Raki The Kalbelia Dancer

Photo and story by the incomporable Carlo Julian Roberto

Meet Raki, one of the very special Kalbelia Gypsy dancing girls I met during the annual Pushkar Mela, Rajasthan. Kalbelia are the 'Snake People' - 'Kal' meaning 'snake'. For centuries, up until legislation and developments in the sciences from the 60's, these formerly itinerant folk specialised in snake serums. Now that side of their culture has gone, and being coerced to settle, these people rely on their age old music and spectacular dance for their livelihood. Vestiges of their old, nomadic way of life are still apparent in that they live on the fringes of town, separate from the rest of the inhabitants.

I got to know Raki, along with her Kalbelia dancing companions, fairly well during the week of the Mela and decided to hire them one afternoon, along with their musicians, for a photo shoot. We found a suitably, disused, empty shell of a building for the dancing photos on the fringes of the Thar desert just out of town where the girls and musicians performed royally. After the session, I took some individual portraits of the dancers of which this is but one - 26/11/2012

Her beadwork is typical of the region, featuring 'beaded beads' edges and fringe. I love the spirit of this photo.