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Rajasthan, as a state of India, is full of treasures which have grabbed the attention of the people for centuries. The state is home to various communities, tribes, cultures and folk dances.
One such folk dance, popularly known as Kalbelia, is recognized globally. It got international recognition and is included in UNESCO’s representative of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010.
Kalbelia is also known as Sapera or Snake Charmer Dance. This dance is performed by a Rajasthani tribe which mainly resides in the Jaisalmer region. In this dance a variety of instruments are played by men whilst dance is performed by women.
Sapera Dance is a vital part of Rajasthan’s culture and tradition. The tribe who invented this dance form is Kalbelia. Since they were nomadic they traveled from place to place. That is why the dance is known and popular all over Rajasthan.
Kalbelia tribe started this popular dance form. The members of this tribe are known as gypsies as instead of residing at one place they keep on traveling from one place to another for work. Traditionally their main occupation included catching of snakes and then trading their venom. Due to this, they are also known as Sapera or Snake charmers.
Kalbelia dance is generally performed on a festive occasion in the Kalbelia community. This folk dance is performed by women who dance to the tunes of Been. Link to video of live performance is at the end of the article.
The dance and songs are neither taught in any school or institute nor are there proper manuscripts and written books to learn from. Following the oral tradition, the dance is taught by one generation to another.
The dance is performed to the traditional tune which is played using a musical instrument known as Poongi or Been. Kalbelia tribe catch the snake by using this woodwind musical instrument. Apart from Poongi, there are many other musical instruments used during performances for e.g. Dufli, Morchang, Dholak, Khanjari, and Khuralio. When these instruments are played with the music that one hears is exceedingly sensuous.
The main performers are women. They perform on the tone of Been and imitate the moves of the snake. Women wear traditional Kalbelia dress while dancing. It constitutes Angrakhi, Odhani, and Ghagra.
The performers wear an Angrakhi on their upper body part. The sleeves of Angrakhi can be of half-length or full length. The head of the dancers is covered by Odhani. Ghagra is also is known as Lehenga. It is a long skirt that Kalbelia dancers wear during a performance. Ghagra has a very wide circumference which is vividly accentuated while the dancers take a twirl.
The color of the entire dress is generally black which have red decorative laces on the boundary. A black snake with white spots or white strips is weaved on the dress with the help of a silver thread. The thread is sewed in a way that it resembles a snake. To grab the attention of the audience many colorful patterns and designs have also been made with the help of the small mirrors.
This traditional dress is accompanied with traditional jewelry. Dancers wear necklaces and Maang tikka around their neck and head which is made up of beads. Along with this they also wear bangles and armlets. If the sleeves of the Angrakhi is full length then dancers do not wear bangles. To produce tickling sound dancers also wear thick ghungrus or anklets.
The Kalbeliyas is a snake-charmer community from Rajasthan, which performs the Kalbeliya dance. They rely heavily on this dance performance for their living. The Kalbeliya women dancers wear long, black colored, drindled-skirts heavily worked with embroidery and light-colored thread along with small pieces of mirrors. This costume draws attention in a somewhat strange way. The dance is usually performed by a pair of dancers.
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