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Kalbelia: Indian Tribe and their Dance Form


Do you remember the snake charmer in the village or movie? With a colorful turban, round cane box with a snake inside, and a pungi (musical instrument). That snake charmer probably belonged to the Kalbelia tribe of Rajasthan. This Indian tribe’s dance is so popular that it has got a place in UNESCO world intangible heritage list. The Kalbelia dance or more popularly as “The Indian Gypsy” dance is a sensuous form of dance.

kalbelia dancer
kalbelia dancer

Kalbelia and its heritage


Not only monuments and buildings are a part of our culture but also certain practices are a way of life. In this age of Information Technology, we have all started following a way of life that differs from our ancestors. And this will keep changing. How many of us know what games our grandparents used to play when they were kids? This intangible heritage aims at preserving customs, practices, and culture. Let us take the case of Kalbelia Indian tribe.

The government brought out the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 which also includes snakes. The Kalbelia Indian tribe did not know any other profession. The only other thing they could do for a living was, perform the Kalbelia dance. And now that UNESCO has given them recognition and their art is patronized and has received attention worldwide. This dance is not documented anywhere. It has been transmitted orally through generations. Now we wouldn’t want that to be lost right?

What is Different about the Dance of this Indian Tribe?


Kalbelia Indian tribe performs this dance to celebrate happy occasions but not just that, in addition, they also let the tourists from different parts of the world enjoy watching them dance. They do not practice the dance movements beforehand, it is an impromptu form of dancing. The highlight is that the men who are in charge of the music can play any tune they want and the dancers go with it. But still, they co-ordinate so well that a person watching will never know that it is not practiced. The woman of this Indian tribe who dances tries to replicate a serpent in her movements.

The colorful, shining dress is the highlight!

A Kalbelia dancer wears a black dress which contains patterns of many colors, small mirrors, and shining thread. These are set on the dress in beautiful patterns making it look rich. The headdress is known as Odhani, the skirt Lehenga, and the top Angrakhi. Lots of accessories are used which go well with the dress. The dance includes fast movements and also acrobatic movements. The tempo of the music increases with time which entices the spectators whose energy level rises and cannot help but tap their feet or clap their hands to go with the rhythm.

The men sit in a circle around the performing girl. They play various instruments that range from their traditional pungi to the dholak, harmonium, dhulfi, etc. No, they don’t practice either, even the music is all impromptu. The songs are usually based on folklore and mythology. The men of this Indian tribe wear their usual attire of kurta with a colorful turban. The girl moves inside the circle just like the snake in the cane basket which dances to their tune.

It is really a visual treat to watch the long black skirt and headgear swirl according to the tune. I strongly recommend you to including watching this dance performance when you are visiting Rajasthan. You can also watch videos of this dance online, but live performance is a feast to the eye. It is an important part of Indian culture and heritage. We can play a small part in keeping it alive by being a lively audience and appreciating the art.

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