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Kalbelia Dance, Rajasthan

"I have broken down three walls", says the attractive middle aged woman conscious of the mesmerising power of her magnetic personality. "My people were nomads but I have shown them the pleasures and profits of making their homes. Our art was only related to our livelihood but after I took it on-stage it now entertains people. And finally, I led my community in putting our children in schools". These are the words of Gulabo Sapera…… At the Pushkar fair, near Ajmer in Rajasthan in 1981, 12 years old Dhanvantri was left alone, as her elders were busy attracting fair-goers. She was the last of seven children and the darling of her father. Her rosy complexion had made her father rejoice in the pet name 'Gulabo'. Away from the throng, she was amusing herself imitating the elders. She swung and she whirled. There has been no looking back since then.

Kalbelia dance is a folk dance form of Rajasthan state in India. It is well known by other names like 'Sapera Dance' or 'Snake Charmer Dance'. This dance form belongs particularly to a Rajasthani tribe called 'Kalbelia'. The popularity of this dance is enormous and has carved a niche for itself in UNESCO's representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity from the year 2010 onwards. In Kalbelia dance, males play various traditional instruments and females perform dance. Kalbelia dance is considered as one of the most sensuous dance among all Rajasthani dances. Kalbelia is an integral part of their culture and an activity much sought after during celebrations and joyful occasions.

There is no organized training system or school, manuscripts, and written text to teach and learn Kalbelia songs and Kalbelia dance. This folk art is cascaded from generation to generation. Kalbelia tribe people are known to have their main occupation of catching snakes and trading snake venom. They are also called Sapera's or Snake Charmers. The story goes as - In ancient times Guru Jalandhernath had two disciples, to whom he set the exercise that they each fill a cup with their art and learning. Gorakhnath, the gentle scholar filled a cup with ambrosia whereas Kannipav, the audacious one presented a cup filled with the venom of snakes and scorpions. The angered Guru set a curse upon Kannipav that he and his descendants forever live outside the limits of towns and villages, and earn a living as snake-catchers.

Kalbelia dance main performers are female dancers who dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent. Dancers wear a traditional dress of Kalbelia tribe. On the upper body, the female Kalbelia dancers wear Angrakhi. On the head, the female Kalbelia dancers wear Odhani. They wear a long skirt on the lower body which has a wide circumference. This long skirt of Kalbelia dancers is called Lehanga or Ghagra. The complete dress is essentially black in color with red decorative flailing laces. Embroidery from silver thread in various patterns on the black dress resembles a black snake with white spots or white stripes with mirror work on their dresses. Kalbelia dancers wear a lot of traditional jewellery.

Musical instruments chiefly used in Kalbelia performance are Poongi or Been, Dufli, Morchang, Dholak, Khanjari and Khuralio. Poongi is a kind of woodwind musical instrument used by Kalbelia tribe during catching snakes. When these instruments play altogether in unison, they result in a sensuous and an amazing orchestration of folk music.

A role model today, Gulabo is a prosperous woman who lives in Jaipur, where many other Kalbeliyas have begun to live rooted lives, sending their children to schools and looking at opportunities modern India offers. She is part of the International Culture and Music Circuit, part of jazz bands and a performer in films. She is a visiting teacher at Copenhagen, Denmark every year, to train the children there in workshops pertaining to body-awareness and dance.

Gulabo today is synonymous with the Kalbelia form of dance in Rajasthan, and till date wears the disdainful smile of a winner.

A rarararararara…..Ra! Resonates in the air as a Kalbelia dancer swirls and slithers through the beat……enough to set the adrenaline rushing in you…!!!!