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RABARI  - Through a Photographer's Eye Sereis


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It gives me great pleasure to introduce the great monograph in a new series in the IGNCA publication programme entitled 'Through a Photographer's Eye'.

Although photography as an art has been long recognised, it has not yet found a place along with other visual arts. The IGNCA hopes to fill this gap by concentrating on the work of photo-graphers as artists and not only as documentalists.   It is with this in view that a beginning has been made to acquire the collections of Raja Deen Dayal, the foremost Indian photographer who pioneered a new movement.

Alongside, is the programme of the Janapada Sampada Division of the IGNCA to undertake studies on lifestyle and the arts of distinctive communities in India with the goal of placing art and creativity within context, intrinsic to socio-economic cultrual lifestyle and belief systems.  A few inter-disciplinary field-studies have been launched by the IGNCA.  While the results of these will necessarily take some years to be known the fast changing pace of cultrual lifestyle requires immediate documentation of artistic manifestation, with a sensitive perceptive eye before distinctive identities of communities are blurred or lost.  Films and photography is one amongst other tools of doing this.  The IGNCA has initiated work through projects of full length films on some communities who hold month-long rituals related to agricultural practices which culminate in music and dance.  Hopefully, two such studies will be ready for release next year.

Dr. Francesco d'Orazai Flavoni's photographs on the Rabaris came to my attention through Rama Chattopadhyaya, son of the late Shri harindranath Chattapadhyaya and my mother-like mentor, the late Smt. kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya.  He walked in one day to show me the photography of his friend Dr. Francesco d'Orazi Flavoni, who was then Italian Counsul in Bombay.  I was enraptured by the quality of the photographs -- the sensitivity of the eye -- the sympathy of the heart which had captured through the lens, the strength and character, the upright integrity and dignity, the joys and travails, the colour and skill of 'Rabaris' of Kutch.

I learnt later that they had captivated him and his camera; the photographer were the result of nine years of continuous travel and photography.

For me, both the photographs and the Rabaris fell into place in the IGNCA's programme.  These are photographs of great quality and as art, stand on their own.  As documentation of the Rabaris -- a community inadequately listed in the Census and known or its extraordinary capacities for survival under harsh, almost unfriendly natural and human environment, and for its even more distinctive arts specially of mud huts, mirror work and embroidery -- they are of great value.  The physiognomy of the faces, the freshness and vitality of youth and, the tensionless wrinkles of ripening age reflect an inner harmony of 'Being' a gift of holistic living which will, no doubt, be lost when the tensions of progress and development will devour them as others.

Dr. Francesco d'Orazi Flavoni's photographs bear testimony to the beauty and dignity of the Rabaris, an economically deprived group.  While Dr. Flavoni's text and photographs are the author's eye and window of perception, Prof. B N Saraswati, a distinguished anthropologist, who is Research Professor at the IGNCA, provides the essential data on the Rabaris in terms of Census reports, and the problems of classification of communities in terms of existing categories, anthropological and administrative.

His Introduction raises other questions a conceptual nature relevant to the discipline of anthropology and art studies generally and programmes of the IGNCA in particular.

It is hoped that this monograph will both educate and delight our readers.

I would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Francesco d'Orazi Flavoni for allowing the IGNCA to publish these photographs and his gracious gesture in gifting a set of these and other photogrpahs for the Cultural Archives of the IGNCA.

Also I would like to record my thanks and appreciations to Dr. Rama Chattopadhyaya for introducing me to the author and for his help.  Prof. B N Saraswati, Miss Krishna Dutt, Dr. C B Pandey,  and Dr. L M Gujral, have taken pains to see this through the press.  Shri P T Deshpande has prepared the map showng the distribution of Rabaris.  I thank them.  




Those who value official enumeration of populations might raise their eyebrows on the title of this book.  For, as per the records of the Registrar General India, there are no Rabaris in Kutch.  The early Censuses had given account of the Rabari as a major population, chiefly found in Kutch, kathiawar, Palanpur, Ahmedabad and a few in other Gujarat districts.  If flavoni's guess is a right account of the matter, then in Kutch alone they are about 40/50 thousand strong.  Of the three Rabari (jatis) found in the area, namely Kacchi, Dhebariya and Vagadiya or Vaghari, only the latter have been returned in 1981 as scheduled tribe, numbering 7,806.

Position of Gujarat in India

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Rabaris have a charming physique, heavily decked with ornaments   made of silver and gold.  Women are conspicuous by  their ivory bangles; they love tattoon all over their body.  While the rhythm of Rabari life flows along the communities surrounding them, their aesthetic preferences and lifestyle make them unique, different and extraordinary.

What disreputes them in modern sense as a queer people is their age-old custom of child marriage. Rabaris consider marriage a divine union.   Precisely, it is in the fitness of this perception that the Rabari marriage ritual can be solemenized ideally only when the couple is still in their age of highest purity and innocence.  The second part of the marriage, called anu, is performed several years later when the bride and the bridegroom are physically matured for sexual union.

Traditions die hard, and yet no living cultures remain static.   Rabaris are a dynamic people.   Many of them are no longer pastoral nomads: some peasants, some shopkeepers and some have drifted into other occupations made available to them.  Change in occupation has partly influenced the material art of their life; but, then, through all this the beautiful stream of Rabari culture flows uninterruptedly, distinctly and majestically.

Francesco d'Orazi Flavoni has made tryst with this fascinating community.  He followed them up in the Rann of Kutch to capture their precisous life situations and delightful forms and expressions.  Of hundred pictures. with which this book is adorned, there are several masterpieces which speak highly of Flavoni, the Artist.  Flavoni's genius for transposing visual impressions of a photographer into words and thoughts of a scholar is reflected best in the descriptions written with enormous artistic sensitivity.

Flavoni's work 'Rabari : a pastoral community of Kutch' is unencumbered by ethnography.  It serves as a valuable introduction to what we call at the IGNCA 'Loka Parampara', peoples tradition.  As a picture book it is an art-work of very high quality,  and as a descriptive material it is a new and fresh exposition of lifestyles, insightful and a plesure to read.

Baidyanath Saraswati


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