About Kalbelia Sapera dance and Gulabi Sapera

Sapera means serpent and is the dance of the Kalbelia tribe
Kal= black  Kali= Indian mother goddess of death and rebirth

Gulabi Sapera- famous and honoured Kalbelia dancer, singer and humanitarian credited with bringing this dance form to the stage and to a broader audience. Her name, Gulabi means rose.

One of my favorite Kalbelia dance videos!

      The Kalbelia are of  a semi nomadic tribe living in the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India.  They are renowned dancers, musicians and snake charmers and are identified as “gypsies” in modern Indian culture. They have traditionally been an untouchable caste, shunned by mainstream society. They make their living through curing snake bites, ridding people's homes of snakes and showing snakes to tourists for money while playing a homemade horn made from a gourd, the pungi. 

The Kalbelia women are known as the best dancers of the Thar desert.  They are known for their snake-like flexibility, hypnotic rapid spinning, and graceful sensuous movements. They wear a  rajputi (long full skirt, choli and over tunic), the traditional dress of the Kalbelia women. The dancers rajputi is often black and heavily adorned with ribbons of silver and bright colors, sequins, beads, shells...

The following is the story of their creation:

In ancient times Guru Jalandernath (an incarnation of Lord Shiva) had two disiples. He asked that they each fill a cup with their art and learning. Gorakhnath, a gental scholar, filled a cupith ambrosia while Kannipav, an audacious charater, presented a cup filled with the venom of snakes and scorpions. The angered Guru set a curse upon Kannipav, and he and his descendants would forever live outside the limits of towns and villages and earn a living as snake catchers. The Kalbelia people beleive that this legend is the source of their wandering lifestyle and accept living on the margins of society as their karma and fate. They worship Kannipav Nath Ji as their founder and Guru and beleive that wandering is their duty. Gulabi Sapera, the woman responsible for bringing Sapera dance to an international audience, used her resources to construct the first and only temple dedicated to Guru Kannipav Nath Ji in Rajasthan. 

The above story is taken from an article "Who are the Kalbelia People" by Erin Roark, a writer, dancer and, student of Gulabi Sapera 

Read her complete article and learn more about Gulabi Sapera

old poster featuring Gulabi Sapera


(extracted from the book "Gulabi Sapera, Danseuse gitane du Rajasthan" 
Published by Naïve/Actes Sud)
“When I was very little, about six months old, I was greatly attached to my father. He was a snake charmer and went to demonstrate his skill in the streets every day.
Each time he left, I would watch him go and start to cry as I wanted to follow him. The same thing happened every day. One evening when he came home, he discovered that I had a very high fever. He asked why I was sick, and my mother replied: “She saw you leave, she heard the pungi that you use to charm the snake and has not stopped crying since. That is why she has a fever.”
“But how could such a little child come with me? She has to stay at home so that her mother can breastfeed her, it is impossible for her to follow me.” He was very surprised at my reaction. Then he thought: “There must be a bond between her and the sap (snake).”
From that day on, every morning he took me with him and the snake.
Nevertheless, he was amazed as a child that age drinks its mother’s milk throughout the day. “Will she be able to spend the whole day without drinking?”
The first day that I left with my father, the snake was in one basket and me in the other. I spent all day next to my father, I watched the snake dance, I was not hungry, I stayed like that, with a little water to drink that my father gave me. Where I come from, we wouldn’t ever give a child milk other than her mother’s milk. I spent the whole day without eating anything.
So every day we walked the streets together, asking for charity and having the snake perform its dance. I was happy. It was then that my father began to give me a little of the milk he had for the snake, that the villagers had given him. It is traditional to give the snake milk after its dance, and I would drink from the same bowl with the sap.
From the very beginning, I was always in motion, even if I didn’t know how to walk. I moved while I watched the snake. I did not start walking particularly early, but I had so much energy that I danced all the time. As soon as I began to walk, I started to dance. When I was one, I would dance around the snake, and sometimes I would pick it up and put it around my neck, winding it around my body or on my head. Sometimes I would fall over, but I got up straightaway and carried on dancing.”

                                                   Gulabi Sapera dancing with her children