Rural Rajasthan - Folk Tribes of Rural Rajasthan

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Folk Tribes of Rural Rajasthan

The folks in Rajasthan are an ancient and a multi-communal society. There are about two hundred different ethnic groups. Each group has its own characteristic traits, distinguishing long-established social conventions, customs and practices. The folks have an ancient system of community association called panchayat which comprises of panchas or five elders. The elders are the most respectable persons, having jurisdiction over a village or a group of villages. Its main function is the maintenance of norms of social and religious behavior. A session is called whenever there arises a need requiring its attention and decision. A fine is levied in the form of a community feast, and matters considered grave are penalized by out casting the person for a certain period as a token of social disapproval of the violation of norms. Similar association of individual communities also function as peace-keepers. In the ancient jijmani system, various communities were engaged in rendering various types of services, like the Brahmins (Priest), Kumhars (Potters), Nais (Barbers), Dholis (Musician), etc. These persons were traditionally attached to other communities in an intimate manner, and also helps in building up a healthy community life. Folk culture is another aspect of Rajasthan that attract tourists from all over the world making it famous for its unforgettable treasure of folklore.

Folk Tribes of Rural Rajasthan
Various Folks

Various folk cultures have flourished in rural Rajasthan and have enriched the socio culture of Rajasthan immensely. In every field, the folk culture has left its valuable impression refining it even further. Be it the dazzling folk dance or melody of 'sarangi', the folks of Rajasthan masters in every walk of life.

Rajputs of Rural Rajasthan

The Rajputs of Rajasthan, constituted a warrior aristocracy divided into a number of prominent clans, each of which regarded a princely state as its traditional patrimony, whose ruler was the social head of clan besides being the political ruler. Although the Rajputs never constituted more than a tenth of the total population, they have commanded the heights of the polity and the society in Rajasthan for nearly a thousand years. The princely state of Jaipur was thus ruled by the Kachachawa Rajputs, the Rathors ruled in Jodhpur and Bikaner, the Hadas in Kota, and the Sisodia in Mewar (Udaipur). While the Maharajas, Rajas and Thakurs had special courtiers, singers, and other servants to entertain and serve them, the common Rajput was normally engaged in soldiering, agriculture and also employed in the royal households of the former. However all Rajputs trace their ancestry to the ruling clans of the country. Their way of life is refined and courteous as well as abrasive and dominating compared to other simple classes and castes of rural Rajasthan. As the Rajputs are devotees of Durga (Mother-goddess), their common form of greeting each other is Jai mata ji ki (victory and praise be of the mother Durga) and among the Thakurs and the erstwhile Rajas, the form of greeting is Khama Ghani which means forgive and be praised.


The Brahmins, who have commandeered the top social rank for themselves in the rest of the country, found themselves at a status that was equal to that of the Rajputs. These kingdoms were often at war and the region was at the mercy of looters and invaders. Therefore, the total sovereignty of the Rajputs had to be accepted, if only for the protection that they were able to offer. The Brahmins served in the royal courts and worked in departments of administration, though their main task was to administer the souls of the people they served. They were priests in the temples and offer the prayers to please the gods. Also, while the Brahmins were great orthodox, the Rajputs believed in animal sacrifices for their gods.


The Jats also called as Choudhary, occupy a prominent position in Rajasthan being the largest group in this region. They are divided into 12 chief clans and about 230 minor gotras. Though the origin of the Jat tribe is shrouded in mystery, but the Jats still betray tribal traits. Agriculture has always been the main occupation of the Jats but now they are also working in other fields like military and police. They are also well represented in government civil services. "Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever," is a well known Jat proverb. The Jats are brave and hardworking who possess both the desire and ability to rule. Many Jats were recruited into the Indian Army during World War I. Before that, they served as fighters in the Persian army. A large number of Jats also served in the Indian Armed Forces and form one of the largest ethnic groups in the army (The Jat Regiment). Bharatpur, Deeg and Dholpur in Rajasthan were ruled by Jat rulers. The Green Revolution brought considerable prosperity to the Jats in the late 1960 and 1970.

