Rajasthan is a state in north India characterized by a dry climate, yet many say, “the sparseness of the land is made up for by the colourful nature of the people”. The Rajasthani people are known for their vibrant culture, which shines through in their traditional dances.
Using a 4/4 rhythm, dancers joyfully sway side to side with the right foot on the down beat and left foot on the upbeat. They may also spin playfully on their heals, whipping their heads around at an impressive speed. Mudras, such as Alapadma (Sanskrit = fully bloomed lotus) and the Pataka (Sanskrit = flag), are also commonly used during these spontaneous dances.
Within Rajasthan, there is a wide variety of folk dance, leaving a lot of room to interpret the music. The 5 most popular Rajasthani folk dances include:
1- Ghoomar: This enthusiastic folk dance, referred to as “play” in the Rajasthani language, was developed for women gatherings. In this dance, women gracefully move in a circular fashion, swirling their long skirts as they sing. During the furious spins, the objective of the game is to dip the deepest, without falling down. Recognizable by its unique footwork, synchronization of steps with the beats of the songs is important, as the tempo of the music increases.
2- Kalbelia Dance: The nomadic Kalbelia tribe, known for their Snake Charmers, traditionally performed the Kalbelia dance, which has become internationally renowned. In this dance, the women sensuously swirl in adorned black dresses to replicate serpents, while the men play the traditional instruments, including the woodwind instrument called the Poongi or Been, which is also used to catch snakes.
3- Gair Dance: This vigorous folk dance, from of the Bhil community, is performed by both men and women. Men dressed in pleated tunics that open out into full-length skirts dance in a big circle, beating their wooden sticks to create a rhythm. Groups of dancers then move in and out of the circle. The Gair dance is performed on festive occasions, particularly on the occasion of Holi and Janmashtami.
4- Bhavai Dance: On festive occasions, the Bhavai dance is performed by women in colourful dresses, who balance a number of earthen pots or brass pitchers on their heads while dancing. Meanwhile, the male musicians are playing a melodious Rajasthani folk song. This traditional folk dance evolved from the extraordinary ability of the Jat, Bhil, Raigar, Meena, Kumhar, and Kalbelia women to carry a number of pots of water on their heads over a long distance in the desert.
5- Chari Dance: The Chari dance describes the art of traveling miles to collect water in a chari or brass pot. In this dance, groups of women adorned with gold ornaments balance pots on their heads with a lighted lamp placed in the pot, as they move together in unison. These pots are kept ignited with the cottonseeds dipped in oil. This dance is often performed at wedding ceremonies and other festival celebrations.