Калушари, Kalushari, Călușari in Bulgaria

This post is about the Căluș custom as it is now in Bulgaria where the spelling is Калуш in Cyrillic we have used the official transliteration into Latin script of Kalush when referring to the specific traditions in Bulgaria for consistency with the usage in these locations. This does not indicate any difference in pronunciation, origin or ethnic identities.

The extent of Kalushari (Călușari) in the more distant past is difficult to assess, although Marinov (late 19th century) documented traditions that took place during rusali in villages in many regions of Bulgaria. From accounts written in the late 19th and early 20th century, when living memories stretched back to the early 1800s it seems clear that Kalush in its ritual form that was practiced in villages in northern Bulgaria was similar to that in southern Romania.

The lower Danubian Căluș appears to be part of a wider custom complex with a Latin based name meaning “horse” – Căluș, Călușeri, or Căiuți. Generally ethnographers believe these rites were introduced into northern Bulgaria between the 16th and 18th centuries by settlers of Romanian origin [1], although it is impossible to assess the distribution of Slavic speakers and Latin speakers prior to the Turkish rule of northern Bulgaria which led to population movements to and fro across the Danube, and later re-population post-Turkish rule [2].

Căluș and Rusali the wider perspective

In 1978, these rumours reached the people working in the cultural section of the district committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party in the town of Mikhailovgrad, and they ordered that the Kalush be removed from the programme of the group for authentic folklore of the village

Iliev 2008 [6]

The spring, Pentecost, festive period is known as Rusali which is part of the European wide beliefs about evil water spirits, and customs for health, and re-birth. In the Balkans the Căluș has typical features of a men’s group, some form of men’s society with a leader, is danced in unison, in a circle or opposing rows, without connection between the dancers, and mostly with a stick or sword as an accessory, and is sometimes linked to customs for health and re-birth. In northern Bulgaria there is interchangeability in the use of the terms Rusali and kalushari [3] where the Slavic Rusali at Pentecost are in parallel to Căluș in a mixed and previously bi-lingual population.

One needs to be careful not to muddle and confuse between the potentially pre-Roman Căluș, as an organised custom for health at the start of summer, the potentially Thracian origins to the Roman Rosalia festival [4] and the Bulgarian kukeri custom at carnival time which is part of a tradition involving masked men in a noisy and disorganised performance. The perspective became confused by the national needs to identify such Romanian speakers as “Vlach” [5] and to give rise to “Bulgarian” claims to the Kalush dance [6] relating this to the pre-Roman Thracians. This unwittingly suggests the Romanians are the Romanised Thracians independent to the later Slavic Bulgarians! One has to be aware the current state of Bulgaria does not represent a singular cultural area in the pre-Roman or earlier periods. More interesting is whether the Danubian Slavic population ever practiced this as a ritual or as a men’s dance, but this cannot be determined.

Locations in Bulgaria

The limited data indicates a uniformity west to east in common with the Căluș north of the Danube in terms of aspects of the custom and dance, so this cannot be viewed as a historically separated tradition that diverged with time.

In the late 19th century Marinov observed that in Bulgaria most Kalushari were from the Wallachian villages along the Danube: eastwards from Lom to Svishtov and Ruse regions with some accounts from Tutrakan, Silistra, and Orhani regions (Marinov, 1981 (1891):650).

From Timok’s mouth and to Silistra, between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains, in Dinsko, Lom, Pleven and Svishtov, on “Rusali Sunday” (May) a group of rusalii or kalushari, always an odd number, 3, 5, 7, etc., most often 7 people. The head being a vataf who sometimes receives the title inherited from his father.

Arnadov 1996(1934) [7]

On my last tour in 1912, I met Kalushari from Armutlni [Krushari] village, Dobrich region. They told many that there were also Kalushari in other villages.

Marinov 1981(1891) [3]



Decline during 20th century

The region from Lom moving eastwards still had ritual Kalush in a diminishing number of villages until around the Second World War (Zlatia until the Second World War and Harlets to 1946) [8].

There appears to have been a lull in the early post second world war years, followed by a ‘revival’ in early 1960s as village ‘performance’ groups who perform a custom specific for their village, both at the village sobor and in national events [8]. The full ritual was no longer practiced although parts were done away from public view and elements of the folk beliefs were maintained in the villages, especially among the women.