Jats of Rural Rajasthan
Muslim Settlers
Earlier, the Muslims came to Rajasthan as invaders, but some of them, such as the Kayamkhanis of Shekhawati Region and the Meos of Mewat Region (Alwar), are associated with agricultural practices, especially in the Shekhawati belt. Over the years, there were only two Muslim kingdoms that arose in Tonk and Loharu in Rajasthan. The Muslims also served in the Rajput court and there was no attempt to hurt other's religious sentiments. The Muslim settlers also shared many of the rituals and festivals of their Rajput neighbours. The majority of the Muslims in Rajasthan were artisans who were simply kidnapped from the various trading caravans, as their skilled services was highly desired in the princely kingdoms. Now, they are master craftsmen, especially in the field of painting, dyeing, printing, bangle making, jewellery making and paper manufacturing. The Bohras, a community of mercantile Muslims is also present in Udaipur.

For some communities, nomadic existence has been a way of life. These people travel in large groups, often on a cyclical, seasonal basis, make home wherever they stop and provide their services to the villages. This ranges from lending a helping hand with sowing and harvesting to doing odd jobs, making or repairing agricultural implements, carrying and trading in grains, spices and dry fruits. They also entertain people with their age-old skills. The nomads are tall in height, with curly hair, dark skin, broad nose and robust structure. The men wear colourful turban, long white shirt and dhoti (long un-stitched cloth). The females wear colourful long skirts and veil with mirrored top and silver jewellery.

Bishnoi Women of Rural Rajasthan

The Bishnois are known as the conservationists to whom the preservation of animal and plants is like a religion and it has been so from the early 15th century. The spiritual mentor, Jambeshwarji was a wise ecologist. He formulated Bisnoi as Bis (twenty) + noi (nine) tenants from which the community derives its name. Almost 90 per cent of the farmers of desert region gladly accepted the 29 tenants he laid down. The tenants conserve bio-diversity of the area and also ensured a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community. Out of the 29 tenants, 10 are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven for healthy social behavior, five to worship God, and seven preserve bio-diversity and encourage good animal husbandry. There is a ban on killing animals and felling green trees, and thus protection is provided to all life forms. The community is also directed to see that the firewood they use is devoid of small insects. Wearing blue clothes is prohibited because the dye used for coloring them is obtained by cutting a large quantity of shrubs. Bishnois are very

violent and aggressive in protecting trees and animals. They are pure vegetarian and nature worshipper. They treat black buck as a sacred animal. They bury dead bodies instead of burning them to save forest wood. The bishnois lives in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana. Bisnois often live in little hamlets called `Dhannis', with just a few round huts with intricate thatched roofs. They scrub the floors of the huts and courtyards, and cook in earthen ovens. They are the most colourful and exotic wanderers in the ruins of desert, who keep moving from one village to another in search of work and livelihood. They normally wear white shirt, dhoti and turban. The Bishnoi women wear attractive attire of vibrant colors such as red and orange, silver trimmings and the gorgeous jewellery like heavy nose rings, earrings, bangles, anklets and necklaces.

The Bhils live in the hilly tracts of Arawali around Chittorgarh, Banswara and Dungarpur, and are even now primitive and poor. The Bhils prefer to live in isolated hamlets rather than villages. Their way of life continues to be very colourful. Several Bhil tribes have been mentioned in epics like the Mahabharata in their role as warriors. They were highly regarded as warriors, and the Rajput rulers relied heavily on them to thwart the invading Marathas and Mughals. Later, the British inducted them into the royal Indian Army by starting the Bhil Corps. The Bhils have curly hair, dark skin, broad nose, a short and robust structure. Although restrained in their dress, the Bhils, especially the women, have a great fondness for jewellery made of horn, lac, silver and copper mainly, the bor, jhela, pande or kanphools, and the tussi or bazar batti. The bor is a ball-shaped silver ornament worn over the forehead, the jhela is an intricate head ornament flowing from the top to the side above the ear. The pande consist of three small earrings worn on the top, outer

Bhils of Rural Rajasthan

part of the earlobes and bangles. The literacy rate of the Bhils, particularly the women, is very lowest due to which they are exploited and worked as bonded labour. Marriages of love, as opposed to arranged marriages which are the norm in India, are condoned. The Baneshwar Fair is a Bhil festival which is held near Dungarpur in the month of January or February each year, and large number of Bhils gather for several days of singing, dancing and worship. Holi is another important time for the Bhils.

