Căluş is the most important folkloric manifestation of the Romanian folk traditions. From the Oltenia region, located in Southern Romania, the Căluș ritual dance has its beginnings back in the darkness of time. The ceremony of Căluş is related to the cult of the Sun, back when the year was divided into two seasons: summer, personified by horse and associated with the Sun, and winter represented by the wolf and associated with the Moon.
At the beginning, the Căluș was a ritual war dance, which only men danced, which, throughout its history, retained a special magic in all its forms, starting with ritual, ceremonial, and later in our day, show.
The connection of the dance with the horse is present throughout the ritual, in the name – the gag (căluș in Romanian) being the wooden part of the harness that the horse holds between the teeth, in the steps of the dancers imitating the trot and the gallop of the horse, the ribbons worn over the costume that resemble the harness of a horse, the dancers drawing attention to them by imitating the horse’s main features: elegance, power, virility.
The ritual of Căluş includes a series of games, satire, songs and dances and is performed by all the dancers of Căluşari, accompanied by two violins and an accordion.
The ritual of Căluş takes place in the week before Whitsunday, having the role of marking the transition to the summer, as it is during this week when, according to ancient beliefs, the spirits of the dead are capricious and make their presence felt in different ways. The ritual suggest a way of communication between the worlds, and the Căluşarii are meant to send away the evil demons and spirits, by threatening them with sticks,.
The Căluș group of performers strictly observes the structure and organization inherited from the elders. The ”cast” includes characters with well-defined roles: a mute, a bailiff, a bailiff’s help, a rider and a flag-bearer. The group strictly adheres to rules such as fulfilling the duties, observing the oath, obedience to the bailiff’s will, the covenant of honor. The Mute plays the role of the highest horse-god, and is supposed to not utter a word during the seven days of the Căluș festivities, otherwise he might go mad.
The Căluş ritual is complex and combines several elements such as music, dance, costumes, texts, objects, and together they represent an inestimable artistic value. The dance that accompanies the show contributes to a great extent to the state of ecstasy that facilitates the communication with the “world beyond”.
Confirming the rich cultural diversity of Romania, the Căluș ritual is also widely promoted at folk festivals, that turn it into a real national symbol.
The Căluș ritual was included in the main list of UNESCO’s non-material, world cultural heritage, in 2005.
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