Cultural heritage of Rajasthan is rich and carefully nurtured and sustained over centuries by waves of settlers ranging from Harappan civilization, Aryans, Bhils, Jains, Jats, Gujjars, Muslims and Rajput Aristocracy. Rajasthani arts and crafts have emerged as an essential part of people's lives. Unique in concept, colour and workmanship, the art and handicrafts of Rajasthan are beyond comparison. The arts, crafts, music and dances of Rajasthan are exciting and compelling. Rajasthan dances are a spectacle of life and colour. The glittering jewellery and attractive handicrafts of Rajasthan have caught the fantasy of the people everywhere.
Kathak is a refined classical dance form; one of the six foremost classical dances of India. Kathak dance form originated in the 6th - 7th century AD in northern India. The dance was performed by temple dancers and developed today's form from the patronage of Mughal Courts. The emphasis of the dance moved from the religious to the aesthetic. Abhinaya (the use of mime and gesture) became subtler, with emphasis placed on the performer's ability to express a theme in many different ways and with infinite nuances. Later it spread to Lucknow, Raipur and Jaipur. The Jaipur courts were the chief patrons of Kathak in Rajasthan. Today Jaipur Gharana of Kathak that developed under the patronage of the regional princes is one of the three major schools of Kathak.
The dance is performed to classical music and song. The footwork is matched by the percussion instruments like tabala and pakhwaj. It has very intricate movements of the hands and feet along with facial expressions set to complex time cycles. The dance movements include numerous pirouettes executed at lightning speed and ending in statuesque pose
Ghair is originally a Bhil dance performed during Holi festivals. Variations of the dance are performed in Mewar, Jodhpur and Sekhawati. The dance is performed by both men and women. The performers move in circle, first in clockwise and then anticlockwise direction. They carry sticks and strikes them rhythmically. The Ghair of Mewar has inner and outer circles of performers. The dancers of Jodhpur wear martial costumes. The male dancers use sticks or swords.
Kucchi Ghodi or dummy horse dance is performed to entertain the visiting bridegroom's party. The costumes are so designed to resemble riding a horse. It is a vigorous dance that engages agile sidestepping and dancing to music if fifes and drums. A ballad singer narrates the stories of local heroes. The dance comes from the dacoit regions of Shekhawati.
Terahtaali is a devotional dance performed by women of Kamad community in honor of folk hero Baba Ramdeo. The women squat on the floor with 'manjeeras' (cymbals) tied to various parts of their bodies like wrists, elbows and waists. In a whirl of constant and frenzied motion they strike the cymbals with those they have in hands. For added tempo the also balance pots on their heads or swords on their mouths.
It is a dance of the women of the Kalbelia snake charmer community. The women wearing black skirts with silver embroidery dance to the folk songs, as if invoked, reminding the graceful movements of the snake. They sway sensually to a sonorous chant, which increases in tempo and vigour with the increase of the beat and leave the dancer and the spectator exhausted and happy in the end.
The Jasnaiths of Bikaner and Churu perform this devotional dance. The dance is performed on a bed of burning coal, bare footed, to the rhythmic beat of a drum. The pace of the dance increases to the tune of drumbeat until the dancer attains a near hypnotic trans. The dance is performed during the winter nights and the dancer never develops even a blister on his foot.
Drum dance is a war dance performed by men from Jalore. Men with huge drums hung in their necks and cymbals in their hands, provide musical accompaniment for the dance. The dancer holding a bare sword on his mouth juggles three coloured sticks or swords. The pace of the drum beats are raised and the dancer performs to the beat keeping his graceful movements. This is a favourite dance of the martial races.
Originally from Jodhpur, Goomar is a characteristic dance of the Bhils. The women in groups perform the dance during Rajput weddings and it is out of bounds for men. Dressed in richly embroidered skirts, veiled and bejewelled, the women moves slowly and gracefully in circles singing songs of love, devotion and celebration.
Bhavai is a graceful dance form presented by veiled women balancing seven to nine brass pots on their heads and dancing with agility. They often dance on crushed glass beds and the lead performer perches on the edge of a sword to sway gracefully with hand movements, raising the tempo and making the spectator awestruck.
Rajasthan, being an important source of precious and semi precious stones, is famous for its jewellery industry. Skillful artisans from Lahore, Delhi, Gujarat, and Bengal, attracted by the liberal patronage of the kings, came to work in Jaipur, Bikaner, Udaipur and Jodhpur. Semi-precious and precious stones come to Jaipur for cutting and polishing. Jaipur is a major center for enamel work on gold, also known as kundan. The temple market at Nathdwara is the best place to buy silver ‘kundan’ and ‘meenakari’ work.
The metalware of Rajasthan comprises artistic brass work, enameled, engraved and filigree cut work on silver. Varieties of lacquered and engraved brassware articles are available for one to chose from. Traditional designs and techniques are used and the motifs are of flowers, hunting scenes and landscapes. Traditional silver articles like 'handas' or water containers, spice bottles, baskets and trays are popular. 'Koftagari' is practised in Alwar and Jaipur where one metal is encrusted into another in the form of wire. Popular articles are swords, daggers and shields.
One of the finest crafts to emerge from Bikaner uses the inner hide of the camel. The hide is scraped till it reaches the consistency of paper and becomes translucent. This is then molded into lampshades, frames to hip flask, perfume phials or vases. These are painted over with fine gesso work using gold to lend richness to the otherwise bright reds and greens used in the work.
Pottery, one of the old crafts, has its own unique tradition in Rajasthan. Blue Pottery of Jaipur is unique in appearance. The art of glazed pottery came to India through Persia. The best pieces are hand painted with conventional floral or arabesque patterns and sometimes with figures of animals. Besides traditional articles items such as ashtrays, tiles, flower pots, lamp stands, mugs, door knobs etc., are also produced.
Alwar is famous for its double cutwork pottery known as 'kagzi' made skillfully with a thin layer of clay. Purely decorative, the pottery of Bikaner uses lac colours embellished with gold to give a glittering finish.
Rajasthan is famous for its splendid architectural monuments made of stone. Temples, forts and palaces are glorious achievements of the craftsmen that have few rivals. Jaipur is the centre of marble carving in Rajasthan. Artisans create marble images of the deities as well as domestic utensils from marble. befitting examples of fine lattice works of stone can be seen in every palace in Rajasthan.
Sanganer and Bagru, near Jaipur, are the name synonymous today with the finest block printed cottons. Some of the ‘Sanganeri chipas’ have moved to Jaipur and their colourful printed creations are widely available. Block printing is a finely developed art in other parts of Rajasthan too. While the ‘Bagru’ prints are famous for floral designs in dark vegetable colours, the ‘Barmer’ prints are known for their bold geometric patterns, called 'Ajrakh'. A special process of tie-and dye creates the stylized wave pattern or ‘laharia’ symbolizing water or the monsoon rain. Turbans and ‘odhnis’ with ‘laharia’ patterns are generally used on festive occasions, especially Teej.