Gambhira, a popular annual festival of Malda District comprises songs and dances closely related to agriculture and mythology. Performances depict on one hand, the success, failure or annual production of crops, and on the other tell stories about mythological figures. Depending on the theme, dancers perform solo, duets or in groups, stepping in tune with the beat of dhaks. Colourful masks representing Gods and Goddesses like Kalika, Chamunda, Rama, Hanuman, Shiva and even animals and birds, make the performances both charming and entertaining, while retaining the authenticity of this primitive dance form.
The word Gambhira means ‘Devalaya’ or House of God. This festival is very closely associated with Shiva Puja. In the different rituals associated with Gambhira Puja we find an amalgamation of different religious thoughts like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism and Shaktiism. In Malda district, where this festival is immensely popular, Shiva is also known as Gambhir, and hence the festival associated with Shiv Puja is known as Gambhira. The Bengal Drum or Dhak and the Gong or Kanshi are main musical instruments accompanying this dance. Dancers tune their steps to the different beats of the Dhak, the intricate patterns of their dance blending into the pulsating rhythm of festivity and celebration. Over the years, poverty and social changes are forcing this dance, which was once synonymous with grandeur, into oblivion. The Gambhira festival begins with Agamani songs. The second day of the festival is called the Choto Tamasha and the third day the Boro Tamasha. These days are devoted to Shiva and Gouri Puja. Other popular dances of the Gambhira tradition include the Baan Nritya (Arrow Dance) Bak Nritya (Stork Dance) Tapa Nritya (a dance performed by the fishermen and fisherwomen using a special kind of bamboo basket known as the Tapa which is used for catching the fish) and Kali Nritya (the dance of Goddess Kalika).