Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan

  • Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
  • Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
  • Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Songs and dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life. Once professional snake handlers, Kalbelia today evoke their former occupation in music and dance that is evolving in new and creative ways. Today, women in flowing black skirts dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent, while men accompany them on the khanjari percussion instrument and the poongi, a woodwind instrument traditionally played to capture snakes. The dancers wear traditional tattoo designs, jewellery and garments richly embroidered with small mirrors and silver thread. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories, while special traditional dances are performed during Holi, the festival of colours. The songs also demonstrate the poetic acumen of the Kalbelia, who are reputed to compose lyrics spontaneously and improvise songs during performances. Transmitted from generation to generation, the songs and dances form part of an oral tradition for which no texts or training manuals exist. Song and dance are a matter of pride for the Kalbelia community, and a marker of their identity at a time when their traditional travelling lifestyle and role in rural society are diminishing. They demonstrate their community’s attempt to revitalize its cultural heritage and adapt it to changing socioeconomic conditions.

Kalbelia is an intangible cultural heritage of India. It is believed to have been traced from the ancestry of Kanlipar, the twelfth disciple of Guru Gorakhnath. This group of dancers and snake charmers were traditionally hired by the royal families for entertainment on festive occasions. As the royalty disappeared in Rajasthan, this tribe found itself lost on the streets of the cities of Rajasthan. At present, these performers earn their livelihood by performing on streets for the commoners instead of the royal families. Pali, Chittorgarh and Udaipur district are said to have the largest number of Kalbelias. This tribe followed a nomadic lifestyle forty years ago but at present almost the entire community has permanent homes while they use their tents for economic and social purposes. 

Traditionally, the main occupation of the tribe consisted of catching snakes and trading their venom. Because of this, they are also known as sapera or snake charmers. The female dancers represent their community with the help of their unique form of dance. Thus, the swirling moves made by the gypsy women while dancing resemble the movements of a snake. Moreover, even the thread of the dress of the performers is sewn in a way that mimics a snake. Therefore, the association of the Kalbelia tribe with snakes still continues.

 The Kalbelia dance is performed with grandeur on the festive occasions of the Kalbelia community depicting their folktales. The women of the community dance to the tunes of the instruments played by the male members of the community. The instruments used in the performance are been, poongi, Dufli, Morchang, Dholak, Khanjari and Khuralio.

A woman’s traditional dress, worn while dancing, comprises the Angrakhi, Odhani and Ghaghra. In order to capture the attention of the audience, their dresses are designed using numerous colours, heavily embroidered mirror work and ghunghroos or anklets, all of which produce a tinkling sound. The male performers wear colourful turbans on their heads which attract even from a distance. The plain silver jewellery worn by the performers also adds to the beauty of their attire.

Gulabo Singh is a well-recognised Kalbelia folk dancer of Rajasthan. She not only has an experience of 30 years of this art but she has also received the Padma Shree, Sangeet Natak Akademi and Rajasthan Gaurav awards for her unmatched contribution in helping the Kalbelia dance form reach heights of success and recognition.

An interesting fact about Kalbelia is that surma worn by Kalbelia performers is produced from the snake’s venom and is done so in order to provide the performers excellent eyesight. A traditional tune is played on been by the male members of the community while the venom is extracted from the body of the snake in order to protect the entire community from snakes.

Therefore, the members of Kalbelia community are diligently carrying forward their unique art of music and dance and have preserved their tradition as responsible custodians.