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Rural Rajasthan (India)


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There are over 35,000 villages in Rajasthan with varying population of between 100 and 5,000 people, and 1,000 to 2,000 persons on an average. The village communities provide the basis for all social life in Rural Rajasthan. This section will provide you information about the lifestyle and social infrastructure of the rural Rajasthan.

The colourful and picturesque costumes of Rajasthan reflect the people’s joy of life and the desire to enliven their environment. The men’s dress among the common people consists of a dhoti, an untailored piece of cloth (about 4.5 metres X 4.5 metres), a bandia angarkha or a full-sleeved, close-fitting, but buttonless vest and potia or covering for the head. Among the well-to-do, the dhoti is a refined handloom product with a coloured border. About the middle, the dhoti is tied round the waist forming a waist-band. One of its ends passes between the legs and is tucked in the waist-band behind, while the other is gathered in pleats and tucked in at the navel.

On ceremonial occasions, the official class and the Rajput gentry use the tight-fitting churidar pyjama, the kurta or a shirt (usually made of muslin without collar or cuff) and either an achkan or a lamba angarkha (long coat). The potia is replaced on such occasions by a turban, a graceful and dignified headgear generally called pag, paga or pagri – a fine piece
of cloth about 16.5 metres (18 yards) long and barely 0.2 metre (nine inches) in width, embroidered at both ends and tied round the head in various ways. Of the various styles of headgear current in Rajasthan, the Marwari pagri or chonchdar pag, (beaked turban) deserves notice. The use of a cotton or wool-len scarf round the neck or over the turban is also in vogue.

Contact with Europeans in the last century brought into vogue the Jodhpuri breeches. They represent a combination of riding breeches and military overalls.
The dress of a Rajasthan woman consists of a ghagra of skirt, a kanchli of half-sleeved bodice, an abbreviated blouse leaving the midriff uncovered, and an orhni (mantle) which is about 2.2 metres (2˝ yards) in length. The ghagra is a full skirt which may take as much as 36 metres (40 yards) of cloth to make. The orhni is worn gracefully over the head and graped about the entire figure.

Equally interesting is the traditional jewellery worn by Rajasthan woman from head to foot. The anklets and heavy bracelets tinkle pleasantly with the movement of the body. Intricately designed bangles adorn the arm. Ivory bangles, white of tinted red, are worn by all married woman. Heavy jhumkas (earrings) with inverted chhatri suspended like a bell at the bottom decorate her ears, while kanthas or hasli of silver or gold beautify the neck of a Rajasthan belle. The borla or sheesh phool, a round boss, adorns the hair over the forehead and looks most attractive.

The pictorial art of Rajasthan, with is theme of love and devotion, is of universal appeal. It reflects the emotional life of the people and has kept close to their poetry, music, drama and religion. Spread over a long span of time – 16th to 19th centuries – it has three distinct phases in its development.

With a freshness and directness of treatment, appropriate to a young movement, early Rajasthan painters broke away from the worn-out tradition of the illuminated Jain manuscripts of 14th and 15th century Gujarat. Their spiritual impulse came from the Vaishnava revival in the from of the Krishna cult. Thus, the early Rajasthan paintings depict incidents from the life of Lord Krishna. Scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the seasons (Baramasa), ballads and romantic poetry, are depicted with an exuberant joy of life. A recurrent subject is the pictorial representation of musical modes, the Ragmalas. The sentiment of love (sringar rasa) is expressed throught Radha and Krishna typifying the eternal motif of Man and Woman.

Rajasthan artists make use of brilliant colours rendered with tempere effect. The women in Rajasthan miniatures are true to the Indian ideal of feminine beauty-large lotus eyes, flowing tresses, firm breasts, slender waist and rosy hands – and they reflect the heart of a Hindu woman with all its devotion and emotional intensity.

By 1565, the Mughul school of miniature painting had established itself at the court of Akbar the Great and begun to radiate its influence. The art of Rajasthan was influenced by the technique of the court painters. Thus, Rajasthan’s Ragmala paintings of 17th and 18th centuries show far greater elegance in the treatment of the line and sophistication in colouring than those of the earlier period. In the 18th century, Rajput chiefs began to patronize art and their capitals, namely, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kishangarh, Bundi and Kotah became active centres of painting. New themes, began to be attempted. Representations of durbar scenes, hunting expeditions and royal processions, and portraits of the royalty and nobility give some idea of the court life of those times.

With the disintegration of the Mughul empire towards the end of the 18th century, the indigenous tradition reasserted itself in Rajasthan painting. Freed from the imperial yoke, the Rajput princes built sumptuous palaces and decorated them with frescoes whose themes were taken either from the Puranic lore or from the life of the court. The paintings of this period bear inscriptions on the reverse and sometimes on the margin. These inscriptions give the name of the king or the grandee portrayed and often the date of the painting and the name of the artist. Portraits of horses, elephants and dogs are also attempted.

Rajasthan art spread far beyond the territory of the modern State of Rajasthan. It found a congenial home in the hill-states of the Himalayas in the north, Bundelkhand in the east and Gujarat in the south-west. One of its offshoots, the Kangra School, grew into a vigorous art of great beauty. Its creations combine the inspiration of Rajasthan art with the technique of Mughul miniatures.

