quality which is never compromised upon. These days, different threads and colourful wires are used apart from the traditional golden and silver wires to make the juttis more attractive and vibrant!

Punjabi Juttis.


Since clay is easily available from any pond in the vicinity (each pond is called Chappar), clay pots find a special mention in the art forms of Punjab. Each type of pot has a specific function to perform in the everyday lives of the villagers.

Of these the Surahi and Ghara, pots used for collecting and storing water respectively, are renowned. The pots, once ready, are painted in different colours. Some are even decorated with small coloured pieces of glass in unique spatial designs. Decorated clay pots have made a big splash in the city markets of Punjab and are sold at a good price today.

Clay pots made in Punjab.

Toy making

Quite like the clay pots, Punjab is famous for its clay toys. An interesting fact about clay toys made in Punjab is that one can trace their origins way back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The toys belonging to that era and the ones from a period much later in time bear a striking resemblance. 

In fact, until recent times, traditional clay toy designs and toy-making technique had been quite the same, demonstrating knowledge and skill-sharing over generations. Clay toys are painted in animated colours and adorned with clothes. Sadly, with time, clay toys are being increasingly replaced by plastic and metal toys in city markets. 

Toys made of wood and lacquer, and painted in bright colours such as yellow, red, green, and orange were traditionally made only in the Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, and Kartarpur regions. The wood and lacquer toy-making industry is now spread evenly across the state. 

Toys made of cloth and stuffed with cotton, embellished with beads, tassels, feathers, tinsels, and buttons are made by womenfolk in villages. Also, Punjab was once famous for its toys made of straw.

Clay toys made in Punjab. 

Mud wall painting

People in Punjab believe in invoking God’s blessings and warding off the evil eye with art, craft, and beauty. Chowk Poorana, or mud wall paintings, is an art practised in every village household, passed down several generations. Punjabi women are known to paint their mud walls with beautiful scenes and stories from epics and mythology. They also paint images of festivals and dance forms on their mud walls, especially during auspicious occasions. These beautiful mud wall paintings are testimony to the belief in positivity, power, and energy that all women are bestowed with. 

Mud wall painting in Punjab. 

Hand printing

The Chimba community in Punjab is renowned for its beautiful art of hand printing on cloth. White cloth, provided by customers is dyed with dyes obtained from vegetables, plants, and stones and then hand-printed by the artisans. Hand printing is now done on cloth for daily wear, handkerchiefs, prayer cloth, bed covers, and shamianas (tent covers). Traditional dyes have been replaced by aniline dyes since they are cheap and require much less labour.

An artisan engages in hand block printing. 

Kite making

Punjabis are very fond of flying kites and invest their available free time in making kites of different sizes. Some kites are decorated with light materials such as feathers and straws and are coloured in distinct pulsating hues. On Basant Panchami, a festival that celebrates the onset of spring, Punjabis rejoice with kite flying festivities. On this day there are kite flying competitions that entire families participate in.

A family shopping for kites, a day prior to Basant Panchami. 

2. Performing Arts of Punjab

Punjab is renowned for its distinct dance and music traditions. Important life events such as birth and death, love and separation, marriage and fulfilment, and so on are celebrated through the soulful music and dancing styles of Punjab. 

Music of Punjab

Punjabi folk music has expressive forms such as the Dhadi, Tumba-Algoze, and Tappa among other regional variants.


This ballad-style of folk music follows the principles of communal authorship. Dhadi singers – practically illiterate simple village folk, dressed in all white with starched turbans, would belt out ballads of heroism, love, and tragedy. They would sing about characters immortalized in legends such as Hir-Ranjha and Mirza-Sahiba. A similar ballad-style folk music found in the Malwa- Majha region is the tumba-algoze music.  


These are small verses inspired by the routine lives of the village folk. Couplets and witty lines form the core of some verses while serious elucidations of life form the core of others. Lyrical verses are bound in music with instruments such as dhol, algoje, sarangi, chimta, kato, supp, budgo, tumid, and dhad amongst others. Punjabi Tappe, a compilation of Tappa verses, sung by the late legendary singer Jagjit Singh are treat to one’s ears!

Dances of Punjab

Music, dance, and life are inseparable in the state of Punjab. Traditional folk-dance forms such as Bhangra, Gidda, Jhumar, Luddi, Dankara, Dhamal, Jaago, and Kikli are some of the most prominent ones. These delightful Punjabi dance forms spread across the world as people from Punjab moved continents for education and employment. Each of these dance forms has its unique panache and comprises inimitable dance steps. Known to be performed on different occasions and for different purposes, let us explore each of them, individually.


