The cultural capital of India, Rajasthan, is a state located in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. Jaipur, located in the east-central part of the state, is its capital. The name Rajasthan means “The Abode of the Rajas”; it was formerly called Rajputana, “The Country of the Rajputs”.  Historically, it has been ruled by various kings, including the Marathas, Rajput, and even Muslim rulers, all of which has resulted in a diverse culture, numerous forts with a wide variety of architecture, language and, arts and crafts including the famous folk dances of Rajasthan. In spite of largely being a desert, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, for both domestic and international tourists. 

Tribal or folk music plays a pivotal role in the culture of Rajasthan, since the state was once dominated by tribal groups in the past. The dances and their accompanying songs are similar to ballads, narrating heroic tales, eternal love stories. Others are also devotional songs. Rajasthani folk dances are performed on various auspicious occasions with the sole motive to express happiness and joy among each other, and also narrate stories in a unique and captivating way. The rise of princely states during medieval times also added to the growth of folk dances, as the rulers patronised varied art and crafts.

The liveliness of Rajasthan’s culture and traditions is reflected through its folk music and dance. Since rulers from multiple cultures ruled Rajasthan, each region has its own form and style of folk entertainment, with different dances and songs. They are vibrant, energetic and very captivating. The most popular dances are the Kalbelia dance from Jaisalmer and the Ghoomar from Udaipur. 

Also Read: 12 Things you must not miss when visiting Rajasthan

Here Are 11 Folk Dances Of Rajasthan You Should Know About

1. Internationally Recognised For Its Depiction In The Movie ‘Padmavat’: Ghoomar

Folk dances of Rajasthan
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ghoomar is one of the most popular folk dances of Rajasthan, once performed as entertainment for royalty. Introduced by the Bhil tribe, and later adopted by royal communities including the Rajputs, it is performed by women on festivals and special events such as Holi, Teej, and the arrival of a newlywed bride at her marital house. The women wear traditional outfits, a ghagra (a long, swirling skirt) and kanchli or choli (a blouse). To complete the ensemble an odhani (a veil) is draped,  covering the face. The beauty of this folk genre lies in its graceful movements that involve swaying hands, clapping and twirling around, while singing the traditional songs set to traditional musical instruments. The coordinated movement among the dancers and their whirling outfits, coupled with the upbeat rhythm and music, leave spectators mesmerised. It’s hugely popular in places like Udaipur, Kota, Bundi and Jodhpur. Often you will be asked to join in too. 

2. Recognised By UNESCO As An Intangible Cultural Heritage: Kalbelia

Folk dances of Rajasthan
Source: Pixabay

Kalbelia (or Kalbeliya), a folk dance of Rajasthan is popularly known as “Sapera Dance” or the “Snake Charmer Dance” since its movements are almost serpentine. The tribal community Kalbelia created the dance. It is a beautiful dance form where women wear their traditional costume: an angrakhi (a jacket-like garment), odhani (veil), and a black swirling ghagra (long skirt). They dance sensuously, in formations that curl around each other to mimic the movement of a snake. The dances are set to music played by men using traditional instruments such as the dholak (a two-headed drum), khanjari (percussion instrument), and pungi (a woodwind instrument). There are other traditional musical instruments that are used too, like the dufli, morchang and khuralio. The songs are based on stories taken from folklore and mythology. Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Barmer, Jalore, Jaipur, and Pushkar are some of the best places to enjoy this dance form.

3. A Dance Form That Takes Years To Master: Bhavai 

Folk dances of Rajasthan
Female dancer performing the Rajasthani fold dance Bhavai, balancing six earthen pots on her head

Bhavai, a ritualistic folk dance of Rajasthan, is usually performed by women belonging to the Kalbelia, Jat, Meena, Bhil or Kumhar tribal communities of the state. It takes many years to master this dance, which involves women balancing eight to nine earthen pots or brass pitchers on their head as they dance and twirl with their feet gripping the sides of a glass or a brass plate (sometimes even the edge of a sword). The dance is accompanied by male performers singing and playing instruments such as the harmonium, sarangi and dholak. It takes great effort and hard work to perform this dance.  And you can watch some of the best performances in Jodhpur, Jaipur and Bikaner.

4. Retelling The Tales Of The Local Bandits With Mock Fights:  Kachhi Ghodi

Folk dances of Rajasthan

Kachhi Ghodi is a famous folk dance performed by Rajasthani men, originating in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The dance enacts tales of local bandits, conveyed through mock sword fights. Men wear different traditional attire like a dhoti, with turbans and kurtas, and pretend to ride a decorated dummy horse. The whole dance is meant to be a  symbolic show of chivalry and bravery. The soundtrack is defined by the flute. Mostly performed during weddings or social events, you can watch the dance especially in the. Shekhawati region, as well as Jaipur and Udaipur. 

5. Performed On Major Festivals Like Janmashtami And Holi: Gair

Dandi Gair, a welcoming dance

Gair is another amongst the famous folk dances of Rajasthan originating from the Bhil community. Both men and women dance together, featuring attractive movements, traditional instruments, and colourful outfits. The men wear a full-length tunic-like skirt carrying a stick, sword and arrow, while the women wear ghagra-choli. Folk music is played on various traditional instruments, while the dancers move in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions, swinging their arms to powerful drum beats. This dance form is performed in the Mewar region. However, its variations like the Dandi Gair and Geendad are also found in the Marwar and Shekhawati regions too. 

