We also visited many Kalbelia dancers, their houses and communities. Traditionally Kalbelia are nomads, living in huts made with “sand cement” or tents made with colorful carpets, moving occasionally either due to shortage of resources (water, pasture food for animals, etc) or lack of job opportunities (more the case nowadays). However, due to complications with land owners, this scenario has changed today, with most people living in brick houses and only a minority living a nomad life.
Kalbelia are Hindu. Their view on gender and family roles is the opposite of Langa. Women are the dancers, and the ones who provide for their families the most. The boys can also be dancers or eventually learn how to play Langa songs, which is the music Kalbelia dance to.
One of the hardest things of being a Kalbelia dancer is competition – surprisingly enough for a dying culture. In the Rajasthan state there are many dancers, and not so many festivals and events for which they are invited to. To cope with this situation, many dancers started teaching curious foreigners the art of khalbelia dance. With that came a different problem. One example is the case of a (let´s say) western dancer, who learned from the community for 3 years and after decided to open a school of dance… in Pushkar…. righ on kalbelia backyard. This makes some of the dancers both angry and sad that a foreign investment (which does not directly help their communities) was created with their help. They feel as if they gave the secret to the most awesome sauce to a friend, and the friend went right away and opened a sauce shop across the street without inviting them as partners.
Langa and Kalbelia really do not get along well. Their culture, the way of live and values are very different. Their castes absolutely do not mix. But somehow, the survival of their culture depends on their cooperation. The Langa provide the music, the Kalbelia provide the dance. One without the other loses their beauty. So, for the sake of keeping these beautiful arts alive, they work together in peace, going their separate ways after each performance. I believe this fact is actually one of the things that can describe India the most. Amongst so many differences, people manage to live together in peace.
Text&Photos: Ana Cordeiro