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Kalbelia is a nomadic community majorly residing in the Thar desert region of the Indian state of Rajasthan. Traditionally, their primary occupation was snake handling. Other than that, they are known for their artistic and cultural contributions. And Kalbelia dance is one among them. Read the article provided below and prepare Kalbelia Community Study Notes for UPSC in a manner that is most convenient for you to study and refer to.
The Lore of Kalbelia
The famous local legend detailing the origin of Kalbelia goes like this. The Kalbelia trace their ancestry from Lord Kafinath or Kanlipar. He was the 12th disciple of Guru Gorakhnath, who was the founder of the tradition known as Nath tradition. It is also said that Kafinath is one of the 9 Gurus who reside in Kailash with Lord Shiva. In the story, Guru Gorakhnath ( some versions say lord Shiva, sometimes both are used synonymously) offered Guru Kafinath i.e. Kanipa a bowl of mixture containing all poisons in the world. Kafinath drinks the whole mixture without any hesitation or doubt. Pleased by his belief and devotion lord gives him two boons.
- One was that he and his descendants would be taken care of by the world. And this boon gave them the right to beg.
- The second boon was that he and his descendants would be able to handle all the poisonous creatures in the world.
These boons have a direct reflection on the professions of present-day Kalbelias. The tribe’s name Kalbelia also mirrors this lore. The word Kaal means death and belia means bowl. So, the name directly indicates the bowl of poison drank by their patron Kafinath. Some other sources suggest the word Kaal means snake and the word Belia means friend, quite literally indicating that they are snake charmers.
Another legend says the word Kaal refers to Lord Shiva (Mahakaal) and bel refers to his disciple Nandi who is majorly represented as a bull. The fact supporting this legend is that after burying their dead Kalbelia placed a sculpture of Nandi on their grave.
Historical Background of Kalbelia
The golden era of Kalbelia was during the 12th and 13th centuries. They had prosperity and recognition during this period. But the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan by Mohammad Gori ended this. They scattered and fled to various parts of North India in fear of conversion and slavery. They continued to showcase their dances and snake charming everywhere they went. After the 16th century, they had the opportunity to showcase snake games and dances in. Mughal court as well.
The language spoken by the Kalbelia people is known as Sapera.
Castes in Kalbelia Tribe
The Kalbelia tribe is diverse in itself. They have many castes within the community. Two major sections in the Kalbelia tribe are Daliwal and Mewara. The names of all these sections are listed below.
Location of Kalbelia
The greatest number of Kalbelias are found in the Pali district. But the significant population of this tribe is also found in places like Chittorgarh, Ajmer and Udaipur.
Livelihoods of Kalbelia
As described above, they are a nomadic tribe. They travel from one place to another in search of favourable conditions and livelihood. They live on the outskirts of villages and even small towns in their temporary improvised settlements called Deras.
Snakes are the major livelihood measure of Kalbelia. There should be at least one male person who is a snake charmer who goes around with live snakes in bamboo baskets and showcases them to crowds. When a snake enters a domestic settlement, natives call Kalbelia. They capture the snakes alive and release them in places uninhabited by people. They promote the non-killing of snakes as snakes are revered in their culture. Sometimes they also extract venom from live snakes and sell it in the market for money.
Snake Bite Healer
Long familiarity with the region and their closeness to the snakes makes them incredibly knowledgeable about local flora and fauna. Along with this comes their knowledge of various species of snakes, the symptoms of their bites and the herbal remedy for each of them. The healers of the community play into their tantric traditions. The healing of snake bites includes using concoctions made with medicinal herbs and sometimes camel urine. They also chant mantras during the process of healing.
Dance and Music
Another income source for this community is their art forms. Sometimes women go to the nearby communities to beg for alms. But sometimes they go to showcase their dance. The dance is also called Kalbeliya. The men are accompanied by musical instruments. Their dance is widely received inside and outside their native place. Some women also trade their traditional jewellery and make henna designs for the customers. However, the not very frequent performance chances as well as the seasonal nature of the tourism industry make them turn to other occupations such as working in fields and rearing cattle. They raise several animals such as hens, dogs, pugs, donkeys, goats and horses.
Religion and Customs of Kalbelia
As their origin lore suggests, Kalbelia are cultural Hindus. But certain practices make them different from other Hindu sections. They have very distinct marriage and post-death rituals. In marriage, the groom has to pay a price to the bride’s father. The father also has to contribute to marriage expenses. They also bury their dead instead of cremation. Another important thing is that they honour snakes as holy especially Naga and Manasa. They also celebrate the festival of Nagapanchami.
