WHO WE ARE

A small community of Kalbeliya Gypsies have lived just outside the holy city of Pushkar in Rajasthan (India) for more than a decade. Leaving the nomadic life, they have created a permanent place to live on government-owned land with no electricity or running water. From years trying to find ways to be accepted and participate more fully in the wider culture, they came up with a vision: to establish a school of their own as a healthy first step on the road to inclusion.

The resulting Kalbeliya Arts Academy (KAA) is a unique learning center that focuses on the essentials of academics, folk art, village wellness and self-employment. Using a ‘for-us, by-us’ approach where community members are active participants in the creation of each program, KAA supports first generation education, and promotes cultural heritage and community growth.

 

 

OUR STORY: A HAND BUILT SCHOOL

Pushkar is a pilgrimage site for devout Hindus and an international travelers hub for seekers, filmmakers, photographers, dancers, metal smiths and fashion designers. The Kalbeliya are familiar faces in Pushkar where they provide street henna art, religious blessings, dance lessons, photo sessions, musical performances and guided visits to their gypsy camp. 

The camp has long served as a gateway where the Kalbeliya are learning about the modern world through their authentic interaction with people from many countries, and at the same time foreign visitors are granted an opportunity to learn from a culture that is finding balance between old and new worlds.

Most Kalbeliya adults living in the camp are without steady employment and the vast majority have never been to school: therefore they do not read or write. 

Today The Kalbeliya of Pushkar live beside modern society, but not fully in it. Recognizing the urgent need for literacy, they have made several attempts to educate their children but very few make it through the traditional education system due to the many barriers they still face to social inclusion and acceptance. In 2008, the Fior Di Lotto organization created a ‘school-in-a-tent’ in the gypsy camp. The program ran for two years and a seed was planted for a school of their own. 

KAA is an outgrowth of a dream held by a young gypsy couple Shadu Gypsy and Raki Kalbeliya, emerging from their experience of the Fior Di Lotto program. Determined to create a path for education for the next generation, Raki and Shadu approached several international visitors/friends with an offer to co-create a “school-in-the-camp”. In 2015 one of Raki’s former dance students, Christina Gomes from the United States agreed to partner with the village to co-create KAA. 

The camp community rallied around the project to hand build a 20' x 20' classroom and committed to send their children (ages 3 - 14) to “school” six days a week for basic academic instruction and a daily balanced meal. The KAA vision includes four core programs; Academics, Folk Art, Self-Employment and Community Wellness. 

To date, we are an independent project, funded by its Co-Founders and individual donors. We consult with a number of established NGO’s for guidance with curriculum, land and citizenship rights as well as building construction. 

Since January of 2015, we have been in a ‘proof-of-concept’ phase running a portion of our academic program only. We are eager and ready to expand our programs and seeking partnership and support. 

 

 

THE KALBELIYA GYPSIES

For centuries the Kalbeliya Gypsies have been a nomadic tribe known as Jogi Nath, Sapera or in English, Snake Charmers, living nomadically in the Thar Desert region in Rajasthan India.

In addition to having a rich cultural folk art as musicians and singers, the Kalbeliya Gypsies have a sacred relationship with the snake. They are known as humane snake catchers in urban dwellings, having developed numerous healing remedies that include snake venom. The Kalbeliya Gypsies, together with many of India’s nomadic tribes, are known to be the ancestor of the Roma. 

Like most tribal communities in India, the Kalbeliya Gypsies faced harsh discrimination for many generations and were adversely affected by The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 under British rule, with consequent social attitudes still pervasive in current Indian society. 

In 1972, India passed The Wildlife Protection Act which included a seven-year prison term for owning or selling snakes. As a result, snake charming is now impossible to carry out as a profitable profession.

In 1983, Sapera Dance also known as Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance was born when Gulabi (Gulabo) Sapera performed at the Annual Pushkar Fair. Gulabi is credited as creator of this dance form and its mesmerizing costume. In 1993, the world got its first focused look at the dance when Suva Devi Kalbeliya appeared in the critically acclaimed French documentary Latcho Drom.   

Accompanied by traditional musical instruments and folk songs, Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance is now a widely recognized art form. It plays a significant role in Rajasthan’s cultural identity and is center stage at most Rajasthani heritage events. The popularity of this dance is worldwide and Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance along with Kalbeliya Folk Songs has been included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.  

Most of the Kalbeliya Gypsies of Pushkar are musicians, singers and dancers who perform at local hotels and festival stages. Others travel throughout Rajasthan periodically to earn income.  Although Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance has a world following, earning an adequate living through performance is rare.

The Kalbeliya of Pushkar are seeking ways to expand their folk performances as well as create viable self-employment through the programs supported by the KAA. 

 

 

OUR TEAM

Shadu Gypsy

Co-Founder

Shadu moved to Pushkar at the age of eight and comes from a long line of snake charmers. He is a musician and creative artist. As well as Co-Founder and Manager of KAA, he is the guide for our international visitors.   He attended school for two years with the help of a foreign sponsor, is fluent in English and Hindi and a self-taught reader and writer in both. Shadu is husband to Raki Kalbeliya.

Raki Kalbeliya

Co-Founder

Raki’s family moved from a remote village in Rajasthan to Pushkar when she was eight years old. She is a professional Kalbeliya Gypsy Dancer and since the age of 15 she has been a teacher at the Shakti School of Dance with Colleena Shakti. In 2010 Raki began traveling internationally sharing the Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance in Berlin, France, Germany, England, Italy, and Austria. She works closely with the Rajasthani Government, performing at many festivals and government sponsored programs. Although Raki has never attended school she speaks three languages including fluent English. 

Christina Gomes

Co-Founder/Project Manager

Christina grew up in a small American town in the state of Massachusetts. Her family ancestry is from Cape Verde, Africa. Until the age of eighteen, Christina lived in a “village” and was surrounded by hundreds of family members all working together for a better future in their new country. Christina has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Communications. She has a ten year film and television production background. For the past 14-years, she has run a small business called New Life Space, working in American homes creating awareness about the unhealthy relationships we have with our belongings and the affects over-consumption has on people around the globe. Christina first visited India in 2011, when she traveled to Pushkar to learn Kalbeliya Gypsy Dance with Raki as her dance teacher.

Yajvendra Chauhan

Community Teacher

Yajvendra has a long history with the Kalbeliya of Pushkar. Fifteen years ago (pre-cell phones) Yajvendra owned a telephone shop and many of the gypsies made telephone calls there. He quickly became cordial with his gypsy customers. In 2005, Fior Di Loto Foundation set up a unique “school-in-a-tent” in the gypsy camp and Yajvendra was one of the teachers. 

He has taught at Lawrence Day Public School and was also a trainer in Retail Operations and Communicative English with Ideal Job Solutions Ltd. Yajvendra holds a BA from Mumbai Hindi Vidyapeeth (MHV).