Kalbelia Dance

- March 7, 2022

By Kayva Gokhale

The Kalbelia tribe belongs to the Thar desert region of Rajasthan, who used to be professional snake charmers. Traditionally, this is a nomadic community, serpents are an important part of their livelihood, the Kalbelias revere these reptiles, especially the cobra. The killing of any snake is considered a sin and the tribe advocates for humane treatment of serpents, even if they enter homes and other domestic spaces. 

Illustration: Mitushi Sharma

The Kalbelia dance is an important part of the culture of this tribe. This dance is performed as a celebration of their identity and culture and traditionally takes place in the desert, in front of a large bonfire. The men and women of the tribe gather around the fire, where the men play instruments and the women perform the Kalbelia dance. The clothes worn during the performance are also significant.  The women wear lehengas, or long flowing skirts in red and black hues. When they perform the dance, the skirts swirl in the air, replicating the movement of a snake. The colours and patterns on the clothes too, represent various aspects of serpents and other animals reared by the tribe. In 2010, the folk dances and songs of the Kalbelia tribe were included in UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List. 

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Note: Snake charming has been banned in India under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

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