Dance like Queen Harish

The popular Rajasthani dancer, who recently died in an accident, took folk arts to the international stage

June 06, 2019 02:38 pm | Updated 02:38 pm IST

Queen Harish, the Rajasthani dancer, who died recently in a road accident

Queen Harish, the Rajasthani dancer, who died recently in a road accident

As the golden rays of the setting sun cast its glow on the warm sands of the Thar, Harish turned into Queen Harish. From a loving father of two children and a caring husband, he transformed into a dancer, raising a storm in the calm desert with his electrifying moves.

In the eerie stillness of the night, he would get into elaborately embellished ghagras and cholis. With his hands heavy with bangles and chunky earrings that drew attention from behind the ghunghat, he would sit in front of the mirror to apply layers of make up to soften his masculine features.

And when he went up on stage, he set it ablaze with his fast-paced movements, perfect swirls and flirtatious expressions.

At the Queen Harish show in Jaisalmer and the many events he performed across the globe, the audience traversed through folk traditions, enjoying the beauty of kalbeliya, bhavai, ghoomar, chari and terah taal. He brought in a little bit of Bollywood too.

“He was an enhancer of life; investing his heart and soul into every move,” says writer and historian William Dalrymple, who loved watching Queen Harish perform. “My wife, my daughter, we all loved him,” he adds.

Dalrymple first saw Queen Harish at the Jaipur Virasat Festival in 2004. “A few months ago, he was in Delhi to perform at a wedding, which I happened to attend. He completely owned the stage and showcased the Rajasthani folk arts in a unique way.”

Harish’s performance has been one of the highlights of the annual Jaipur Literary Fest and the man behind the fest, Sanjoy Roy’s tweet says it all, “Queen Harish, who gave a new identity and electrifying energy to Rajasthani folk music and dance, is no more. A life snuffed too soon in a highway car crash. Jaipur Literature Festival will miss him deeply. He had graced the festival with his spontaneous talent many times.”

Says Sanjoy, “I am sure he must be performing up there for the gods. There are many dancers like Harish in Jaisalmer, why such craze for him you would wonder. He had the spunk and smartness to bring out the timeless beauty of the traditional folk forms with a subtle contemporary twist.”

Talking about Harish’s early years, Darre Khan, a well-known Manganiyar musician of Jaisalmer and son of Sakar Khan, the inventor of the Khamaycha, says that he was a bright student in school that helped him shape his career and take his art to the international stage.

“Though he belonged to the Suthar (carpentry) community, he took to dance. Unlike the Manganiyars he did not get the art in virasat , but he found a teacher in Annu, the first male professional dancer in drag from Jaisalmer. Aur baaki sabko pata hai ki woh kahan se kahan pahunch gaya (everybody knows how he reached great heights),” says Khan.

His was a story of anonymity to fame. Having lost his parents in his teens, Harish began to dance for survival. It wasn’t an easy decision for him to be a cross-dresser, he faced ridicule and rejection. But he never gave up.

Christine Colton, an Australian, who is part of Chugge Khan’s Rajasthan Josh, says that a pall of gloom has descended on the Kalakar Colony in Jaisalmer. “His infectitious spirit will live on and inspire many youngsters.”

He conducted workshops and classes on folk dances around the world. Queen Harish was a semi-finalist on India’s Got Talent, featured in a few Hindi films and the musical documentary, When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan ( that tracks his roots and journey with international musicians).

“It’s just the art that matters to me, not the gender,” he quipped, when a member of the audience, after a performance in Jaipur, asked how it feels to dance like a woman.

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