The colorful dances of Rajasthan have evolved over thousands of years and reflect the vivacity of the Rajasthani and his celebration of life. There are tribes that specialize in a particular form of dance and the result is a spellbinding performance- best seen in a fair, at a village or in your hotel.
Dance is an expression of human emotion as much as music and it is found in almost limitless variations in Rajasthan. Simple, unsophisticated, dancing is seen in their fairs and festivals in the Kudakna of the Meena boys, the dancing which goes with the Rasiya songs of Braj, and the dancing by women and men where the women carry a pot or a lighted lamp on their head. In the Charkula dance of Braj, an elaborate lamp stand replaces the single lamp.
The famous Ghoomer, Rajasthan’s popular dance gets its name from ghoomer, the pirouetting which displays the spectacular colors of the flowing Ghaghara, the long skirt of the Rajasthani women. Men have a range of their own more vigorous dances. The Gair of Mewar has inner and outer circles of dancers who move diagonally or loop in and out. It is intricate and fascinating. The Gair of Jodhpur is performed in a single file and martial costumes are worn for effect. The Geendad of Shekhawati is similar. Sticks or swords are often used in male dances, and the Shekhawati dance has the daf accompanying it.
Free dancing full of zest, with rows of dancers waving colorful pennants, makes the Bam rasiya of the Braj region spectacular. It is performed at holi. The Kucchhi Ghodi or Dummy Horse dance is performed on festive occasions.
The terahtali is a tantalizing dance performed by women while sitting. The women have manjeeras (little brass discs) tied with long strings to their wrists, elbows, waists, arms and a pair in their hands as well. Their male accompanists sing and play the tandoora while the women, with dextrous and fine movements, create a strong rhythm with the manjeeras. For added effect they may hold a sword between their teeth or balance pots of lighted lamps on their heads.
The dance of the Kalbelias women is vigorous and graceful. An authentic fire dance is performed by the Jasnathis of Bikaner and Churu districts. The accompanying music rises in tempo as the dance progresses, ending with the performer dancing on brightly glowing embers-a breathtaking and deeply impressive sight.
One of the state’s most spectacular performances, it consists of veiled women dancers balancing up to seven or nine brass pitchers as they dance nimbly, pirouetting, and then swaying with the soles of their feet perched on top of a glass, or on the edge of a sword. There is a sense of cutting-edge suspense to the performance, and even through some of the hotel performers use only peppier mache pots that are stuck together, the feat is still one of amazing dexterity. (Note: See the `Slide Show’ section in `Folk Dance’. The first two pictures show a lady dancing `Bhawai’).
Dancers choreograph deft patterns with their hands while balancing brass pots on their heads. The performance is made more picturesque with the flames from cotton seeds set alight, so that the bobbing heads create streaks of illuminated patterns as they move effortlessly around the floor.
Put a naked sword in the mouth of a man, and give him three swords to juggle with this hands while avoiding causing an injury to himself. All this to the accompaniment of his troupe that consists of musicians holding aloft drums around their necks and cymbals in their hands. A stirring performance from a martial race.
If there is divine protection to be offered, the Jasnathis of Bikaner and Churu must be responsible for cornering most of it. These dancers perform of a large bed of flaming coals, their steps moving to the beat of drums that rises in crescendo till the dancers appear to be in a near hypnotic state. And no, they’re not likely to have any blisters to show or it. These devotional performances are usually to be seen late on a winter’s night. See videos for a clip of this dance.
There are several variations to this picturesque dance form that is performed by both men and women. The men wear long, pleated tunics that open out into full-length skirts as they move first in clockwise then in anti-clockwise direction, beating their sticks to create the rhythm when they turn. Originally a Bhil dance, and performed at her time of Holi, its variations are the Dandia Gair in the Marwar region and Greened in the Shekhawati region. see video `Gair Dancers for a clip of this dance.
One of the most sensuous, dance forms of Rajasthan, performed by the Kalbelias snake-charmers’ community, the sapera dancers wear long, black skirts embroidered with silver ribbons. As they spin in a circle, their bodies sway acrobatically, so that it is almost impossible to believe that they are made of anything other than rubber. As the beat increases in tempo, the pace increases to such a pitch that it leaves the viewer as exhausted as the dancer.
A community dance of the Rajputs, performed by the women of the house and traditionally out of bounds for men, it uses simple swaying movements to convey the spirit of any auspicious occasion. There is, however, an amazing grace as the skirts flare slowly while the women twirl in circles, their faces covered by veil. Traditionally, all women, whether old or young, participate in the dance, which can continue for hours into the night. A new bride, on being welcomed to the home of her husband, too is expected to dance the ghoomer as one of the rituals of the new marriage.
Originated from the bandit regions of Shekhawati, the dance is performed for the entertainment of a bridegroom’s party. Dancers wear elaborate costumes that resemble them riding on dummy horses. A vigorous dance, it uses mock-fight and the brandishing of swords, nimble sidestepping and pirouetting to the music of fifes and drums. A ballad singer usually sings the exploits of the local heroes in the mould of Robin Hood.
This formal, classical dance evolved as a gharana in the courts of Jaipur where it reached a scale that established it as distinct from the other center of Kathak, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Even today, the Jaipur gharana is well established, though performances occur in other centers rather than in the state where the opportunity for classical dance forms has been on the decline for a while.
A tradition of puppeteering has long existed in Rajasthan. A traveling from of entertainment, it uses the ballads, retold in the voice of the puppeteer who is assisted by his family in erecting a make-shift stage. Puppets are strung on the stage and recount historic anecdotes, replay tales of love, and unclude much screeching and high-pitched sounds as the puppets twirl and move frenetically.
Another devotional form of dance practiced by the Kamad community of Pokhran and Deedwana, to honor their folk hero, Baba Ramdeo, it consists of women sitting on the floor before his image. Tied to various parts of their body are thirteen cymbals which they strike with the ones they do this, and for effect, they may also balance pots on their hands and hold a sword in their mouth. The video titled `Terah Taali Dances’ shows this pretty dance.