6. Symbolising Joy As Well As A Ritual Of Collecting Water In A Chari (Pot): Chari 

Folk dances of Rajasthan
Female dancer performing the Rajasthani fold dance, Chari

The Chari is a traditional folk dance form of Rajasthan emerging from the Saini community in the Ajmer and the Gujjar communities of Kishagarh. It’s performed by women for special occasions like weddings, festivals. Women dressed in traditional outfits dance while balancing brass pots (chari) with a lit lamp inside on their heads, while also doing different stunts around the floor with ease. Musical accompaniments include the nagada, dholak and harmonium. You can catch it  in Ajmer and Kishangarh. 

7. The Famous Puppet Dance: Kathputli

Folk dances of Rajasthan

Termed after the words Kath meaning “wood” and putli meaning “doll with no life”, Kathputli is a famous puppet dance show, started by the Bhat tribal community of Rajasthan several 1,000 years ago. Kathputli are usually made of mango wood and stuffed with cotton. These puppets are generally one and half feet in height and are made in Sawai-Madhopur, Bari and Udaipur. The puppets are controlled and manoeuvred by the puppeteers via strings attached to the puppets’ limbs. The puppeteers are also the singers, giving the Kathputli dance a distinctive flavour as they sing out stories from Indian folklore and mythology. Some of them are also parables addressing current social problems. New Delhi has an area known as Kathputli Colony, in Shadipur Depot, where puppeteers have settled in since centuries. Bhartiya Lok Kala Mandal in Udaipur, founded by Devilal Samar in 1952, and Rupayan Sansthan in Jodhpur founded by Vijaydan Detha and Komal Kothari in 1960, are both noteworthy institutions working in the field to preserve and promote the art of Kathputli. The best place to enjoy this folk dance of Rajasthan is in the Marwar region.

8. The Centrepiece Of Rajasthan’s Holi Festival: Chang

Chang is one of the enthusiastic folk dances that originated from the Shekhawati region (Bikaner, Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar) in Rajasthan. Also known as Dhamal, the highlight of this dance form is the fast-paced rhythmic beats of the chang instrument (a type of tambourine), whose beats dictate the dance performed by men as well as their songs. Another notable feature is that some men dress up like women— donning traditional attire and performing the ghoomar— making it fascinating to watch. This dance form is performed from the start of Maha Shivaratri festival to the end of Dhulandi (the day after Holi) to celebrate the defeat of evil. The best place to enjoy this Rajasthani folk dance is in the Shekhawati region.

9. Colourful Performance With Sticks: Dandiya

Performed with sticks known as dandiya, Dandiya is a colourful folk dance form of Rajasthan performed by both men and women. The dance works with pairs and so the group must contain an even number. It is an eight-beat time cycle called kaherva, and the lines move clockwise—each person steps forward to hit sticks with their partner, then moves on to the next person, switching partners. For the movement to be continuous, each person at the end of the line turns and joins the line opposite them. This dance form is mostly performed during festivals and marriages. Almost all places in Rajasthan are known for Dandiya especially Jaipur.

 10. An Ancient Folk Dance: Terah Taal

Sitting on the floor before Baba Ramdeo’s image, the ancient folk dance of Rajasthan Terah Taal is performed by the women from the Kamada tribe. The dance begins with 13 manjeeras (brass discs) that are attached to different parts of the dancer’s body. When the dancer moves, these discs make rhythmic sounds. Often a sword and a pot are also used by dancers to make the whole performance that much more attractive. The male artists play different instruments like the pakhwaja, dholak, jhanjhar, sarangi and harmonium, and sing local Rajasthani folk songs. This is one of the folk dances of Rajasthan that is performed during almost all popular festivals in Rajasthan. Some of the best places to witness this dance form are Ramdevra, Dindwana, Dungarpur and Udaipur. 

11. Enthralling, Difficult And Dangerous: The Fire Dance

Source: Flickr

Depicting the lifestyles of the Jasnathis of Churu and Bikaner district, the Fire dance is a dangerous and difficult Rajasthani folk dance form, carried out by the Banjara community on festive occasions like Holi and Janmashtami. The dancers move to drum beats on top of a flaming bed of charcoal, performing breathtaking fire stunts holding fire rods in their hands, producing flames from their mouths. The dancers also twirl the fire rods on their heads and legs. It is performed mostly through cold nights in winter and has a terrifying appeal  to it. The dancers are so talented and move so fast, that they never have any burn marks or wounds after their performance. Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Jaipur are some of the best places to catch this dance. 

Why Is Experiencing Cultural Art Forms Crucial To Travel? 

Culture is the way society narrates stories, keeping their history alive, entertaining themselves, keeping moral and ethical codes intact, building stable communities, and imagining the future. It’s a wonderful way of preserving or strengthening a community’s sense of place, forging their personal identity, and showing off their creativity. Travel provides the opportunity to have new experiences and witness different cultures. When you interact with people and the places they call ‘home’, you see your new destination in a light that is both new and familiar.

Rajasthan is home to numerous tribes and indigenous cultures. The several traditional folk dances of Rajasthan are considered as a part of their history and their tales can often reveal a lot about the ideas, values and knowledge experienced and gained from their ancestors. These dance forms help in preserving cultural heritage and passing the tradition from one generation to another, inspiring a great feeling of solidarity. It is also dedicated to the promotion of global understanding while building bonds of cultural appreciation and unity among nations which in turn helps India gain love, fame and respect in foreign lands.

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