Mohini Devi Kalbeliya
The story of Kalbeliyas is an example of how the changes in society and culture influence traditional musicians and their lifestyle. From a region of Barmer in Rajasthan origins, a nomad tribe of Gypsies called Kalbeliyas, which was traditionally known as snake charmers. They used to remove serpents from houses and trade snake venom. Women used to accompany men on their way of trade from house to house, as they begged for alms while dancing and singing. They used to give public shows as well, which included various snake tricks. Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 brought a ban on snake performances so Kalbeliyas had to transform their shows – girls replaced snakes.
Mohini Devi group – representative of nowadays Kalbeliyas is an ensemble of about seven musicians who did not receive any formal education but were instead learning music from an early age from their guru Kalunath Kalbeliya. They have gained international recognition and many of the dancers lived, performed and even taught this style abroad. In India, Kalbeliyas are invited mostly for weddings, cultural programs and festivals. Mohini Devi group is also proficient at many other dances like Bhavai, Chari, Ghummar, Terah Taali and add on elements of fire shows and acrobatics in their performance.
Spheres of Kalbeliyas act are divided: men play instruments and women dance. The main instrument is Been – an Indian woodwind instrument originally used to hypnotize snakes. It’s both plaintive and seductive tones are accompanied by beats of Dhap and Dafli, creating very energetic and compelling rhythms. Dancers wear traditional black ankle-length skirt and top. Both are richly embellished with colorful stripes and complimented with beautiful jewelry made from tiny pearls and silver hangings. Outfit completes a dupatta – a long loose flowing stole pinned to dancers’ heads. Kalbeliya dancers spinning fast, swaying their hips, swirling tassels and shawl can mesmerize viewer for long hours.