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The Kalbelia

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Kalbelia is one of the most sensuous and well-known folk dances originating from one of the most scorching sands, stale winds, temporary homes, and uncanny traditions. The word ‘Kal’ means snake and ‘Beliya’ means friends and hence the word all together means Snakes friend.

It is mainly performed by the Kalbeliya community of Rajasthan, India to celebrate the happy moment in the community.

The dance movements are extremely sensuous dance forms that completely enthrall the onlookers which makes the viewer presume as if their body is made up of rubber instead of bones. It is only performed by women while the men play the instruments and provide the music.

The women dance in a circle with a pair in the centre similar to the movements of the serpents on the music produced by the 'Been’, 'Dulfi’ and 'Dholak' in an acrobatic manner with their heads covered under the veil. Hence, even the costumes are black coloured to resemble a snake.

The female dancers wear long heavy black lehengas with richly embroidered Chunis and choli and deck up with silver pieces of jewellery that include beautifully carved 'Jhumka', neckpiece, and 'Tikka'.

The Kalbelia often sing songs inspired by stories from the folklore of Rajasthan, and this gypsy music and dances form part of an oral tradition for which no texts or training manuals exist which is passed through the generations as a form of inheritance.

Traditional Rajasthani instruments like the morchang, dufli, dholak, khanjari, khuralio, and a very important instrument used is the ‘been or poongi’ which is a woodwind instrument used by snake charmers. All these instruments together create sensuous and mesmerizing music that leaves even the spectators out of breath.

Traditionally, the Kalbelia, who were once hired to entertain kings and Maharajas, is now struggling to preserve their culture.

Despite their struggles, the native folks maintain a shared sense of identity and solidarity because they have a unique mechanism to cope with cultural change. Kalbeliya dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life.

The following video opens a window to this amazing and sensuous dance form. Can you spot the performer with 'Been' in it?


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