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Jyothi Venkatachalam

The folk dances, dancers and costumes of Rajasthan have made the Thar the most colorful desert in the world. The colorful people of Rajasthan live life to the hilt. After hard work in the unrelenting, harsh desert sun and the rocky terrain, they seek a respite from their exhausting work by letting themselves enthrall in gay abandon. Their evocative and soulful music provides the perfect accompaniment to their vigorous and unsophisticated dancing. The Ghoomar, Terahtali, Kachi Ghodi and Kalbelia dance are some of the most popular folk dances of this region.


The national social folk dance of Rajasthan is the Ghoomar, danced by women in long full skirts and colorful chuneries. It is one of the legacies passed on to the Rajput royalty. Derived from the word ghoomna (pirouette), this is a simple dance where the ladies, dressed in resplendent voluminous ghagras, move smoothly and gracefully in circles. The accompanying songs are sung alternately by both men and women, as the dancers move both clockwise and anti-clockwise. The effect of the free play of the folds of the ample and colorful ghagra is dazzling. If you are in Jaipur during festival time, don�t miss a ghoomar recital at the City Palace.


It is a fascinating dance performed by women while sitting down. The women have 'manjeeras' (little brass discs) tied with long strings to their wrists, elbows, waists, arms and a pair in their hands as well. Their male accompanists sing and play the 'tandoora' while the women, with dexterous and fine movements, create a strong rhythm with the 'manjeeras'. For added effect, they may hold a sword between their teeth or balance pots or lighted lamps on their heads.


The Kucchi Ghodi or dummy horse dance is performed on festive occasions, by men who are as colorfully attired, as are their horses. Kucchi Ghodi dancers of this region are equipped with shields and long swords, the upper part of their bodies clothed in the traditional attire of a bridegroom and the lower part concealed by a brilliant-colored papier-m�ch� horse built up on a bamboo frame, they enact jousting contests at marriages and festivals. Bawaris, by tradition a criminal tribe, generally are expert in this form of folk dance.


This dance is performed by little girls and young women of the kalbelia or snake charmers tribe. True to their profession, these dancers are dressed in black long flowing skirts embroidered with silver ribbons, with a thin black veil covering their face completely. As they spin in circle, their body sways acrobatically, sway sinuously to the accompaniment of pungi, dufli and plaintive notes of the "been" � the wooden instrument of the snake charmers. So that it is impossible to believe that they are made of anything other than rubber. As the beat increases to such high pitch, free flowing voice, while others join in the dance. The vigorous and zestful display of their perfect movements to the enchanting tune of musical instruments is a treat to the eyes. It is truly said that dance is an expression of human emotions as much as music and is found in almost limitless variations in Rajasthan.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at [email protected]


Lavanya Dinesh

When we attend a concert featuring North Indian classical (Hindustani) music, we hear different ragas or melodies. But we become aware that the musician is singing different �Prakaars� or genres within the given timeframe. Words such as khayal, taraana, thumri, bhajan, dadra, ghazal, etc. are thrown around. The following is an overview of a few of these kinds of compositions.

1. Dhrupad � Dhrupad or the dhruvapad is one of the most ancient forms of �gayaki� (musical rendition). It is believed to have originated thousands of years ago in the Vedic period. This type of composition and style of singing was established with clarity and nuance by Raja Maan Singh of Gwalior nearly 700 years ago. Dhrupad is usually sung in slow pace, and is set to taalas (rhythmic cycles) like Chautala � a resonant pattern of 12 beats.

When we listen to an artist rendering the Dhrupad, we are struck by its weightiness and depth, as also its forceful yet melodious nature. Due to its intensity, Dhrupad has historically been the domain of male musicians. The predominant theme of the Dhrupad is an unflinching devotion to the Supreme Being. The rasas or emotions employed here are veer (bravery and courage), shaanti (peacefulness) and occasionally shringaar (romanticism). It is technically divided into four parts � the Sthai, Anthara, Sanchari and Abhog.

The gravitas of this type of composition also comes with improvisations involving complex mathematical calculations while singing the lyrics usually in Sanskrit and Hindi. The most commonly found Dhrupad recordings are from Dagar brothers. Currently the Dhrupad baton has been successfully passed onto the Gundecha brothers who enthrall audiences with their power-packed performances.

2. Khayal � It is a word derived from the Urdu language denoting a meaningful thought process. The Khayal is the most popular form of composition performed at concerts today. This genre is a fairly recent addition to the ancient Indian music tradition, with a given history of only roughly 300 years. A large portion of the Khayal repertoire is attributed to two composers � Sadarang and Adarang who flourished in the court of king Mohammed Shah.

A khayal can either be Bada Khyal � sung in slow pace (Vilambit laya) usually set to rhythmic cycles like teentaal (16 beats), ektaal (12 beats) and ada chautaal (14 beats), or Chota Khayal � a composition sung in fast pace (Dhrut laya) usually set to teentaal (16), jhaptaal (10) and ektaal (12). The khayal uses lyrics in Hindi, Sankrit, Urdu and Punjabi. The poetic content itself is limited to 4 or 8 lines including the chorus (Sthayi) and the stanza (Antara).

The themes are basically those of Bhakti (devotion) or Shringaara (romanticisim). But it is up to the improvisational prowess of an able performer to bring out its true colors in whatever raaga or melody it is composed in. The creativity, technical and melodic genius of Khayal rendition can be heard in vintage recordings of legendary maestros of yesteryear such as Pandit D. V. Paluskar, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Kesarbai Kelkar, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Nazakat Ali � Salamat Ali and many others. Present day favorites of mine include late Pandit Kumar Gandharv, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Kishori Amonkar, Malini Rajurkar, Ulhas Kashalkar and Rashid Khan.

3. Taraana � It is a kind of composition that uses bols (words) such as nom, tom, yalali, dhire, dhani, retha, nadir and so on. These words do not actually mean anything, they are used in place of poetic lyrics. The phrases are tongue twisters that test the agility of the performer�s voice and rhythmic excellence. A taraana is typically sung after a khayal or by itself as a lighter piece in the latter part of any recital.

It is interesting to note that the taraana originated in the court of Emperor Allauddin Khilgi nearly 800 years ago as a mode of musical education for foreigners who were not familiar with Indian languages � hence the use of nonsensical words. My favorite picks for listening to taraanas are offerings of vocalists Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Ulhas Kashalkar and Rashid Khan.

To be continued.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music. She has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at [email protected].

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