a land of royalty, the rulers of Rajasthan have
all along been great patrons of music and dance.
Needless to say, the music and dances of Rajasthan
draw inspiration from its legends that abound in
valor and courage as also romance.
The striking feature of Rajasthan's music and
dance scene is that there is great variety. In
fact, nothing much has changed since the time
of their inception, probably a thousand years
back. The music and dance are rooted in tradition.
Although music and dance are an integral part
of the daily life of Rajasthan, it is more pronounced
during festivals. Songs of ancient poets like
Kabir, Malookdas and Meera have become an integral
part of the Rajasthani folklore. Apart from festivals,
music and dance are also performed during special
occasions like marriage, and childbirth.
The desert comes alive when the performers take
centre stage. Though the ghoomar is a dance that
is performed in the privacy of homes, and was
once restricted to the zenanas, almost all others
are folk forms that are either linked to a particular
region, or a particular festival. In recent years,
however, these performances have become more widespread,
so that the regional distinction is beginning
to wear off. Visitors to the state can request
specific entertainments, or simply choose to be
swept away by the rhythms and nuances of Rajasthan
as it celebrates.
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 though some of the hotel performers use only
papier mache pots that are stuck together, the
feat is still one of amazing dexterity.
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
Put a naked sword in the mouth of a man, and
give him three swords to juggle with his hands
while avoiding causing himself injury. 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 Jasnaiths of Bikaner and Churu must be responsible
for cornering most of it. These dancers perform
on 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 for it. These devotional performances
are usually to be seen late on a winter’s
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 movements, beating
their sticks to create the rhythm when they turn.
Originally a Bhil dance, and performed at the
time of Holi, its variations are the Dandia Gair
in the Marwar region and Geendad in the Shekhawati
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 the 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 ghoomar
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-fights 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
bandit Robin Hoods.
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
centre of kathak, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Even
today, the Jaipur gharana is well established,
though performances occur in other centres 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 travelling form 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 include much screeching and high-pitched
sounds as the puppets twirl and move frenetically.
A form of court music, the maand is a raga formation
that developed in Marwar, and includes a complex
inflexion of voices, sung in a deep bass. This
sophisticated form of music percolated down to
folk forms and professional singers use it to
sing ballads that have a haunting quality as their
voices range over the desert. The maand has also
been used to sing the praises of their ruler-patrons.
A festival is now exclusively dedicated to the
event in Jodhpur.
Pabuji ka Phad
Pabuji Ramdeo was a Bhopa hero of the 14th century
whose exploits provide the background for ballads
sung against a painted scroll where vignettes
of his life are portrayed in comic-strip fashion.
Performances are held at night. As the Bhopa minstrel
sings the ballad accompanied to the music of the
ravanhatha, his wife holds an oil lantern to illuminate
the particular portion of the scroll where these
deeds have been painted. Entire village communities
gather to view the performances.
One of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan,
performed by the Kalbeliya snake-charmers’
community, the sapera dancers wear long, black
skirts embroidered with silver ribbons. As they
spin in a circle, their body sways acrobatically,
so that it is 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.
Another devotional form of dance practiced by
the Kamad community of Pokhran and Deedwana, to
honour 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 hold
in their hand. Their hands perform various arabesques
while they do this, and for effect, they may also
balance pots on their hands and hold a sword in