Kalbelia dance also known as Sapera dance is an expression of Kalbelia tribed lores and ways of life. Here Kalbelia women are adorned with black traditional attire with intricate and colourful embroidery patterns and mirror works. They also were heavy jewellery like anklets, bangles, necklaces, earrings and headpieces. They also might have traditional tattoo designs. The costume is meant to resemble the appearance of a snake. This consists of
- lehenga which is a lower-body cloth
- angrakhi which is an upper-body cloth
- odhani which is a headcloth
The dance mimics the movement of a snake with intricate footwork, rapid spins and graceful hand gestures. As we discussed above the livelihood and history of Kalbelia are deeply connected with snakes. And their art forms are not any different. The movements include swirling and hand gestures which are graceful and sensuous. This dance is often performed during auspicious and joyful occasions and is an integral part of their celebrations. Kalbelia dance is especially performed during the occasion of Holi. The dance is performed solely by women and musical support is provided by men.
The Musical Instruments Used in Kalbelia Dance
The musical instruments used in Kalbelia dance are listed below.
Poongi is an ancient wind instrument that has been used for snake games since old times. The songs talk about the folklore, legends and lifestyle of Kalbelia. These songs also are a symbol of the poetic skills of the Kalbelia people who are known for spontaneously composing new lyrics and improvising songs amid live performances. These arts and practices are a part of oral tradition passed on from one generation to another. There are no books, manuals or any other written guidelines to learn these songs and dances. The main objective of these art forms is to evoke their traditional snake-handling business which is no longer legal.
Kalbelia Dance and UNESCO
Kalbelia was included in UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2010. This list consists of intangible cultural elements that are to demonstrate the diversity in the cultural heritage of a region as well as to raise awareness about these. This list was established in 2008 after the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was made.
Current Affairs about Kalbelia Dance
Chendavia is an app that was released during the time of the COVID pandemic and is gaining popularity among Kalbelia dance students.
Padmashri Gulabo Sapera
Padmashri Gulabo Sapera is the person who made a major contribution to the upliftment of Kalbelia dance as well as its recognition and popularisation at the international level. She also represented India in many international stages through her dance. Now many people, even foreigners come to learn Kalbelia dance from local artists.
Challenges faced by Kalbelia Community
Kalbelia community belong to the scheduled tribe. But the consideration they receive even though categorised among vulnerable sections is nearly negligible. They continue to live a marginalised life even during this modern era. They are not given much financial assistance or land rights. Some of them don’t have access to facilities like roads, housing, water or regular food. Most don’t even have ration cards or birth certificates. They also have very low literacy rates. Another important factor is that the Kalbelia tribe is denotified. The word ‘De-notified Tribes’ refers to all the communities which were once notified under the Criminal Tribes Acts which was enforced by the British Raj between the years l87l and I947. These laws were repealed by the Government of India in l952, and thus these communities were “De-Notified” after Independence.
Some legislations such as the Wildlife Act of 1972, which was put forward to protect all wild animals, put an end to their traditional profession as snake handlers. This is how they transitioned to manual labour and art forms for livelihoods. They turned to jobs like scrap collecting, rag picking, farm work animal caretaking, and performing dances and other entertainment programs for tourists. The dances and songs of the Kalbelias are a source of pride and a way to preserve their identity as they symbolize the tribe’s practical response to the evolving socio-economic situations and their position in rural Rajasthani society.
Kalbelia Community – Study Notes for UPSC, Quiz
A quiz based on the Study Notes for UPSC about the Kalbelia Community is provided below. Attempt to answer this question in a time-bound manner to assess your understanding of the subject. Answer these questions after preparing the Kalbelia Community Study Notes for UPSC after reading this article.
- Describe how the evolution of Kalbelia dance and its significance in the cultural setup of Rajasthan.
- Give a short note on the Kalbelia Tribe of Rajasthan.
- Give a brief note on folk dances of Rajasthan.
- Kalbelia folk dance is associated with which of the Indian states?
The correct answer to this question is option C both of them.
5. How is the rituals and practices of Kalbelias different form other Hindus?
- Which of these instruments are not used in Kalbelia dances?
Correct answer to this question is option D chenda.
- In which year did the international organisation UNESCO add the Kalbelia folk dance and songs to its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage?
The right answer to this question is option C both of them.
- What is UNESCO? What are its Functions?
- What is the significance of the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage?
- What is the socio-economic significance of the popularity gained by the Kalbelia dance in recent years?
- What is the name of the app that was released during the COVID-19 pandemic for learners of Kalbelia dance form?
- Give a brief note on the livelihood and profession of the Kalbalia people and how it evolved throughout the years.
Kalbelia Community Study Notes for UPSC FAQs
Let’s look at some more from Kalbelia Community Study Notes for UPSC.
- What is the name of the temporary settlement set up by the Kalbelia to live in the outskirts of the city?
The name of the temporary settlement set up by the Kalbelia to live in the outskirts of the city is called Deras.
- According to the legends Kalbelias are said to be the descendants of which Guru?
Kafinath or Kanlipar is the Guru of Kalbelias as per the legends.
3. Consider the statements about Kalbelia that are provided below and answer the questions after that.
a)Kalbelia is a dance form performed by a tribe of the same name in Rajasthan.
b)The steps in the Kalbalia Dance are arranged in a way to resemble the movements of a snake as their tribe consider snakes holy.
Which of these statements given below is/are correct?
- a Only
- b Only
- Both of them
- Neither of them
The correct answer to this question is option C both of them.