It was ‘Mardaan da Naach’, that is until Prof Rajpal, Secretary General, Punjab Arts Council, gave it a more ‘folk’ name in 1985 — ‘Malwai Gidda’. This is a dance form that is basic — and one means really basic.
What else does one expect from a dance that results from teeth-grating, fist-tightening deprivation. In the Malwa belt of Punjab, awfully oppressed village women would simply let go, whether during weddings or other occasions, by singing and dancing.
They would hit the floor with a vengeance, pouring out all their social, emotional and sexual suppression. And what would the men do? They’d just stand there, take a ‘sinful’ peep, but never actually take part in the heady gidda.
So off they marched — old and young men — along the Sutlej, grabbing anything remotely musical under their arms and made a song’n’dance out of their very own frustration. At last something for the men — Mardaan da... And it took off instantly, thanks to major groups such as those from Gharachon Chathe Shekhwan villages.
Today, as most folk forms of Punjab slowly vanish, their ‘saviours’ only ‘museum’-ising the instruments and accessories in the name of culture, we get to watch a ‘chaste’ version of the gidda under a tree, over a cemented white-washed stage in Nabha, performed by the only surviving of the three main groups from Kalyan Sukha village led by Guraan Ditta Singh.
Hiding among the audience of white, flowing beards, we remember that this art form is a celebration of, by and for the people themselves. The audience just happens to be there.
In its full form, the Malwai gidda is about hopping and stomping, grinful songs of swaying mustard and husking wheat in slo-mo. A volley of bolis puffs over crisp white kurtas and chaadraas and flaps the edges of the turle waali paggs.
Men form a semi-circle, each armed with a dholak or ghara, algoza or manjira, chimta, khartal, kaato, garwa — anything sound-worthy, and get down to some serious fun.
First, there’s an invocation to God. Then, one steps forward, tosses a long boli towards the end of which others break into a lyrical session with their bodies and instruments while two men hip-shake to the centre with a bhangra-gidda cocktail.
Then an abrupt pause, and a drumbeat rounds off the boli, making way for another one.
So do they miss their women? Aw, all the time...