The Tribal Affair of Rajasthan
Rajasthan is a land of diverse tribes and nomad communities. It constitutes 13.7% of the total population of the state. Each tribe follows its own culture, ethnicity, and festivals. Among the majority, Rabari tribe is a gypsy tribe that had migrated from Iran to India a million years ago. About 2,70,000 Rabaris are settled in the deserted lands of Western India. This tribal group is known as the ‘shepherds‘ and ‘camel herders‘. Moreover, they lead a nomadic and semi-nomadic life mostly in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and in the Sindh Province of Pakistan.
From wandering in the dusty storms to breaking a stereotype, the history and folk fore of the tribe is adventurous and exuberant. So let’s not wait but explore the ironic lives of the Rabari tribe.
Who are the Rabaris?
Locally known as ‘people who always wander’.
While traveling, if you spot a man dressed in Baggy dhoti, white waistcoat, and red turban herding and grazing the cattle, you identified the man right. It is a Rabari man. These Rewari tribes are an aboriginal tribal caste of travelers who follow the nomadic pastoralism majorly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Pakistan. Their sacred occupation is to nurture and graze the cattle, camels, and goats. Moreover, they wander to different locations for over 6 months to chase the rains.
In Rajasthan, the tribal people of the Rabari community put-on beautiful and intricate colorful attire. Whereas in Gujarat, the Rabari tribe likely to wear more basic white garments in their routine. Often it has been observed that the women of this community are proficient in making traditional cloth embroidery that they also use to express their creativity and art.
The regional languages they speak are Hindi, Marwari, and Haryanvi. To communicate with their tribe, Rabari uses the Devanagari script. Moreover, the Pushkar Camel Fair is an integral tradition of the Rabari community.
Decoding the Meaning of Rabari
According to history, the word Rabari means ‘outsiders’, which primarily describes their social status and profession within the Indian community. Though the exact origin of the Rabari community is vague, there are different versions of their descents. Around a millennium years ago, this community had migrated from Iran via Afghanistan through Baluchistan. Predominantly, the Rabari tribe includes 133 perceived sub-castes who follow the path of Hinduism.
The Itinerant Children of Mata Parvati
In Mythology, Goddess Parvathi is considered to be the mother of these wandering gypsies. According to the first version, the story goes like this: Mata Parvathi, fondly called Mata Devi, gathered dirt and sweat of Shiv Ji as he meditated. She molded the collected substance into a camel. However, to her amusement, it kept running.
In the second version of the story, Lord Shiva shapes the human creature Rabari tribe to tame and mind the camels. Hence, the occupation of raising, and grazing cattle is worshipped by the Rabari community.
The Nomadic Lifestyle of Rabari Tribe
These aboriginal people majorly live a life of a traveling junky. For example, they spend almost all their life in the tent house or under open skies while pasturing cattle. From unique art, particularly mirror to mud relief sculpture work, Rabari women are very skilled. They use the art to beautify their homes and also the entire village with the block elements like elephants, camels, peacocks, women with a water pot, and more. The Rabari women spin wool from the fluffy coat of sheep and goat. Moreover, it is further developed into woolen skirts and blankets.
Breaking the stereotype – The Matriarchal Tribe
Breaking the patriarchy, this community challenges the norms of the society. Since this community is devoted to deity Lord Shiva and Devi Paravati Ji, they seek the advice of Mata Parvati in every essential matter. Because of that, majority of the matters in the economic sphere are looked at by women of the community. In addition to this, Rabari women (wearing black ghagra-choli) not only manage the house but also look after the business. On the other side, Rabari men take responsibility of animal herding and living a nomadic lifestyle.
From Mud Relief work to Embroideries, Rabari Women are the Embodiment of Creative Artworks & Innovation
Known for their exquisite mirror and thread work, this Rewari or Bhopa community is setting an example for all the communities. Their artwork involves the bride’s Ghagro (skirt), Kanchali (blouse), and Ludi (veil), the groom’s Kediyan or shirt. Firstly, the decoration of the houses and garments are done in diverse patterns and mirrors. Secondly, on the outline of the garments, chain stitch method is used to give richness. With the vibrant palette of colors, they aesthetically create embroidery which made them stand out from the rest of the artists.
Rabari Women and the Dress Code. What is the reason behind wearing a black blouse or shirt?
Most of the Rabari women like to wear a black dress in their daily routine. However, behind following the black dress there is a famous ballad.
Many years ago Jaisalmer was the hometown of Rabaris. During that time, a Muslim emperor fell in love with the Rabari women. However, it was considered a sin by the Rabari community. Therefore, they refused to accept the proposal of the king. But it didn’t go well with the king and he threatened to kill all the Rabaris. Due to fear, they escaped in the middle of the night with the help of a Muslim man. But when the emperor got to know, he killed the man who was the assisting Rabaris in their escape. Therefore, to mourn the death of that Muslim, Rabari women continue wearing black.
Rabari women and men have engraved devotional tattoos on their bodies. These tattoos define devotion to God and their motive on this mother earth. Additionally, married women put on pleated colorful blouses with large nose rings. Moreover, unmarried women wear Ludi or Shawl in dark red circular designs. On the contrary, Rabari men wear Dhoti and double-sided waistcoat and tied with the long sleeves and white turban. Furthermore, on special occasions, Rabari men wear Murki and Jhela in their ears, and red headgear embellishments with Gota work.
Current status of Rabaris
Over time this community has witnessed tremendous changes. In addition to better lifestyle and future, the the scope of their expansion has become limited .
These facts analyze that the Rabaris tribe is a unique matricidal tribe that has evolved from nomadic to semi-nomadic tribe. Significantly, the children of Parvati Ji worship their sacred occupation of cattle herding and grazing. However, this tribe is becoming alien to the people who wish to stick to their culture and traditions.
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