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Kalbelia song and dance (Kalbelia Dance from Rajasthan)

Published on 02 Jul 2020 / In Folk Music & Dance

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.

About the world famous Dancer Gulabo or Gulabi Sapera :

Gulabi Sapera, creator of Rajasthan’s celebrated dance form, was awarded the Padma Shri — the first one from her community to be bestowed the honour and the only woman from Rajasthan to figure in the nation’s esteemed civilian awards in the past five years.

“I feel more responsible now. The art for which I have been awarded needs to be preserved and promoted,” says the 44-year-old, at her modest residence in a narrow lane of Jaipur’s Shastri Nagar.
Reaclling her childhood, Gulabi said that the Sapera community, traditionally engaged in catching and “charming” serpents, didn’t want to be burdened with looking after a girl child in their jungle encampments, and would kill girls as soon as they were born. “But my father didn’t like the practice. Ours was one of the very few homes that had three girls, all born before me. I was the seventh child. The elders managed to bury me since my father was not home the day I was born.”

“For the next couple of years, my father would carry me around in one of his straw snake baskets, fearing that I would be killed if left at home. He would also feed me leftover milk meant for snakes,” he told her, she says.

Though dancing professionally was unheard of in the Sapera community at that time, even as a two-year-old Gulabo would sway along with her father’s serpents on the tunes of the been.

Later that day, the officials convinced her father to allow 13-year-old Gulabi to dance on the stage for the first time. “I had only danced on bare ground at Holi till then and those watching would throw coins at us. This audience did not throw coins, but applauded and appreciated my art. I felt like I was dancing in a temple,” she recalls.
The now-famous wild, whirling dance moves synonymous with Sapera dance came to her from watching snakes move about to her father’s been. Her trademark black dress, adorned with tiny mirror embellishments and cotton thread braids, was inspired by the screen. At seven watching the film ‘Asha’, Gulabi was smitten by the dress worn by Reena Roy in the popular song ‘Sheesha ho ya dil ho’.

“I knew immediately that I wanted that dress and had it stitched. I wore it when I danced on stage and since then it has become my sceond skin,” she says.


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After the performance at Pushkar, Gulabo knew she had to be a dancer. “My life was meant to be different. I couldn’t stay in the village and continue to beg for alms,” she says.

Later that same year, Gulabo was noticed by art curator and scenographer Rajiv Sethi in Delhi, who drew the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s attention to her. That led to the young danseuse travelling to Washington to perform at the ‘Festival of India’.

When she returned, the same community elders who had buried her alive and then boycotted her family, welcomed her back and elected her the president of the caste association.

Having performed her Sapera dance in over “165 countries with the exception of Pakistan”, Gulabo has lately been collaborating with French composer Thierry ‘Titi’ Robin. The duo released a 14-track album ‘Rakhi’ in 2002, featuring a fusion of Robin’s mediterranean music with Rajasthan’s rusty gypsy sounds performed by Gulabo.

Courtesy by Indian Express

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