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Music and Dance in Rajasthan
 
Being 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.

Bhavai

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.

Chari

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.

Drum Dance

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.

Fire Dance

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

Gair

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 region.

Ghoomar

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.

Kachhi Ghodi

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.

Kathak

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.

Kathputli

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.

Maand

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.

Sapera Dance

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.

Terah Taali

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 their mouth.

 
 
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