Minas of Rural Rajasthan

The Minas are the second largest tribal group in Rajasthan after the Bhils, and are most widely spread. The name Mina is derived from the word meen or fish, and the Minas claim descent from the fish, incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Originally they were a ruling tribe, but their downfall was a long affair. It began with the Rajputs and was completed when the British government declared them as a criminal tribe in 1924, mainly to stop them trying to regain their territory from the Rajputs. The Minas resorted to various unorthodox means such as demanding protection money from villagers to curtail their dacoit activities. After independence, their status of criminal tribe was lifted. However, their culture was by this time more or less totally destroyed, and they were given protection as a scheduled Tribe. With the withdrawal of the Criminal Tribes Act, the Minas took to agriculture. The literacy rate among the Minas was very low, but is improving.

The Gujars inhabited the area in the north of the Aravallis, stretching from Bikaner to Bharatpur and Jaipur regions, where they are cultivators, cattle breeders and herdsmen. They are also located in Ajmer region and in the Mewar plains beyond. They are found in large numbers in the northern part of Karauli region.

The tribals are believed to be the original inhabitants of the hilly tracts of the desert of Rajasthan. They are known as carefree folks for their skills at both warfare and the zest with which they celebrate their festivals and conduct their lives. They were known as criminal tribes by the British.


The Rebaries are still nomadic, and an equally colourful sub-group that still travels over the desert in search of pastures for its flocks of sheep and camels. Their ancestor were brought into existence by Lord Mahadeva in order to tend the first camel, which had just been created by Parvati for her amusement. Their two main divisions are Menu and Chalkias. The former deals only in camels and occupies a superior position to that of the latter. They marry the daughters of Chalkias without giving their own in return. The Chalkias keep larger herds of sheep and goats. These people have very few worldly possessions. For most of their cooking and eating, they use earthen pots. A butter churn is always an important item in their houses. Clothing is simple, though colourful particularly where the women are concerned. The owner of the farm wears a khadi dhoti and turban and a pair of gold earrings. His cildren dress in the same way but wear colourful turbans (a white turban is worn when one's father is no more). They wear cheap silver anklets, earrings and necklaces. The hair is cropped close from the forehead, for the protection from the strong winds. The housewife wears silver ornaments, light ivory bangles, a black skirt, a red kanchli and a deep red odhni. The kanchli is a quarter-sleeved blouse covering only the front and tied with strings at the back. The unmarried girl wears a skirt along with a kurta. Everyone wears shoes, as walking barefoot on hot sand is almost impossible. The bedding consists only of mattresses, which are nothing but layers of stitched rags.

Rebaries of Rural Rajasthan

The Gavaria is a community traditionally associated with rope making in the countryside. Their community life is strictly governed by their panchayats. The consolidated panchayat of the whole region functions as the Supreme Court which sits in a grand style in a circular ring to hear the appeals from the lower panchayats. Its decisions are the last word for the members of the community. While the males mostly look after the rope-making activity, the females attend to its marketing. The women move from one village to another with a pony and a typical basket in which they keep their merchandise which comprises of ropes and small articles like mirrors, combs, bangles and tiny trinkets. The basket called odi is an important item amongst the household goods, an article which the parents must give to the daughter at the time of her wedding. Their marriages are generally contracted through what is called the ata-sata system where the daughter of a family is married in the same family as the son.
The Banjaras are nomadic people who travel with bullock carts or oxen-laden caravan from place to place and continue their travelling wherever their caravans were in demand. In the past, there were usually bullock-caravans in thousands or lakhs. Since they performed a very important role, armies rarely troubled them. Now, the modern means of transport have robbed them of their livelihood and they have now settled into a semi-nomadic existence, doing jobs, entertaining, and farming.

Schedule Castes


The Bhands are known for their skillful use of satire, ridicule and sarcasm in exposing and attacking vices and follies of people. The Bhands have the ability to retort with immediate wit and humour, and hold a highly scintillating conversation.


The Bhambis are also known as the Meghwals. Traditionally, they were associated with the profession of village watchmen, guides and messengers and also skinners of dead animals. Now, they are working as agricultural labourers.


The Koli community is said to be one of the original dwellers of the countryside in Rajasthan and their traditional occupation is weaving.

The Harijans also called as Mehater are sweepers.

