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RABARI

"This year -- said the old shepherd -- I shall use the field that I have

just bought to graze my flocks.  But next year I shall cultivate it".

 

The men with their sheep and goats

 

The other men were already far away with their sheep and goats.  Around him, were the women, the children who were still too young to be off minding the animals, and the humble household goods and poor tools which are part and parcel of the nomad.  The field appeared an arid, stony wasteland, not unlike many other uncultivated tracts along the Kukma-Kotadachakar district road, a few kilometres south of Bhuj, the chief town of Kutch.

The climate, though unrelentingly hot and dry, has a vast diurnal range of temperature, especially in winter.

 

The legend, in its first version, states that 'Siva gifted three of his 'apsaras' (celesial damsels), Rayaka, Kunan and Renuka, to Sambal, with one injunction:  Sambal was not to utter a single word to any of them. 

To the Rabari, daily life unfolds itself according to the essential rhythms which have, always and everywhere, regulated shepherds' existence.  The main points of reference are three: the house and family the village; the livestock and their care.

The most outstanding features of the women's dress is the long woollen shawl, black in colour, called the lobadi or the ludi, which serves to cover her head as ritual mark of respect and to veil her face from the gaze of men who do not belon to her immediate family.   Under the shawl, the actual dress consists of a blouse and the skirt. The blouse is usually of black cotton, often with gold or silver brocade cloth.  It is almost completely open at the back and tied with long laces at the level of the breasts and waist.

The men  wear white, dhoti, a length of pleated cloth tied at the waist; a short double breasted waistcoat,  laced over the chest and tied; elongated sleeves which are gathered up and folded on the arms.  A turban, usually white, completes the outfit.  The men also wear earrings, in particular one called the toliya, semiconical and quiet heavy, pierced through the hard, cartilaginous part of each ear.

The Rabari spin the wool themselves.  Other communities according to their traditionally assigned occupations, do the weaving and dyeing.  Today in Kutch, the typical dress of the various communities, which constitute the social fabric of the region, has been rejected in name of the progress and modernity.  This, unfortunately, is a fairly widespread phenomenon.

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Around six years of age, the children start making themselves useful.  The little boys give their fathers a hand in tending the livestock.  The little girls take care of their younger siblings and within the limits of their youthful capacity, help their mothers to fetch water and perform other minor domestic chores.

They learn the art of embroidery at the tender age, and immediately start preparing what will serve as their dowry later.

Around six years of age, the children start making themselves useful

Marriage, the event which celebrates the vitality of life and ensures its continuity, commands a very special importance

Marriage, the event which celebrates the vitality of life and ensures its continuity, commands a very special importance.

Traditionally, all 'Dhebariya' and 'Vagadiya' marriages are held on a single day of the year, on the feast of Gokul Astami, which falls in late August / early September; 'Kacchi' marriges are fixed less rigidly, and can be held on any day - usually in winter - considered auspicious and convenient by the family.

the preparations begin a week before the wedding day.  The houses are decoreated with green leafy branches and quilts. An intricately embroidered 'torana' is hung on the architecture of the entrance door.

Whilst waiting for the ceremonies to begin, the men get together in front of the porticos and pass the time chatting over a cup of tea.

The women, huddled together in tight, small groups, almost cheek to cheek, sing propitiatory songs. Sung in low and soothing tones, slow in rhythem, the sound like the chant of psalms.

Throughout the preparations, the groom remains shut at home, in quiet retreat and meditation, in the company of an older relative.   The mother-in-law welcomes him at the threshold and blesses him, smearing his forehead with vermilion power, guas and ghee.

The actual wedding ceremony, which culminates with the knotting of the groom's mantle with the bride's veil, is officiated by a Brahmin priest.

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Men and women have their own distinct roles and duties

Men and women have their own distinct roles and duties, the demarcation between their respective functions being sharply defined. J. Frater, who has devoted so much time and attention to the needlework of the Rabari women, observes that shepherds or their animals never figure in  the embroidery designs; the man's world remains phychologically isolated from her, almost as if alien.

All the remaining work, therefore; falls, to the lot of the woman, whose days are intensely filled with labour from dawn to dusk, with rare and brief moments of respite and rest.

Long hours are dedicated to sewing and embroidery.  In this magical world, without any rigid designs to be followed, she gives free rein to her talents by visualizing, the realm of her fantasy, shapes and colours far beyond the boundaries of her poor natural surroundings. 

Rabari woman are dedicated to sewing and embroidery

Through this medium, the Rabari woman finds a means of expressing her personality fully, wherein the perception of beauty, precision, manual and technical dexterity, all blend into one harmonious whole.

Proof of this readily available in the garments embroidered with infinitely varied stitches, the quilts decorated with cloth applique work and emblazoned with tiny mirrors, the small objects of daily use adorned all over their exterior surface with closely woven beads in variegated colours.

Today, men and women find employment as agricultural labourers, especially in Saurashtra, where modern methods of cultivation are practised and where the demand for such labour is always high.  From there, some of them migrate to the big cities, and once accustomed to slum life, undertake the most metial jobs.

 

The village is hub of collective social life.   In the village, the houses 'may be of two types:

- circular shaped, very simple but functional, very common in Kutch mainly in the marshy region of Banni, The walls are made of masonry.   Inside, obviously, there is only one room.

- rectangular shaped, in masonry, common in the gujarat countryside.  The construction is single-storeyed, long and narrow. The roof is tiled.  Each house accomodates one or more (two to six) families, usually inter-related.

The village is hub of collective social life

 

In short, the Rabari's life is simple one, fulfilling only essential needs.  But it is always a dignified one.   Never does one get the impression of grinding poverty, of material and moral degradation of the individual.

A profound process has begun.  But it does not detract from the charm of The Rabari of Kutch. Looking at them makes you want to run once again, in fantasy, to discover a world revealed only through the people's tales or through history books.

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