The ghungroo is a type of musical anklet that is tied around the calves of dancers in India in order to intensify the rhythmic acoustics of the feet. Ghungroos are a traditional and crucial part of many different Indian classical dances, including Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi.
Indian classical dancers (as well as classical dancers from other parts of the Indian subcontinent) are required to wear ghungroos in order to ensure the audience can identify and appreciate the complex footwork that goes into the dance. The ghungroo produces a pleasing tinkling sound which is the perfect musical adornment for the complex yet fluid movements that are characteristic of Indian dance.
There is a difference between a ghungroo and ghungroos. A ghungroo is a globular bell i.e. a metallic globe about 2 cm in diameter with a tiny ball of metal within it to produce a tinkling bell like sound when movement occurs. Ghungroos are made by stringing these tiny bells on a strong thread or rope or sticking them on to thick material like leather.
While a beginning dancer need not wear more than 50 ghungroos, more experienced dancers are expected to wear more; the senior most dancers wear 200 or more bells per foot. This is because it takes practice and a good amount of skill to be able to carry off a heavy set of ghungroos whilst performing complicated dances. The sounds produced by this distinctive ethnic accessory will vary depending on the metallic components of the jewelry and its size.
Also called the pag ghungroo in north Indian culture as it is solely worn on the feet (‘pag’), this dance accessory is significant not only in terms of the sounds but also in terms of the look. For instance, in Kathak, ghungroo anklets complete the dancers’ attire and accentuate their costume as well as their movements. Many dancers wear a large set of ghungroos reaching till the knees to showcase their proficiency and add layers of beautiful sound to their performance.
It matches beautifully with the traditional Kathak outfits like the Anarkali salwar kameez and the lehenga choli and are wonderfully displayed when the dancer takes the characteristic twirls and turns. This is because fast and/or repetitive turns cause the skirt portion of the outfit to flare out, thus revealing the ghungroos worn below.
The Indian ghungroo is always made of metal to create the distinctive metallic twinkle and ringing sound. The metals used for the outer casing may vary between brass, bronze and silver, which are all considered the most attractive and appropriate materials for creating ghungroos. The inner bead is usually made of iron as it is not visible and hence does not have to have a beautiful look. The string on which they are attached can be made more decorative as well, by adding on colorful tassels or by dyeing it a distinctive color like indigo or blood red.
Ghungroos have also inspired more commonly worn ethnic accessories such as payals. Rather than having layer upon layer of heavy bells, payals are simple silver anklets strung with a few bells. They are worn by girls as young as two years old and are considered both lucky and good for the health of the wearer. They can be worn on a daily basis as they are small enough to be hidden if necessary and versatile enough to match with different types of outfits.
Wearing the ghungroos
Ghungroos are worn during Indian classical dance performances and match best with traditional Indian dance costumes. This includes the costumes of various dances including Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi. It is the association with Kathak that has made ghungroos really popular and well known with the general public.
Kathak is the Indian classical dance that has most often been featured on the big screen, in movies such as Mughal-E-Azam, Umrao Jaan and Devdas. In these movies, actresses like Rekha and Madhubala are seen wearing completely authentic dance costumes including the large and prominent ghungroos on their feet.
Indian traditional dance is all about creating a harmonious blend of visual aesthetics, acoustics and movement. Therefore a lot of attention is paid to every detail of the outfit. In Kathak, ghungroos are usually paired up with lehenga cholis and anarkali salwar kameez, while in Bharatnatyam, they are paired up with unique saree costumes which consist of multiple and colorful pieces of cloth combined to look like a saree.
Along with ghungroos, heavy gold jewelry is usually added to the costume, including traditional pieces like the mang tikka, nath and bangles. The make-up component is also very important to the look; neatly tied back hair (in Kathak a long braid is necessary while in Bharatnatyam a bun is required), henna tattoos for the hands and feet and large bindis are some of the essential details of the complete traditional dancer’s look.