” I was buried alive for nearly seven hours before my mother and aunt dug my mausoleum and pulled me out after hearing my ceaseles cries. I do not know if it was the grass encompassing the clay that helped me breathe or simply a fighting spirit that imparted a less-than-one-day-old baby from Ajmer’s Kotda village the strength. But I refused to give up on myself, ” says Gulabo Sapera, who bloomed in the patriarchal scenery of Rajasthan and went on to create history in more courses than one.
Years later, this girlfriend with an indomitable spirit was featured in a magazine; but her epithet was misspelt and, since then, to the world, she came to be known as Gulabo- the sensational Sapera( or Kalbelia) dancer from Pushkar who could bend in unimaginable ways.
When she turned one, Gulabo, originally identified Dhanvati, fell seriously ill and the doctors almost gave up on her, but once again she contended hard to live. A grow was placed next to her in the clinic, and checking the flower as a sign of good will, her father changed her name to Gulabi.
In 2016, Gulabo was bestowed with India’s fourth-highest civilian award, Padma Shri for her outstanding contribution in enhancing India’s folk dance culture. Apart from this prestigious awarding, acceptances and accolades have run in ever since her first public performance in Pushkar Mela at 10.
“I still remember people clapping in appreciation and surprise after realizing my first performance. I failed to understand why they met around, took a few minutes out of their lives to see me but I felt very special. For the first time, I was not judged for belonging to a lower caste or being a girl. Dance gave me a fresh identity, ” she recalls.
From running a dance school in Denmark to expand her legacy internationally, lending free lessons to girlfriends from rural areas of Rajasthan to soon opening a dance school in Ajmer, Gulabo is going all handguns blazing to preserve her dance kind.
She takes her passion to grow as a dancer and welcome new developments very seriously. No wonder that, even at 49, she learnt video calling to launch online dance classes. The fund she gives is used to support sapera dancers who the hell is out of work due to the pandemic.
Gulabo’s life story is straight out of a movie with many high-priceds and lows, and it is her stance of establishing the world a better place through her artwork that is the hero, or rather heroine.
Of Snakes And Dancing
Gulabo’s father was out of the station when she was born. Upon his return, he learnt about the unfortunate incident that was a result of female infanticide, a practice that was prevalent in many parts of Rajasthan a few decades ago.
He called them out for their inhumane treatment of a newborn. Fierce with the man’s fight for equality, the village heads ostracized the family.
Her father was a sapera or snake charmer who would go around the village with a basket of snakes to been put forward performances that would typically include hypnotizing snakes with an instrument called a pungi, juggling and other such acts.
When Gulabo was barely six months old-fashioned, her father-god started taking her on his performances. She would effortlessly tap to the songs of pungi alongside the snakes and would copy their moves. From them, she learnt twirls and flexibility that later turn the base of her brand of sapera dance.
Here’s her jaunt from dancing with serpents to being spotted by Tripti Pandey and Himmat Singh, who worked with the Rajasthan Tourism Department at Pushkar Mela.
In the early 80 s, Gulabo began a new phase of life after moving to Jaipur, one of India’s busiest culture hubs, where people were less republican. She became a part of the state’s culture and tourism department.
She started working on polishing her dancing skills here. She created her clothing of the flowing black ghagra-choli and dupatta with decorative laces. The mirror work on the lehenga helps attract the attention of the members of the audience.
To ensure that people find this dance easy, she protruded to no governs.
“It is a freestyle dance that heavily depended on fluid form gestures. From serpents, I learnt how to form a U-shape with the body, hip moves and vortices. It is chiefly performed on the beats of the dafli, manjeera, dholak and chang( types of percussion instruments ). There is a lack of prerequisites to this dance. All it was necessary to is fervour, ” she says.
Over the years, she mastered her ship and participated in various parts organised by the government and even got an opportunity to be a part of the government’s contingent journey to Washington D.C. for a show in 1985.
When she returned, most of the regional newspapers had handled the story of a sapera’s daughter attaining India proud in’ Amrika’.
The same people who once humiliated her now welcomed her with open arms, “Women from our sapera community in Jaipur visited my house and insisted that I teach their daughters this dance. I was likewise flooded with sees from my native village, and people told me how proud they were. I could not believe that my artwork kind was gradually eliminating the differences, ” she recalls.
Performing on the international stage was the important turning point of Gulabo’s life and there has been no looking back since.
She has a humongous follower following all over the world. One such fan is Jyoti Tomar, who won a National Award for choreographing Padmavat’s song, Ghoomar in 2019.
“I was mesmerized to see the flexibility and the stance with which Gulabo danced. Her cliques, rhythmic tap, and costume were very unique. The graceful body movements and her backward arch were unbelievable. Just like snakes, Gulado does the swinging, flexibility and hypnotizing circles. While I speak I have visuals in my is chairman of her dancing with her charming smile, ” Jyoti tells The Better India.
Overcoming Challenges Gulabo Sapera with Ila Arun
While there was glamour and appreciation, the travel can no longer be without the market share of challenges. Even after being a part of so many demonstrates, there are periods when Gulabo and artisans like her are out of work.
“As artisans, we do get a lot of respect but we also need money to survive and this is something that the government needs to take care of, ” she says.
Jyoti agrees with Gulabo and also highlights the dire need to preserve this art form.
“Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had started with zonal cultural centres, but very little is reaching to the deserving. With recorded music, TV, movies and so many other available options, we are losing on our heritage. The government must do something more constructive. We, as citizens, are required to comply with our culture and should start showing interest in these artwork kinds. I operate my academy, Rajmata where we invite simply authentic folk artists from Rajasthan to conduct workshops, ” she adds.
Gulabo also talks about how the lockdown has further established difficulties for artisans, “We have received minimal ration from the authorities concerned but one dancer has to share it with a family of four or five, which is not enough. No solution that can create an alternate subsistence has been implemented. Dancers like me have the internet so we are managing but what about those who don’t? ”
Despite such difficulties, Gulabo has managed to stay true-blue to her artistry while creating her direction and help bring about the bequest. She credits her family members who have stood by her at all times.
“In the initial days, my husband, Sohanath( a city-based classical vocalist and harmonium musician) would inspect gymkhanas, offices of private organisers and event management companies as my agent. His enthusiasm and respect for my work have played an instrumental role in raising awareness about this dance. My children have also learnt this dance and are now teaching others. Ultimately, I owe everything to my parents who believed I was born to do great things, ” says Gulabo.
Whether it was turning abuse into applause, becoming the president of a caste association that once ostracized her for being a girl or putting the sapera dance on the world map, this famed woman’s passage is exceptional.
Get in contacts with Gulabo Sapera here
Edited by Sandhya Menon
Read more: thebetterindia.com