Carrying a long legacy of folk dances, the tribes of Rajasthan have taken the verve of celebration in their veins against the morbid desert landscape. What fascinates the onlookers are the daring acts, commitment to culture and rituals, the joyous attitude of the people, inviting melody and movements, and not forgetting the colourful costumes. To get the taste of the art of Rajasthan, a glimpse of the dance forms is an appreciating step. The breathtaking performances, the tolerance of the gypsies pushing the boundaries of forbearance, the entertainment that keeps alive the merry living of the ancestors of rural people, is sure to overwhelm you. If you wish to make your trip more interesting, do not forget to watch the folk dances of Rajasthan, which assures you to tap your feet and swirl along the catchy tunes.
A major attraction of Rajasthan is the traditional dance form ‘Ghoomar’ which is derived from the Hindi word ‘Ghoomna’, meaning pirouetting. The clock and anti clock twirls of woman in circles, wearing colourful long ‘ghagras'(skirts) is a spectacular showcase of gaiety. Originating in the Bhil tribe and later percolating to other Rajasthani communities, this dance form involves graceful movements of hands and measured steps. It is usually performed during festivals like Teej and Gangaur, offering devotion to Lord Gauri, the consort of Lord Shiva. A bride is expected to dance ‘Ghoomar’ after being welcomed in her husband’s house. The veiled faces of the women folk dancing to the songs indicate modesty. The whirling and free- flowing robes accompanied by the melody of musical instruments like ‘manjeera’ and ‘dholak’, stupefies the bystanders.
KACCHI GHODI DANCE
Originated in bandit regions of Shekhawati; this dance form depicts the confrontation of bandits of the Bavaria clan with the passing commoners. ‘Ghodi’ or horse is a symbol of royal power. In ‘Kacchi Ghodi’, the dancers ride a dummy horse tied on their waist and hold naked swords. Mock fights go along with the rhythm of drums and fifes. Songs of traders are sung in the background. The embellished costume with beautiful mirror work portrays the richness of the culture.
Kalbeliya or the ‘Snake Charmer Dance’ is another popular dance form of Rajasthan. Originated in the Kalbeliya community, this dance is now in UNESCO’s representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity from the year 2010. This nomadic tribe is well known for their occupation of catching snakes and trading snake venom. As sensuous as the sinuous movements of serpents, the women dancers clad themselves in black apparels with red decorative laces and embroidery of silver threads symbolic of black snakes with white spots, and dances to the rhythms of ‘been’, a woodwind instrument traditionally used to capture snakes. The songs are sung in spontaneity, keeping with the oral tradition of the tribe and spreading stories of folklore and mythology. The charm of the dancers bejewelled in gleaming accessories is combined with stunts of bending and wheeling; something you should not miss to watch at all!
Specially performed during festivals like Holi and Janmashtami, ‘Gair’ is a dance form of Rajasthan, originating in the Bhil community. The main attraction is the striking of sticks in a regular tempo by the man folk dancing in circles. There are many variations of this dance form; instances are ‘Dandi Gair’ found in Marwar region and Geendad found in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The long pleated tunics worn by men swirls with the sound of musical instruments like dhol and nagara. The proficiency achieved by the dancers is worth praising.
‘Kath’ or wood and ‘putli’ or puppet unify into the term ‘Kathputli’, meaning string marionette. The puppetry dance is an indispensable art form of Rajasthan since the last thousand years. The puppeteer controls his dolls and shows his skills with strings. Swordsmanship, horse riding, dancing, acrobatics are performed by the dummies. A particular topic is chosen by the manipulator, generally centred on moral and social issues. Puppets are a medium to voice the problems of the society, create awareness and also unfold anecdotes of legends and mythology to its spectators. Dance is a form of expression and celebration in itself. The portrayal of Rajasthan is unfinished if you have dodged off without experiencing the dances of the gypsy community. The music emanating from sarangi, ghungroos, ektara, shehnai and dholak connects you to a pristine vagueness. What you shall carry home is a prick in your heart; muck alike the pricks of pebbles underneath the feet of the dancers who endeavour to carry the inheritance of the dexterous dance forms, from one generation to the other.
