Rajasthan’s Kalbelia folk songs and dances are part of India’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Kalbelia community, sometimes known as Kalbelia, is a snake-charming tribe from Rajasthan. Men and women from the tribe also perform an enthralling dance, which is an important element of their culture.
The Kalbelia dance of Rajasthan is an essential part of Kalbelia culture. Also recognized as a form of self-expression and entertainment. The Kalbelia Dance Festival features a blend of community and culture, numerous folk dances and a sense of belonging.
The Kalbelia Community
The Daliwal and Mewara are the two main groups of the Kalbelia tribe. In ancient times, the Kalbelia’s often travelled from one region to another. Historically they are snake charmers who traded snake poison. The Kalbelia’s have developed a unique awareness of the local flora and fauna and herbal treatments for various diseases. As they were desert nomads, they primarily consumed snails, dogs, hens, horses, donkeys, pigs and goats instead of vegetables.
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Kalbelia men used to carry cobras in cane baskets from village to village while their wives sang, danced for alms. They hold the cobra in high regard and oppose its slaughter. The people from Kalbelia community would summon and transport the snake if the reptile unintentionally entered residence. Kalbelias have long been a marginalised element in society, living in improvised camps known as ‘deras’ outside of villages.
The History of Kalbelia Folk Dance
After the Wildlife Act of 1972, the Kalbelia’s have been pushed out of their ancestral occupation of snake handling. The Kalbelia dance festival is now a key source of income for them, and they are well-known internationally.
Since then, the Kalbelia community has seen performing the folk dance as a source of pride. The Kalbelia women take great delight in performing the dance, which is accompanied by men playing traditional musical instruments, particularly the ‘Poongi.’ These songs and dances are several generations old.
The Kalbelia dance of Rajasthan begins with the Kalbelia women adorning traditional tattoo designs, jewellery, and clothes. Elaborately embroidered with miniature mirrors and silver threads for the dance. Then, the musical instruments starts playing, and the dancers sway and twirl, just like a serpent, telling mythological stories through their dance.
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The songs display Kalbelia’s poetic abilities, as they are known for writing lyrics and improvising songs during concerts. The songs and dances passed from generation to generation, an oral tradition for which no training manuals exist.
Where can you enjoy it?
Today, the Kalbelia tribe of Rajasthan resides in Pali, Ajmer, Chittorgarh, and Udaipur in Rajasthan. In fact, if you head towards the Thar Desert you can catch performances of Kalbelia Folk Songs and Dance. After all, the desert is the home for the tribe and it has remained a valued part of the culture. Last year due to pandemic, the community started hosting online performances too! Being a vital part of the Rajasthan art culture, Kalbelia dance is recognized internationally.
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