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A horse dance tuned to rustic tales

Mathuralal Verma is a dancer from Rajasthan! His dance involves his control over gaits. His gaits not only entertain, but also give life to the lifeless mare, ‘kachhi ghodi’. Kachhi Ghodi derives its name from the word Ghoodi meaning ‘mare’.

Kachhi Ghodi is one of the most famous dance forms in Rajasthan and an exemplary folk art form. It brings out the vivid hues and the rustic charms of rural life in Rajasthan. The costumes are vibrant, beats are engaging and the acts of the fast paced dance generates a high spirited verve in the audience.

Every form of folk art is supported by a legend or a tradition.
Kachhi Ghodi
also traces its origin from many legends. The most famous takes its origin to the folk-deity Ramdev Pir of Rajasthan. He was a Rajput ruler of the 14th century, said to have miraculous powers who devoted his life for the upliftment of downtrodden and poor people of the society, and revivalism of Hinduism which were marginalised by invaders. He is worshiped today by many social groups of India.

His famous temple is located in Ramdevra, about 10 kms from Pokhran, a site now famous for India’s nuclear test. Ramdev in his childhood was gifted a toy horse by his parents, since he insisted to play with horse. Legends say that the moment Ramdev sat on the toy horse; the same took off and disappeared in the sky.

So, the Kachhi Ghodi dancers dance to the famous legends related to Ramdev. Apart from legends related to Ramdev, there are some other legends related to saints like Tejaji and others who are subject of pride for the people of Rajasthan.

Many people trace the origin of this dance form to the Robinhood culture of Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. There are some songs to support kachhi ghodi dance that are attributed to such sardars of the land. As this dance form has been very closely associated with wedding functions and rituals in Rajasthan for quite long a time, one can very safely connect this art form to the legends of Ramdev, Tejaji etc, rather than connecting it to the bandits.

Mathuralal, who hails from Kota, Rajasthan also puts this fact very strongly that he is only able to give life to the dummy mare because of his reverence to Ramdev and not the bandits as referred by some people.

Kachhi Ghodi dance is not only about the decor of the dummy mare or loud beats; it is more about reliving the moments of pride and Mathuralal, amongst many, is very good at creating the time and feel of such cherished folklores. When he enters the stage in his adorable attire riding the decorated mare, the grace overwhelms the whole atmosphere. The acts of bravery and compassion keep taking turns on his face and his feet very well supports him when he create the gaits that mix walk, trot, canter and gallop without affecting his act as a rider. The aura that he creates by the rich support of Rajasthani music is just amazing. He takes his audience not only to the era his play is related with, but they all feel riding horses following the king.

Mathuralal and other artists who have preserved this rich tradition have some other stories to narrate as well. It is their passion for the legend and dance that makes them not leave it. Otherwise, Kachhi Ghodi is not a good proposition to earn your livelihood.

Their performance of an evening hardly fetches them few hundreds of rupees, which is just sufficient to compensate the cost of rich make-up and travel. And, to drive his passion, artists like Mathuralal turn ‘unskilled’ labourer on the days they do not have booking for performance. Their earning for the day as labourers does not exceed even Rs 200.

I happened to listen to his fate after his recent performance in Delhi where people from all across the globe were watching him perform. I saw everyone lining in queue to get a photograph with him and saw all admirations in their eyes for the man and his art.

Artists like Mathuralal thrive as an artist and fight their poverty only on such love and affection they get from the audience.

The dummy mare that Mathuralal uses is an exclusive art-piece in itself, which is also created by him. When I asked him about the Kachhi Ghodi, he said, ‘It takes about two to three weeks to make one and it costs me not less than Rs 10,000’. I thought, if he starts making Kachhi Ghodi and sells them as art pieces, he will be a rich man in no time. These beautiful ghodis can fetch him not less than Rs 25,000 in the handicraft market. It was just an urban mind that could put business above art. Thank God, artists are blessed with good sense.

Mathuralal Verma has one material desire – to board an aircraft and see the earth from the sky as Ramdev had seen from his toy horse.

The music committee of Delhi has taken his wish seriously and are sponsoring his air travel for his next performance in Delhi.

Akhilesh Jha is a government servant. The views are his own
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