It is pitch dark and the charpoys have been spread. The desert heat has made way for a chilly night that one isn’t usually prepared for. The extreme weather makes the inhabitants rugged and tough. Bejeweled women twirl and twist balancing a large number of pots on their heads. They women move defying the laws of physics, slowly dropping to the ground. Then a man comes and lights the smallest pot with oilseeds soaked in oil. The pot flames up and they look like moving lighthouses from a distance. The crowd cheers and there is a crescendo of drum beats that fill the desert air. As they rise, there are more cheers and cajoling from the audience. They watch the women drop down again, this time on their knees. They swirl on their knees, holding their heavily embellished skirts hitched up. It is dangerous, beautiful, and a class balancing act.
Reduced to a spectacle for tourists while on a ‘tour’ – Chari is much more than an entertaining dance. It celebrates the simplicity of life and the happiness of finding water in a desert state.
How Chari Celebrates Community Life
The Chari folk dance of Rajasthan originates from the districts of Ajmer and Kishangarh. It is usually performed by Saini or Gujjar women, who were historically flower-gatherers. It is a celebratory dance that acknowledges the ample collection of water.
In Rajasthan, until today, women have to travel large distances with pots (charis). Chari is a simple reflection of this momentous joy that women feel when they collect water and carry it home. It is also performed during weddings and other festivals.
Accompanied by the dhol, dholak, nagada (a type of drum), and the harmonium, Chari begins at dusk, sometimes continuing until night. Women dress in colorful Rajasthani fabrics, a distinct characteristic of the place. The movements are kept simple and may be combined with women lighting the Charis, moving using thaalis (brass plates), and even picking up a knife or kerchief using their mouth as they bend down. It is about finding poise, balance, happiness within community life.