Most of the costumes in Indian folk dances are colourful with all-embracing jewels and designs. Indian folk and tribal dances are performed with the simple motive of expressing joy. Folk and tribal dances are performed during every possible occasion, to celebrate the birth of a child, the arrival of seasons, a wedding and various festivals.
The dancing costumes in Indian folk dances are usually of uncomplicated pieces, so that free movement of limbs is possible. In eastern India, tribal women wear sari, while the men wear turbans and dhotis. Similarly, during a north Indian folk dance, the women usually wear Salwar Kameez with a glistening dupatta and the men wear churidars with turban. In western India, the costumes in folk dances are similar to the traditional attire of Rajasthan and Gujarat; similarly, in South Indian folk dances, the costumes perfectly blend with the traditional dresses of the state. However, in some cases exceptions usage of masks and other decorative components like leaves, barks of trees, bones are also seen.
Indian folk dances are simple with some typical movement and steps. The costumes of these dances reflect the spirit of the performance and vitality. Men and women perform some dances exclusively, while in some performances men and women dance together. In such performances, the costumes are made to look alike, either in pattern or in colours combinations. On most occasions, the dancers sing themselves, while being accompanied by artists on the instruments. Each form of dance has a detailed costume. Most costumes of Indian folk dances are gaudy.
In northern India, Bhangra is one of most popular folk dances, originating from Punjab. The costume of a Bhangra dancer comprises a bright, coloured Patka on the head, a lacha or lungi of the same colour, a long tunic and a black or blue waistcoat and ghunghroos on the ankles. However, some dancers also wear small rings (nuntian) in their ears. The costume of another north Indian folk dance, Jhumar is a simple loose shirt. Yet another folk dance of Himachal Pradesh, Namagen is performed by both men and women and the costumes worn by the dancers are usually made of wool and are richly studded. The women wear ample pieces of silver jewellery. Dumhal of Kashmir is a folk dance performed by the men folk of the Wattal tribe, who wear long colourful robes, tall conical caps that are studded with beads and shells. The costumes of north Indian folk dances, thus, resemble the native dressing style of men and women.
Padayani is a spectacular folk dance form of south India, originating in Kerala. The elaborate costume of this dance bears slight resemblance to Theyyam. The performers are always men who also enact female roles wearing necessary make-up and costumes. The costumes generally consist of palm leaves, cloth and brass jewelry, wild masks and a big headgear that extends up to 40 ft in height. The size and appearance of the costume astonishes the audience. With its unique and grotesque make-up and costume, this folk art is a magnetic attraction in the south.
Costumes play a vital role in South Indian folk dances. In Mayil Attam, the women performers dress as peacocks, resplendent with peacock feathers and a glittering headdress and also a beak. This beak is made to open and close with the help of a thread tied to it, and manipulated from within the costume.
Other similar folk dances of south India are, Kaalai Attam, where the performers are dressed as a bull, Karadi Attam, where they wear a costume of a bear and Aali Aattam, where the performers dress as a demon. Vedala Aattam is another folk dance, where the ferocious masks depicting demons is the prime attraction of the costume.
Dollu Kunitha or Dollu Dance, a famous folk dance of Karnataka is mainly performed with quick and light movement of the feet and legs. The costumes of the performers are simple. Upper part of the body is usually left bare while the black sheet-rug is tied on the lower part of the body over the `dhooti` or sarong. Virbhadra is a folk dance of Goa. The person enacting the role of Virbhadra dresses himself in a warrior`s costumes. He wields swords as he dances his way in the grounds of the temples. Mando-Dhulpod, also a folk dance of Goa features peculiar costume of the performers. The notable feature is its pattern resembling the Burmese Saronge-type dress, locally called Tollopo.
In central India, the folk dances like Jawara, from Madhya Pradesh, is performed by both men and women wearing colourful costumes and beautiful jewellery. Karma Dance of central India is performed wearing colourful costumes; peacock feathers, conch shells and mixture of different jewelry. The folk dances of eastern India are closely knit with the various folk art forms.
Chhau, a mask dance, is a famous folk dance form from eastern India that has fairly known popularity internationally as well. The history of the costume of Chhau dance is not known when this particular dance-form began over two hundred years ago. The contemporary costumes used are of various colours and designs pyjamas of deep green, yellow, or red shade are worn by the artistes who play the gods, while those, who play the demons (asuras) put on loose trousers of a deep black shade. Stripes of contrasting colours are used to make the costumes more striking. The costumes for the upper portion of the body are manifested with various designs. Goddess Kali is the prominent character in Chhau dance, and her costume is made of cloth of chronic black. Animals and birds are other characters use suitable masks and costumes to enact their identities. These special masks of Chhau dance are indispensable component of the performance.
Dalkhai is the most popular folk-dance of Orissa, performed on occasions like Phangun Puni, Bhaijiuntia, Nuakhai and so on. The women usually dress themselves with the colourful Sambalpuri Sari and wear a scarf on the shoulders holding the ends below in both the hands. Adorned with traditional ornaments and flowers their full-bodied frames sustain the lively steps for long hours.
In western India, the performances of folk dances usually originate from Rajasthan and Gujarat. Dandiya, a famous folk dance of Rajasthan is probably the most spectacular sight owing to its unique costume. Women wear dazzling coloured Chaniya Cholis and men wear Kedias. Chaniya Cholis are hand embroidered and embellished with mirrors, shells and anything that matches with it. Women wear jewellery that is an assortment of traditional Gujarat and modern-day fashion. Along with such dress, they wear Mojdee, they are hand made pure leather shoes with embroidery on the superior surface with hardened leather soles.
In North-eastern India, Bihu dance is the most popular folk dance of Assam. This dance is performed with traditional folk music played with Dhol and Singor pepea. The costume for this beautiful dance is Dhoti, Gamocha and Chadar for men; Mekhala for women. Women wear gaudy jewellery and their plaits are filled with flowers. The colour of the flowers is made to match with the dress worn by the dancer. The Thang-ta dance of Manipur was an evolution from the martial arts and the costume is usually white dhoti and loose kurta. The men festoon their waists with colourful scarves that also tighten the dhoti. In North-eastern India, an organised group of tribal performers perform dances, plays, and musical scripts, dance dramas. The dancers wear masks of demons or animals and splendid costumes.
The colourful costumes of Indian folk dances enhance the beauty of the performance. Folk dances are the particular style of dancing that originated from the ordinary people of a society or region, thus their costumes are also native and closely associated with the customs of the originating state. Indian folk dances also reflect the diversity in Indian tradition and culture, thus the costumes also differ according to the tribe and place of birth.