KALBELIA Dance Rajasthan

Performance Sam Dunes, Jaisalmer Desert Festival 2013

Rajasthan, as a state of India, is full of treasures which have grabbed attention of the people for centuries. The state is home to various communities, tribes, cultures and folk dances. 


One such folk dance, popularly known as Kalbelia, is recognized globally. It got international recognition and is included in UNESCO’s representative of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010. 


Kalbelia is also known as Sapera or Snake Charmer Dance. This dance is performed by a Rajasthani tribe which mainly resides in the Jaisalmer region. In this dance a variety of instruments are played by men whilst dance is performed by women.  


Sapera Dance is a vital part of the Rajasthan’s culture and tradition. The tribe who invented this dance form is Kalbelia. Since they were nomadic they travelled from place to place. That is why the dance is known and popular all over Rajasthan. 

Kalbelia Tribe 

Kalbelia tribe started this popular dance form. The members of this tribe are known as gypsies as instead of residing at one place they keep on traveling from one place to another for work. Traditionally their main occupation included catching of snakes and then trading their venom. Due to this, they are also known as Sapera or Snake charmers. 


Kalbelia dance is generally performed on a festive occasion in the Kalbelia community. This folk dance is performed by women who dance to the tunes of Been. Link to video of live performance is at end of article.  


The dance and songs are neither taught in any school or institute nor are there proper manuscripts and written books to learn from. Following the oral tradition the dance is taught by one generation to another.

Kalbelia Dance and Musical Instruments 

The dance is performed to the traditional tune which is played using a musical instrument known as Poongi or Been. Kalbelia tribe catch the snake by using this woodwind musical instrument. Apart from Poongi, there are many other musical instruments used during performances for e.g. Dufli, Morchang, Dholak, Khanjari, and Khuralio. When these instruments are played with the music that one hears is exceedingly sensuous.

Kalbelia Dance Clothing  

The main performers are women. They perform on the tone of Been and imitate the moves of the snake. Women wear the traditional Kalbelia dress while dancing. It constitutes Angrakhi, Odhani, and Ghagra.


The performers wear an Angrakhi on their upper body part. The sleeves of Angrakhi can be of half-length or full length. The head of the dancers is covered by Odhani. Ghagra also known as Lehenga. It is a long skirt that Kalbelia dancers wear during a performance. Ghagra has a very wide circumference which is vividly accentuated while the dancers take a twirl. See picture 2 for their dress.

Hungarian dancer, part of Kalunath Jogi group, performs at Sam Dunes 2013 

The color of the entire dress is generally black which have red decorative laces on the boundary. A black snake with white spots or white strips is weaved on the dress with the help of a silver thread. The thread is sewed in a way that it resembles a snake. To grab the attention of the audience many colorful patterns and designs have also been made with the help of the small mirrors.


This traditional dress is accompanied with traditional jewelry. Dancers wear necklaces and Maang tikka around their neck and head which is made up of beads. Along with this they also wear bangles and armlets. If the sleeves of the Angrakhi is full length then dancers do not wear bangles. To produce a tickling sound dancers also wear thick ghungrus or anklets.

Popular Kalbelia dancer Gulabo 

Globally recognized is Gulabo Sapera, a very popular Kalbelia folk dancer of Rajasthan. She belongs to a traditional Kalbelia family. During her thirty year career her work has been widely appreciated for which she received various awards. These include the Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Academy and Rajasthan Gaurav awards.


Like many who walk a different path Gulabo faced many challenges. To begin with she accompanied her father who played the tune of Been with the wooden instrument on which she would dance. As she perfected the art she began performing on stage shows.


The turning point in her life was 1985 when Rajasthan tourism department officials Himmat Singh and Tripti Pandey spotted her with friends at the Pushkar Mela. The duo were charmed by “this little girl who moves as if there were no bones in her body”.


Thereafter there was no looking back. She got an opportunity to showcase her talent worldwide and has taken Kalbelia Dance to new heights.


Another very popular Kalbelia dancing group is that of Kalunath Jogi from Jodhpur.

Elements that leave viewers mesmerized

The music, attire and dance moves reconcile together to make Kalbelia dance sensuous and erotic. The Kalbelia dance is mainly performed by dancers to celebrate occasions. Women dance whilst men play khanjari and poongi. The music released by these instruments is quite exquisite and poetic. Unlike other folk dances, there are no pre-determined patterns and steps involved. This dance form is completely free and wild which has a beginning but no end.


The dancers move their body as per the rhythm of the music. Dancers moves like snakes by sensually doing swirling and twirling movements. Just above the breast they repeatedly open and close their arms to add a sensual touch to their dance. The main dance move is the highlight of the finger grasping gestures. Foot stamping and acrobatic bending actions come repeatedly across the dance. The movement of the hip is quite delicate, but it should be noticeable enough to tease the viewers. This folk dance surely leaves every viewer hypnotized. 

Interesting facts about Kalbelia Dance 

  • There are no training institutes for learning Kalbelia dance. Instead, children are expected to learn while watching seniors perform.
  • UNESCO’s representative of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has named Kalbelia Dance and songs on their list. 
  • According to tradition the sound of the Been i.e. is played during the dance protects the community when snakes are caught and venom removed.
  • The Kalbelia community also believe that the Surma made from snake’s venom will prevent them from losing eyesight.
  • The Kalbelia women makes the dresses they wear during performances.  
  • The lyrics are generated spontaneously by the masters of Kalbelia which helps in improvising the live dance performance.


Whenever you visit Rajasthan find ways to see Kalbelia dance. It is unique and will have you say ‘Yeah Dil Mange More’. 

Also enjoy

1. Video of well-known performer Gulabo 3.55 minutes 

2. Video of Kalbelia Tribe includes singing and dancing in village 9 minutes

3. Dance performance at Sam Dunes near Jaisalmer

4. Dance performances and People of Marwar at Jaisalmer Desert Festival 2013

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