Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Kalbelia folk songs and dances of Rajasthan
Songs and dances are an expression of the Kalbelia community’s traditional way of life. Once professional snake handlers, Kalbelia today evoke their former occupation in music and dance that is evolving in new and creative ways. Today, women in flowing black skirts dance and swirl, replicating the movements of a serpent, while men accompany them on the khanjari percussion instrument and the poongi, a woodwind instrument traditionally played to capture snakes. The dancers wear traditional tattoo designs, jewellery and garments richly embroidered with small mirrors and silver thread. Kalbelia songs disseminate mythological knowledge through stories, while special traditional dances are performed during Holi, the festival of colours. The songs also demonstrate the poetic acumen of the Kalbelia, who are reputed to compose lyrics spontaneously and improvise songs during performances. Transmitted from generation to generation, the songs and dances form part of an oral tradition for which no texts or training manuals exist. Song and dance are a matter of pride for the Kalbelia community, and a marker of their identity at a time when their traditional travelling lifestyle and role in rural society are diminishing. They demonstrate their community’s attempt to revitalize its cultural heritage and adapt it to changing socioeconomic conditions.
Decision 5.COM 6.16
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:
- R.1: Kalbelia folk songs and dances have been creatively adapted by their community of Rajasthani snake handlers to changing socioeconomic circumstances, while maintaining continuity over time and providing them with a strong feeling of identity and pride;
- R.2: The inscription of Kalbelia folk songs and dances on the Representative List could help to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by offering an example of a marginalized community’s adaptability and creativity;
- R.3: The safeguarding measures proposed, in particular the creation of a Kalbelia Cultural Centre and Archive, aim at the documentation of Kalbelia folk songs and dances, their perpetuation as living traditions and their transmission to future generations;
- R.4: The nomination process included leading Kalbelia performers, government authorities and non-governmental organizations; and the free, prior and informed consent of the tradition bearers is demonstrated;
- R.5: Kalbelia folk songs and dances are included in the inventory of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, a national repository of Indian arts and culture under the Ministry of Culture.
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