There are two mercantile communities or traders in Rajasthan which are the Marwaris and the Jains. The Marwaris arose from the Shekhawati region and served in the courts of different princely states. They came to be known as Marwaris when they journeyed along with the armies of Marwar (Jodhpur) to the eastern parts of the country as large opportunities were present there and the Marwaris were able to capitalise on them. Most of the major business and industrialist families are still Marwaris and dominate business in the country. The Jains deals in wholesale business. The marwaris deals in the export and import of commodity and played an important role in the overall economic development of the state. The marwaris have also setup many schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics. They have also raised per capita income in Rajasthan and have improved infrastructure by building good roads and transport system.


The merchants often tended to be richer than the kings they served. Several prime ministers in the kingdom were Jain merchants. The Marwaris continued to remain loyal to their princes who had honoured them with the title of tazimi-sardar, which was given to the very selected people. A tazimi-sardar was allowed to continue sitting in the presence of the Maharaja and allowed to wear gold on his feet, a privilege rarely extended to people outside the immediate circle of the royal family. Jaisalmer's Guman Chand Patwa was one of the wealthiest merchant of its time, who used to own more than three hundred trading centers from China to Afghanistan. The merchants deals in international trade.

Service People

If the Rajputs, Brahmins, Marwaris and Jains formed the social elite, the role of the service caste was also not less significant. Especially at the village level, they create a network of services that the society could depend on and their services was intended for the society.


The Kumhars are very important community in the social life of the people of Rajasthan. They make earthen vessels, pots and pans for domestic use and persian-wheels for irrigation. The earthen vessels, used on the occasion of wedding, are ceremonially brought from the Kumhar's residence. One of the section in the Kumhar community is traditionally engaged in drawing water from the wells and delivering the same to the people in pitchers which is either carried by them over their shoulders or through kaawad. They also carry Paalki, the palanquins to transport people.


The Khatis or Carpenters are the skilled craftsman and construct unique wood items. The Suthars or Khatis (Carpenter) trace their origin from Vishwakarma. They are divided into 120 parts and named after their founders or the villages they belong to. The majority of population belongs to the Jakhra branch and worship goddess Savitri as their main deity. Some wear the sacred thread and abstain from liquor and meat and call themselves as Bamania-Khati.


The Charans are historians and the recorders of the real events and commemorators of personages. The poisoned words of the Charans were dreaded more by the people, then in authority. Some of their works afford many valuable data of historical evidence of facts, incidents, religious opinions and traits of manner of the people living in the princely days.


The Nai or barbers are known for their ability to make clever, ironic and satirical remarks, usually by perceiving and expressing it in a sharp, spontaneous and surprising manner. Their sarcastic remarks are often reinforced by short poems, and they amuse and entertain the listeners. The nai or barbers also cut hairs, give shaves and trim beards. The barbers also works as messenger and carries invitation and also make Pattal-dona leaf-plates and leaf-bowls for their clients for use in community feasts. They are also traditionally associated with odd tasks like ear-cleaning, boil lancing and shaving corpses before cremation. Nai's wife called Nayan sever the navel-cord after the birth of a baby and bury the placenta.

Gadia Lohars

Gadia Lohars of Rural Rajasthan

The Gadia Lohars normally deal in making iron items. The Gadia Lohars are the only nomads who have their origin shrouded in legend. It is said that their ancestors who were blacksmiths to the army of the Rajasthani chieftain Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar, moved from place to place with him, manufacturing weapons for the army. When Rana Pratap’s army was defeated at the battle of Haldighati in 1576, the Gadia remained loyal to him, following him into the forests to which he fled, skirmishing with the Mughal army in a long drawn out struggle that continued even after his death. After the fortress of Chittorgarh fell to the Mughals, the Gadia Lohars took a vow never to return to their homeland, and never to settle anywhere else until the Rana’s hegemony was restored. Small Lohar groups can be seen on the outskirts of any large city in the north where they live in small settlements centered around their beautiful carts. Low mud walls enclose each cart, demarcating a place of residence but now ownership. Even their name – Gadia – originates from the bullock carts which are their homes. Gadia Lohar, literally means metal workers of the bullock carts. The women wear swirling skirts, often with mirror studded garments and silver glittering jewellery. The men, tough and sturdy, lounge beside the makeshift smithies. They breed cattle and selling the milk, and in their tiny smithy they forge various soft iron wares needed in our daily life. When the weather turns spread sheets of plastic or tarpaulin over their

mobile homes, taking shelter within.


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