Kukers


The kukers are elaborately costumed Bulgarian men who form a procession through the streets and perform ritual dances dressed in their handmade costumes. The scarier the outfit, the better, as the goal of the whole rite is to chase away the evil spirits of winter.

Boy dressed in a costume made of animal fur, known as "kuker".
Kuker (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)
Kuker (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)
Kuker (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)

Young men wear their forefathers’ costumes with pride. Only the toughest among them can bear the heaviest bells (“chans”) and costumes.

Kukers changing clothes backstage (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)

Kukeri changing their attire after some exhausting dancing around the city streets

(Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)

Kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)

The most authentic rituals are performed throughout the villages, where the kukeri go from house to house to chase the evil spirits away from people’s homes.

Malin Budinov, a notable kukeri costume designer
Malin Budinov, a notable kukeri costume designer and mask creator (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2018)
Yulian from Kyustendil (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2019)
Yulian from Kyustendil (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker (Leskovets, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker (Leskovets, Bulgaria, 2019)

The rituals begin the previous night when the kukeri light a huge stake at the very heart of the village and dance around it. Some of them take their masks off only to catch a quick breath before rejoining the game.

Dani, a young kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)
Dani, a young kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)

Dani and some of the other kukeri stop the passing-by cars with their scary looks and the thumping of their bells. Drivers have to pay their way through. Everyone leaves a small amount of money because it’s believed that this would bring them good health.

Stilyan from Kalugerovo (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2019)
Stilyan from Kalugerovo (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker from Banishte (Kosharevo, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker from Banishte (Kosharevo, Bulgaria, 2019)

The kukeri dance in a certain rhythm so that the bells echo in a heavy, powerful, mesmerizing howl which turns the whole ritual into a deep trance.

Kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)
Kuker (Bogdanov dol, Bulgaria, 2019)

Kukeri rituals are even performed throughout industrial buildings and agricultural facilities.

Ivan from Lesnovo (Pernik, Bulgaria, 2019)

Detail from the image above