Bhangra is the most famous dance form out of all the traditional folk-dance forms of Punjab. Bhangra was traditionally performed on Lohri and Baisakhi to celebrate the change of seasons and harvest respectively. Today, bhangra is synonymous with the celebratory nature of the Punjabis - the people of Punjab.

In present times, bhangra is performed on all occasions such as birthdays, weddings, pre-wedding ceremonies, festivals, and so on. In villages, during festivals, people belonging to diverse social classes, gather at the village square and dance to classic bhangra steps involving a lot of leaping and jumping, around those playing the dhol.

A Bhangra dance troupe. 


Like Bhangra, Gidda is also one of the most famous dance forms of Punjab. The gidda involves a signature clapping of hands, and a dance to match the beats of the dhols and drums. The dances are performed on the lines of bolis.

Bolis are small verses or couplets that are inspired by the daily life of women, social life of the families, and even the political scenarios which plays a vital role in the social and economic lives of the women of Punjab. Humorous giddas such as banters with husbands and mothers-in-law as well as serious ones like the stomach-pinching price hikes are performed by women with a lot of enthusiasm. These days, Giddas have come to be performed in association with bhangra and both the folk-dance forms have become almost inseparable.

Gidda Dance.


This dance form traces its origins in Sandalbar, a small place in present-day Pakistan. The dance is performed by women who circle around the drummer and sing verses as they dance. It was carried to places in Punjab and Rajasthan, by artists travelling from the Sandalbar town to promote their music and dance.  


Luddi is a celebratory victory dance. It is mostly performed by male dancers as the dance involves extremely forceful body movements. Dancers performing Luddi wear simple loose shirts, place one hand on their back and the other in front of their faces and perform snake-like body movements. The dancers perform these vigorous steps around the drummer present at the centre of the formation. Very often, villagers join the dance and give it a befitting finale with a round of bhangra.


Dankara is also a celebratory dance form typically performed by men during weddings. The characteristic dance steps of dankara involve two men with staves of different colours dance to the rhythm of beats around each other and then tap their sticks together. People arrange to have special dankara performances during wedding ceremonies these days.

Dankara Dance.


Dhamal, again a celebratory dance form, is like bhangra. Several men dance together in a circle with steps quite like those performed in bhangra, without detailed attention to formation and rhythm. It is performed to merely relish the occasion.


The word Jaago literally means a call to wake up! People in Punjab love to celebrate weddings on a large scale. In villages, almost the entire village or the community is invited to the wedding. Women of the house announce the wedding to everyone by carrying pots (gaggars) of water on their heads through the entire village and sing songs with lyrics meant to tease people. They celebrate the upcoming nuptials of the girl in their house by lighting candles and decorating the gaggars with colourful paint and small pieces of colourful glass.


Kikli is performed by women by crossing their arms, holding each other’s hands, and dancing and whirling around in circles while singing small couplets and verses of folk songs. Two, four or six women perform this dance together in their courtyards to celebrate different occasions!


“Gatka is a complete martial system which uses spiritual, mental and physical skills in equal portions to help one defend themselves and others. It is a weapon-based art whose present form was created post 1857. “It gained popularity when the British banned the practise of Shastar Vidiya, which was punishable by death. The Punjabi word gatka refers to a wooden stick used in sparring matches. The term might have originated as a diminutive of the Sanskrit word gada or mace.”

“Indian Shastar Vidya (martial art weaponry skills) is a part of the vast Vedic traditions. It is a complete science of war from hand-to-hand combat to battlefield strategy. It was exported to the oriental world along with Buddhism and became a foundation for Chinese and Japanese martial art tradition".

It is a martial art form performed by the young and old alike that is specifically performed on Baisakhi and Gurupurab days to celebrate the tradition started by Sikh guru Hargobind Sahib after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. It is a sight to behold and is preceded and proceeded by a peaceful procession.

Gatka being played.  

The people of Punjab are extremely warm and enhance social interactions with their personal exuberance and enthusiasm! They are energetic individuals who believe in celebrating life to the fullest – a sentiment justly depicted in their art forms!

To read all articles by author

Also see

1. Gatka performance Hola Mohala Anandpur

2. Fields of Punjab  

3. Read more about Gatka

4. To know about Kerala Martial Art Kalaripayattu

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