TERAH TAALI DANCE
The eclectic dance forms of Rajasthan appeases the prevailing rigorous aridity. When we think of rhythm and cadence, what stirs us is the ‘Terah Taali’ dance. Predominately popular amongst the Kamada community of Pali and Nagore district, this dance is ritualistic and devotional. Tribes of Mirasi, Bhand, Dholi, Bhat, Nat and that of Pokhran and Deedwana practice this art form. Stories of Shri Ram Dev Babaji and couplets of Sant Kabir and Meera Bai encompass the central theme of the songs. ‘Terah Taali’ suggests thirteen different modes of cymbal clapping which is representative of thirteen distinct emotions. The female dancers wear ‘manjeeras’ or little brass discs (sometimes made of copper, bronze or zinc) tied to their waist, elbow, arms and wrist. With every spin of their hands, the ‘manjeeras’ evoke jingling sounds. The precision and concentration of the dancers to carefully blend their movements with the songs of the male participants playing ektara, is hypnotic. There is no doubt in the adroitness of the artists who succeeds to take you through a flight of divine intrusion. The dancers normally sit and hit the ‘manjeeras’ attach to their hands and feet, and they add into it stunts of holding uncovered knifes in their teeth and walking on broken glasses and carrying pots on their heads. With the up-surging speed of the dancers, your pulse is sure to elevate. What seems analogous to this rhythmic form of dance is the tempo of the traditional ground stone which is used in every indigenous Indian house. The sound of the cymbals enlivens the stillness of the desert and bestows upon the viewers a reason to rejoice, a reason to celebrate.
A professional dance form of the Jhalore region, ‘Drum Dance’, is another folk dance of Rajasthan. It is a rousing performance of the men folk from a martial race. Drum or ‘dholak’ has both musical and social significance in India. Its pitch suits the folk culture and root deep down to the thread of liveliness. The mundane labour of the tribes is well settled by the variegated entertaining dance forms. In this type, usually five men beat drums tied around their necks and a dancer holding a huge cymbal in his hand accompany the drummers. Brass plates or ‘thalis’ are played by other performers; few juggle naked sword and hold them in their mouths. The colourful attires, the continuous beating of the drums until it reaches its crescendo, the beautifully tinted wooden sticks to play the ‘dholaks’, the music and the togetherness, is a pleasure to live through, that instant. India takes the pride of the creativity and colour of Rajasthani folk dances.
Did you ever experience a state of trance? Or anything that seems to overturn the facts and facets and indulge you in a dilemma of belief and disbelief? No? Then certainly you should watch the fabulous ‘Fire Dance’ of Rajasthan. The ‘Jasnathis’ of Bikaner and Chum are renowned for their tantric powers. Large beds of flaming coal are spread in a spacious ground, where live wood and charcoal are piled. The performers jump on to the fire and make movements with the rhythm of the drums. They are ensured protection by their continuous practice and their utter submission to the omnipotent. Fire goes well with a chilling night, and so does the delight of this performance during late winter. The overpowering of fear and daring acts of the dancers shall amaze you, utterly. From the point of view of trance and conscious-unconscious surrender, the ‘Fire Dance’ goes in line with the ‘Deudhani Dance’ of Assam, in Northeast India. At times it seems bizarre and unearthly to the viewers who may wonder at the risk involved in such folk dances, but when it comes to devotion, there is only one thing that stands firm and that is ‘believe’; in God, in oneself and in the blessings of the ancestors. All these combine to keep an art form alive, and further retain the incredibility of India.
The art of collecting water in a ‘chari’ or pot by Rajasthani woman who travels miles, balancing the water pots on her heads is the source of another dance form, named ‘Chari’. Originating in the Gujjar community of Kishangarh, this folk dance involves women dancing with brass pots placed on their heads with burning fire in it. Ignited with cotton seeds dipped in oil, the pots illumine as the dancers make graceful movements and impressive foot works along with the folk songs which talk about relationships and daily chores. The traditional jewelleries, big nose rings, colourful attires complete the visual splendour and add bliss to the marriage occasions, birth of male child or any other auspicious day. The flicker of the glowing pots doubtlessly works as a rhythm to dance in tandem with.
Dance is a form of expression and celebration in itself. The portrayal of Rajasthan is unfinished if you have dodged off without experiencing the dances of the gypsy community. The music emanating from sarangi, ghungroos, ektara, shehnai and dholak connects you to a pristine vagueness. What you shall carry home is a prick in your heart; muck alike the pricks of pebbles underneath the feet of the dancers who endeavour to carry the inheritance of the dexterous dance forms, from one generation to the other.