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Kalbelia An Indian Folk Dance Form

I am a classical, folk dancer and have performed them on stage various times. I like to examine the minute details of all dance forms.

Kalbelia: A cultural heredity of Rajasthan.


  • It is a form of Indian Folk Dance known as ‘Sapera Dance’ or ‘Snake Charmer dance’ which is performed by Kalbelia Tribe (as the name suggest) of Rajasthan on the streets or fairs, mostly during mostly during festive season of Holi festival in India.
  • The word Kalbelia is made by a blend of two words ‘Kal’ which means Snake and ‘Belia’ which means Friends or Charmers. Thus Kalbelia means snake’s friends or snake charmers.
  • Kalbelia folk dance is performed by females on the tunes of ‘Been’ (musical instrument) on the occasion of joy in the Kalbelia community. There is no any organized training system or school, manuscripts, and written text to teach and learn Kalbelia songs and Kalbelia dance. This folk art is transmitted from generation to generation.

History Of Kalbelia tribe and Origin of Dance Form-

  • Kalbelia tribe traces their ancestry from Kanlipar, the 12th disciple of Guru Gorakhnath. They are a nomadic tribe commonly known as ‘Banjarans’ (females of tribe) and ‘Banjaras’ (male of tribe). Banjara means a person who has dynamic movement and does not settle at a place. So, Kalbelia are called so because they do not settle at a place and keep moving between the cities. Even if they stay, they stay outside a village in makeshift camps called Deras.
  • As told before, Kalbelia are snake charmers, so their traditional occupation is catching snakes and trading snake venom. In the villages, if a snake inadvertently entered a home, a Kalbelia would be summoned to catch the serpent and to take it away without killing it.
  • For years, they have been living and following the same routine, traditions and lifestyle and have learnt to earn their living through means of occupation such as curing snake bites, making people’s houses free of snakes etc.
  • But the Kalbelia tribe was forced to stop their traditional profession of snake handling ever since the enactment of the Wildlife Act of 1972. As a result, performance art became a major source of income for the once nomadic tribe. They started performing snake-like movements and composed music which was spontaneous to the dance movements of the performer. Thus this folk dance was created.

Rise to prominence and popularity:

So the story of its prominence dates back to 1980, when a 7 year old girl called Gulabo Sapera was dancing with her community women in a fair at Pushkar, Rajasthan. There she was noticed by representatives of Rajasthan tourism department, Miss Tripti Pandey & Mr Himmat Singh who were quite enthralled by the gyrations and suppleness of her dance.

She was offered to dance before a group of foreigners, which she did after a rigorous convincing and won enormous appreciation.

In 1985, she got an offer to join a culture crew for the USA. She flew there and remained in Washington for two months performing continuously.

This Overseas performance in the US established her as an Ambassador of the folk heritage of Rajasthan. She is now President of All India Kalbelia community. Today, she is treated as an institution, a hallmark of the state with a plethora of national and international awards. She has visited 165 countries as a visiting faculty at institutions in various countries.

Finally, in 2010 the Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan were declared a part of its Intangible Heritage List by the UNESCO.

And in 2016, The Government of India awarded her the civilian honor of the Padma Shri in 2016.

Gulabo Sapera

Gulabo Sapera

Key Elements of Dance-

  1. Dancing Style: An important feature of this dance, which differentiates it with other kind of folk dances, is the snake-like movements performed by the female of the group.
  • During the performance, the women sway, twirl and gyrate to the music and use acrobatic dance steps which showcase a dancers’ flexibility.
  • Another important thing a Kalbelia dancer performs is free falling back-arch using which they pick up either sword, note or ring with the help of their lips or eyes
Needles in eyes

Needles in eyes

  • Dance is also accustomed by a few stunts usually performed by women like dancing on a nail-bed, dancing on broken glass pieces, balancing earthen or steel pots in numbers 3, 5, 6, 7 or 10 and balancing on Thali (plate). Basically, these are the stunts of Bhavai (another Rajasthani Folk dance) but they are performed by Kalbelia too.
  • As the performance goes on, the tempo of the Kalbelia dance increases and so does the pace of the dance steps. The performance is usually carried out in pairs, with at least two pairs swapping stage-presence seamlessly. This allows one half of the group to catch their breath while at the same time not letting the pace of the dance slow down.

  • The dance is not only tiresome for the dancers but also for the viewer as it consist of many breath taking and dangerous moves which leave the person amazed. The ladies reduce their pace of dance so as to take on with their breath and merge in the corner but this happens so swiftly that one can’t easily encounter this shift of pairs.
  • The best part to watch in the end is the continuous circles a dancer takes while whirling very fast either on her knees or on her legs.

2.Music and Instruments- The most important instrument of Kalbelia is ‘been or poongi’ which is a wood-wing instrument used by snake charmers.During the dance it is used without any pauses. It is also accompanied by the traditional instruments of Rajasthani folk music like the morchang, dufli, dholak, khanjari, khuralio. All these instruments together create a sensuous and mesmerizing music that plays with an ascending tempo and the dancers whirling to its beat leave even the spectators out of breath. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories.



  • The women wear an Angrakha on their upper body while their head is covered with an Odhani.
  • They also wear a long skirt with a wide circumference on their lower body, known as Lehenga or Ghagra. The entire dress is essentially black in color with red decorative laces. It also employs a silver thread that is sewed in an assortment of patterns on the black dress, making the dress resemble a black snake with white spots or stripes.
  • It also features a lot of colorful patterns and designs along with mirror work that help the dancer attract the attention of the audience.
  • The women deck up with heavy silver jewelries that include beautifully carved jhumka (earings), neck piece and Maang-teeka.
  • They also wear bangles and armlets. These can either be worn till the elbow or all the way up the arm. If the sleeve of the Angrakhi is full length, bangles need not be worn by the Kalbelia performers.
Complete costume of a Kalbelia dancer

Complete costume of a Kalbelia dancer

Interesting Facts-

  • The dresses worn by the dancers are made by the Kalbelia women themselves.
  • The Kalbelia dance is not taught to children. Rather, they are expected to learn it from watching the elders perform it at home.
  • The Kalbelia believe that playing the Been will not make the snake bite them. They also believe that consuming a Surma made from the snake’s venom will ensure that they do not lose their eyesight.

While performing in group on a big stage, this dance can have formation variations in the choreography which looks very attractive due to the outfit.. The energy of dancers, live music, stunts, movements, all add to the entertainment of audience.

© 2020 Megha Ginnare


Megha Ginnare (author) from BHOPAL on September 11, 2020:

Hey JC scull ! Thank you so much sir for giving it a read. And believe me watching it live is even more fun.

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on September 11, 2020:

The Kalbelia or Cobra Gypsies have a wonderful culture. Great music and dancing. I enjoyed reading your article.

Megha Ginnare (author) from BHOPAL on September 10, 2020:

@Umesh Chandra Bhatt Thank you so much for reading sir.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 10, 2020:

Very nice. Well presented. Stay blessed.

Megha Ginnare (author) from BHOPAL on September 09, 2020:

Hey NJ ! Thanks for reading

NJ on September 09, 2020:

Good description

Megha Ginnare (author) from BHOPAL on September 09, 2020:

Hey Rk! Thank you so much for reading

Rk on September 09, 2020:

Nice one

Megha Ginnare (author) from BHOPAL on September 08, 2020:

Hi Nabanita! Thank you so much for reading.

Nabanita Kundu on September 08, 2020:

How very wonderful

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