The Mizos, blessed as they are with a beautiful environment and rich culture, are a vibrant and sociable society. They love to dance and sing. As a result of which a number of folk and community dances have been handed down from one generation to the other through the ages. The dances are the expressions of the gay, carefree spirit of the Mizos. It should be mentioned here that these dances are not intended for stage performances, rather, they have been evolved for community involvement and participation.
The most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos is called ‘Cheraw'. Little is known about the origin of Cheraw. Possibly the forefathers of Mizos brought it with them when they left their homes in far-east Asia. Cheraw is performed on any occasion these days. But, as the legend goes, it used to be performed in earlier times only to ensure a safe passage for the soul of a mother who died at childbirth. Cheraw is, therefore, a dance of sanctification and redemption performed with great care, precision and elegance.
Long bamboo starves are used for this dance, therefore many people call it 'Bamboo Dance'. The dancers move by stepping alternatively in and out from between and across a pair of horizontal bamboos, held against the ground by people sitting face to face on either side. They tap the bamboos in rhythmic beats. The bamboos, placed horizontally, are supported by two bases, one at each end. The bamboos, when clapped, produce a sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers steps in and out to the beats of the bamboos with ease and grace. The patterns and stepping of the dance have many vibrations. Sometimes the steppings are made to imitate the movement of birds, sometimes the swaying of trees and so on
Khual, in Mizo language, means a guest, lam means dancing. So, Khuallam is the dance of the guest. The Mizos, in the pre-Christian days, believed that the soul, after death went either to 'Pialral' or paradise, or 'Mitthi Khua', a land of sorrow and misery. To have a place in Paradise, one had to prove one's mettle either in war or in hunting or by being a man of distinction in society. To claim a distinguished place in society, one had to perform various ceremonies which included offering community feasts and dances. These ceremonies performed together, were known as 'Khuangchawi'. While performing Khuangchawi one was obliged to invite relatives from nearby villages. The guest entered the arena of the Khuangchawi dancing Khuallam- hence, Khuallam is the dance for the visitors or guests.
The dance is normally performed by men dressed in Puandum (traditional Mizo clothes with red and green stripes) to the accompaniment of a set of gongs known as Darbu. A group dance, the more the merrier, they dance to the tune of gongs and drums.
Chheih Lam »
It is the dance over a round of rice beer in the cool of the evening. The lyrics in triplets are normally fresh and spontaneous on-the-spot compositions, recounting their heroic deeds and escapades and also praising the honoured guests present in their midst.
Joie de vivre would be the appropriate term to describe Chheih lam, a dance that embodies the spirit of joy and exhilaration. Chheih lam is performed to the accompaniment of a song called Chheih hla. The song is sung to the beats of a drum or bamboo tube or clapping of hands. People squat on the floor in a circle while a dancer stands in the middle reciting a song with various movements of limbs and body. An expert Chheih dancer performs his part in such a manner that the people around him leave their seats and join the dance. Any one can try this dance, for it has no specific choreography. All that one has to do is to get into the mood and live up to it. Chheih lam is performed on any occasion normally in the evenings, when the day's work is over.
Chai is a festival dance. It is a community dance with men and women standing one after another in a circle, holding each other on the shoulder and the nape. The dancers sway to and fro and swing their feet to the tune of the song, sung in chorus by all of them, while a drummer and gongman beat their instruments used in the dance. Chai presents a grand show, but it is not exactly suitable for performing on the stage. In olden days, the Chai dancers used to consume rice-beer continuously while dancing, they did not know when to stop.
Rallu Lam »
Strictly speaking, Rallu lam is not a dance as such. It is rather a celebration or a rite in honour of a victorious warrior. When a warrior comes back after a successful campaign, he is given a warm and colourful reception by the village Chief. The celebration consists of a re-enactment of the warrior's heroic exploits. The mode of celebration, however, varies from village to village.
Originally, the dance used to be performed mainly by the people of the Maras and Pawi communities of Mizoram. They remain the best exponents of the dance to-date. Like Rallu lam, Solakia was also performed in earlier times to celebrate a victory in war. Marked with five principal movements, the dance seeks to recapture the actions of a hero at war. Men and women stand in profile, while the hero, brandishing a sword and a shield, dances in the middle to the accompaniment of gong beats.
One of the most impressive Mizo community dances, Sarlamkai is a variation of Solakia. The two dances are almost identical. The only difference lies in the dress and tempo. No song is sung, only gongs or cymbals or drums are used to beat time. Sarlamkai has been taken up by most of the schools in Mizoram for cultural activities these days.
Par Lam »
The land of enchanting hills has yet another dance, the Par lam. Girls attired in colourful dresses, with flowers tucked in their hair, dance to the tune of songs sung by themselves. The principal movement in the dance involves the waving of hands. A couple of boys lend musical accompaniment by playing guitars. Comparatively, this is a new dance. Nevertheless, it has become a part of the Mizo culture.