Kalbelia: When Sand Dunes Pass Through Body


My first exposure to Kalbelia was not in some desert Rajasthani village, but in Calicut. The gypsy charm of Rajasthan has always been a fascination, an invitation, a dream that I share with my fellow beings on the path. But, beyond Ajmer and Udaipur and a few other towns, I have never been to the interiors of Rajasthan. The unquenchable wanderlust has reasons abundant.

In Calicut’s Gujarati hall, a few men and women from Rajasthan performed that night. Dressed in flamboyant colours, they were cool and endlessly vigorous. Desert must have made them so gracefully strong. The lead dancer, Ananya, if I remember rightly, grew stronger and more enchanting, with each new performance. She, like all good dancers, knew it well that dance is not just physical work, it goes far beyond body. You see sand dunes passing along with the wind, through the body. Her unfailing smile invites you to the ecstasy of a calm, pleasant soul, despite the hard and heavy balancing acts she often did with those pots, on a plate and even on glasses. This sensuous part must have its misogynist roots/temptations in a feudal patriarchy, you doubt. Yet, even Kalbelia, the dance of Rajasthani snake-charming community, could be liberating in other ways. It depends on how you look at it.

The programme, organised by KALA, was a mixture of Rajasthani folk songs and dances. First there were songs. Only desert singers could open their mouth in such high pitch and hypnotise you in a single moment. The real singers do not sing to please you. Nor would they ever try to impress you. They sing because they love, they can’t do without it; it’s love in voice. Noor Muhammed and his friends sang in a voice that could only come from the throats that have deeply known the thirst of deserts. The style they had had was indescribable. The desert villages in Rajasthan come back to your mind. You remember the dust winds that would cover you from seeing those envied nomads when you are in a train or a bus in Rajasthan. You recall their women and kids. Their loves and losses. Their dreams and sacrifices. Voices carry everything. Lyrics are a luxury for great vocalists. They manifest all human emotions in ascending and descending patterns of voice. They make you cry, smile, meditate, lose yourself, laugh at many things that are adored in the name of music.


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