Dance of the Desert: Hindu Folk Performance Brings Raucous Rhythms to the Mall

Rajasthani folk dance jangles with contradictions. On the one side, it is wildly raucous, with musicians and dancers tearing up the desert sand with improvised rhythms. On the other, it's profoundly religious, with dancers and musicians vying to express the stories of Hindu Gods.

Or maybe this isn't a contradiction at all.

The curators at the Freer and Sackler galleries have put together "Garden and Cosmos," an exhibition of 60 paintings from the royal courts at Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, a once-vast kingdom on the edges of India's Thar desert. Legends about Rajasthan run deep: the area gave birth to the gypsy tribes that later scandalized the European establishment.

The exhibit organizers invited members of the Kalapriya dance company and the Rupayan music group to perform at the exhibit's opening festival this past weekend. Like the subjects in the ancient paintings, the Rajasthani dancers made merry abandon, whirling, twirling, and having a great time. But like the subjects in the paintings, they remained devout.

Visit "Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur," October 11, 2008–January 4, 2009, at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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