More than 900 people gathered in the Statler Auditorium on Saturday night for the Cornell Bhangra Club’s second annual “Pao Bhangra,” an intercollegiate Bhangra dance exhibition. Student performers from the University of Rochester, Rutgers University and New York University joined Cornell’s own Bhangra Mundey, Kudiyan and Mixed Team to demonstrate the folk dance.
Bhangra is one of the many folk dances that hail from the Punjab region in northwest India and Pakistan. It is performed predominantly to celebrate festive occasions such as good harvests. Traditionally, when the Punjabi farmer sees the fruits of his hard labor in the fields, his heart soars and he expresses his joy and energy through song and dance.
Jasjeet Singh Thind ’00 launched the Cornell Bhangra Club in 1997 at a time when Bhangra was relatively unfamiliar to the mainstream Cornell community.
Now in its sixth year, the club has accomplished a great deal in spreading awareness of Punjabi and Sikh culture throughout Cornell via Bhangra.
“If you looked into the audience Saturday night, you saw that at least 50 percent of it was non-Indian, and even most of the Indians were not Punjabi. The diversity of the audience and the Bhangra team in general shows how strong the Punjabi culture is and how strong the Cornell Bhangra Club is in portraying it,” said Tarun Subrahmanian ’03, Cornell Bhangra Club president.
Pao Bhangra 2 kicked off with an energetic performance by the Cornell Bhangra Kudiyan, the Cornell Bhangra Club’s all-female group. Choreographed by Monika Gupta ’05, the dance was presented to a variety of Punjabi folk songs including Hai Hai (Mirza) and Chan Mere Makhna.
Bhangra Kudiyan member Ishani Mukherjee ’04 said that being on the team is an incredible experience despite all the hard work involved.
“It’s my first year on the team and I love it. We practice really hard for many hours a week, but it’s worth it,” Mukherjee said.
Saleem Malkana ’06, a younger member of the Bhangra Mundey, agreed that Bhangra requires the commitment of a large chunk of time, but is worth the trouble.
“Being on the team is time-consuming. Sometimes we practice for many hours at a time, but you make time for it just like you do for anything else at Cornell because it’s fun,” Malkana said.
According to one audience member, Syracuse University sophomore Jake Goldman, the performers are not the only ones who enjoy Bhangra.
“Bhangra is awesome! It’s great to see how another culture entertains,” Goldman said.
Goldman participated in the interlude interactive portion of Pao Bhangra 2, wherein audience members were selected to exhibit their Bhangra skills in a short on-stage competition. He made it to the final round of the competition.
Pao Bhangra 2 was an incredible and educational opportunity for the audience and the performers alike, both those at Cornell and those who were visitors.
For Rutgers University’s Giddha and Bhangra at Rutgers University (GABRU) team, Pao Bhangra 2 was the first major performance of the year.
“We’ve only done little stuff around Rutgers this year. Performing at Cornell has been a lot of fun and a great experience because everyone is really inviting,” said GABRU member Shivani Seth.
Amidst the various dances, the Cornell Sikh Association led an informational presentation that outlined tenets of the Sikh faith and culture. Organization members explained the significance of the traditional Sikh turban and other such customs.
The Cornell Bhangra Mixed Team presented the highlight performance of the night, which featured the Boliyan song, a traditional set of lyrics modified by Cornell Bhangra Club family and friends and sung by Niyati Trivedi ’03.
Executed mostly by the senior members of the Cornell Bhangra Club, the performance received a standing ovation from the audience.
Pao Bhangra 2 was the last exhibition that the Cornell Bhangra Club will perform at the University this school year and was thus the final home performance for graduating senior Ashwin Patel ’03, Cornell Bhangra Club vice president.
“It’s very emotional to think that Pao Bhangra 2 was the last time I will perform at Cornell. There’s no other audience like Cornell. People don’t cheer for us or receive us the way they do at home. We always get standing ovations here,” Patel said.
Patel added that the Cornell Bhangra Club will perform once more this year at the Bhangra Blowout competition in Washington, D.C., later this month.
Club members are hoping to add to their long list of trophies, which includes the Mixed Team’s second place win at Hype Production’s program in Detroit, Mich., earlier this year.
Subrahmanian, who will also be graduating this May, said that dancing the Cornell Bhangra Club was the definitive aspect of his Cornell experience.
“I look back on my three years at Cornell and realize that Bhangra is what kept me grounded and sane. They say that college is supposed to be the best time of your life. Bhangra is what made college the best time of my life,” Subrahmanian said.
Archived article by Anita Valliani