Калушари (Хърлец), Călușari (Harlets) – 1995

Over time, especially since 1990, the number of villages that have Kalush groups has steadily declined (parallel to the reduction in the rural population in Bulgaria). By the end of the 20th century the only practicing Kalush groups and memories of groups are in the central northern counties of Vratsa, Pleven and Montana. Kalushari from Debovo took part in the 1986 Koprivshtitsa National Festival of Folklore, but no longer exists [9]. Teams from Zlatia, Harlets, Baikal and Belene have taken part in this festival post-1990.

Lilyache (Lilace) Лиляче, Vratsa had a Kalush tradition until fairly recently, but as far as we are aware there are no films or photos. Anca Giurchescu visited in 2001 and conducted some interviews with the Romanian speaking Rudari Roma who are linguistically integrated with Romanian speakers [10] and more recently Kartamavremeto (Time map digital archive of Vratsa region library) published a video and audio interview with one of the old kalushari [11].

Cherkovitsa continued to have a tradition until at least 2014. The neighbouring villages close to Cherkovitsa may also have had a Kalush tradition in the past; a comment on the Debovo Kalush Facebook page remembers Kalush in Dolni Vit and Iliev mentions Somovit [12]. Romanian ethnographer Emil Țîrcominiu documented interviews and published maps of locations where Kalush was mentioned by his informants: in Vratsa region – Kozondului, Harlets, Ostrov; and Pleven region – Baikal, Cerkovitsa, Dragas Voivoda, Belene, Milcovita / Milkovita [5]. The Vratsa library website also has a photo from Gorni Vadin, Vratsa region [11], and Iliev mentions Kalush in Lyubenovo [12].


  1. MacDermott, Mercia (1998). Bulgarian Folk Customs. London: Jessica Kingsley.
  2. Velichi, Constantin (1963). Emigrarea bulgarilor în Țara Românească în timpul războiului ruso-turc din 1806—1812, pages 27-58.
  3. Marinov, Dimitar [Димитър Маринов] (1891). Народна вяра и религиозни народни обичаи [Folk Faith and Religious Folk Customs], Жива старина том 1 [Living Antiquity Volume 1]: pages 637-650.
  4. Kosarov, Kiril (2010). Russali. Skopje: Македонска реч.
  5. Tîrcomnicu, Emil (2011). Sărbători și obiceiuri : Românii din Bulgaria Volumul II Valea Dunării - raspunsuri la chestionarele Atlasului etnografic român. București: Editura Etnologică.
  6. Iliev, Ilya (2008) The reconstruction of Căluș in a Bulgarian village. Martor, 13: pages 27-38.
  7. Arnaudov, Mihail [Арнаудов, Михаил] (1996 (1934)). Essays on Bulgarian Folklore (Очерки по българския фолклор), page 545-550. Sofia: Bulgarski Pisatel.
  8. Vlaeva, Ivanka (2011). Strategy of the international folk festivals in Bulgaria in the last two decades. Dunin, Elsie Ivancich & Özbilgin, Mehmet Öcal (editors), Proceedings of the Second Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe: pages 129-136 İzmir, Turkey, Ege University State Turkish Music Conservatory.
  9. Stanchev, Todor & Stancheva, Atanaska (2020). Kalushari Debovo [Online]. Debovo, Bulgaria: Kalushari Debovo. Available: http://kalushdebovo.eu [Accessed 6 June 2020].
  10. Giurchescu, Anca (2005). Report on Bulgarian 2001 fieldwork kalushari. Dance and society: dancer as a cultural performer: re-appraising our past, moving into the future. Budapest, Akademiai Kiado: European Folklore Institute.
  11. Todorova, Kalina [Тодорова, Калина] (2002). Lilyache - Vlasite in Lilyache - history, way of life and traditions - Category: Beliefs and traditions / songs Memories of the old kalushar (Лиляче - Власите в Лиляче - история, бит и традиции - Категория: Вярвания и традиции / песни Спомените на стария калушар). Kartamavremeto [Time map digital archive of Vratsa region XX century] [Online], 2020. Available: https://kartanavremeto-vratsa.org/story/1421/39
  12. Iliev, Ilyia (1999). Русалии и калушари: историческа етнология на един ритуал, дисертация [Rusalii i kalushari: historical ethnology of a ritual, dissertation]. Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" Faculty of History.
Published on 23rd July 2020, last modified on 28th November 2021