Villages in Rural Rajasthan
Rural Rajasthan, Rural Rajasthan Travel

The villages are small communities which are also known as the peasant society. In a defined geographical area, a few dozen to hundred of families live in residential clusters surrounded by agricultural and pasture land. Such villages take their name from those of important deities, or of founder or ancestor, or even on the basis of the area's geographical or social characteristics. The villages can be spotted from highways to which they are usually connected by narrow roads. From the distance, old, large trees and cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats, camels, and other domestic animals can be seen. Villages are often located near village ponds or talabs that provide the source of water for cattle, people and irrigation. Most of the houses in the villages are connected to each other through a network of winding, kuchcha lanes.

The principal road, which may or may not be metallic, usually ends at some central point of the village. The typical village home has a compound marked by mud walls or tree branches, and is entered through a gateway that leads to the open courtyard where men meet, and cattle may be seen. The doors of the houses open on to the road, and on both sides of the door there are small chabutras or platforms where people sit, children play, and women discuss the day-to-day matters that affect their lives. Village communities tend to live in joint families due to their work of agricultural ploughing, irrigation, harvesting, selling. For organizing weddings, death rituals, betrothal and other festive ceremonies, people stay in touch, visit other villages, convey messages, and discuss daily matters.  More....

People of Rural Rajasthan

The villagers of Rural Rajasthan are friendly and helpful, but wary of strangers. Men and women never mix or talk in public except for business. Amusements for the people are in plenty but are enjoyed in segregated groups. In temples, small fortress, or at tea shops, the people sit and exchange information, or merely pass time. On the occasion of a baby’s arrival, a betrothal, or a wedding, women gather in groups, dress beautifully and sing in a chorus for hours, with the accompaniment of the dholak (small drum). Almost all villagers in the rural Rajasthan are multi-caste. Traditionally, there is one or few families of the Rajput caste who usually have larger land holdings. They hold agriculture land and employ workers from other caste groups.

People of Rural Rajasthan

A few Brahmin families in the village supervise ritual activities, work as priests in temples, convey information about fasts and festivals, and regulate the local calendar of festivals and social activities. The priest chart the auspicious day and time for beginning a new venture at home or in the field. The Brahmin priests are also the village astrologers.  Kumbhars make earthen pots and serve the needs of their village.  Carpenters are required for making and maintaining agricultural implements. Various craftsmen, puppeteers, singers, dancers, drum beaters, record-keepers, dyers, printers and other serving caste are also there in the village. Child marriages are quite common and mass marriages take place on auspicious occasions. The brides and grooms are often toddlers, and ride in a wedding procession on horseback or camelback under the watchful gaze of guardians.

Folk people or Tribes of Rural Rajasthan
Folk people of Rural Rajasthan

Nomads constitute about seven per cent of the population of Rajasthan, and out of these, about one or two per cent are non-pastoral or service nomads who comprise about two to three hundred tribal groups with occupations like embroidery, needlework, epic narrators, medicine sellers, fortune-tellers, artisans, genealogists, dancers, singers, and hunters. Such nomads visit villages in regular cycles to provide each community with their services. Non-pastoral nomads offer more specialized goods and services than any other culture area as in Rajasthan, villages are located at greater distances from each other. At harvest time, various nomads visit villages for providing important services. Members of many families move to other villages or urban cities to earn a living. The Rao-Bhats are family record keepers, and usually maintain the records for a number of neighboring villages, on account of which they need to travel frequently.

There are also mobile or gypsy castes who inhabit villages for specific period of time, providing a service while they camp there. The Gadia Lohars, are ironsmiths who live and travel in their own bullock carts, making and mending iron implements for their livelihood. The Kalbeliya families also move between villages, camping in family groups wherever they stop for a few days. The Jats, Gujars, Yadavs and some other castes depend entirely on agriculture. There are traditional caste families who work on leather, weave cloth, grow vegetables, make ornaments, prepare sweets, clean the village. More....

Clothes of People in Rural Rajasthan
The colorful head-wear (pugdi or turban) of men and the gaudy dresses of women provide a wonderful contrast to the bleak environs of the state of Rajasthan. In Rural Rajasthan, the rural women usually cover their faces with a red or yellow colour odhni or dupatta and wear thick, full-length ghaghara or skirt of the dark colour such as deep green or dark blue with innumerable pleats and a blouse with colorful designs. They adorn themselves with the heavy jewellery, earrings, bracelets and rings made mainly of silver, which tinkles and jingles when they grind grain, pound spices or draw water. The ornaments are representative of certain social groups. The higher the caste group, the lighter its use of dress (material and colours) and ornaments. At the highest scale, fine fabrics and ornaments made of gold are preferred. But in rural areas, silver ornaments are preferred. Clothes of People in Rural Rajasthan

Silver jewellery is usually heavier and uses intricate, ethnic designs. Traditional patterns are used for making necklaces, earrings, bangles and anklets. Rings are worn on fingers and on toes. A newly married woman wear the boron on her head all times, while the kankati or waist-belt, and bangles of lac and glass continue to enjoy vast patronage. Weddings, the birth of children, and festivals are great opportunities to find women dressed in their finery.

Music and Dance in Rural Rajasthan
Music and Dance in Rural Rajasthan

Music is the lifeblood of village life in Rural Rajasthan. Songs are sung on various occasions like childbirth, marriage, festivals, and during their work in fields, or at home, when they take their cattle to the pasture, or when they walk for long distances. Through music, traditions are expressed and social systems are strengthened. No festival is complete without music. Bhajans or devotional songs are also sung. On various family rituals, neighbors and relatives are invited to sing, especially at the time of Ratijaga, a ritual when women have to stay awake through the night, singing songs devoted to their ancestors and deities. Villagers also welcome and bid adieu to their guests with songs. Dancing, too, is part of community culture in Rural Rajasthan. In village life, group dances are preferred, and men and women dance in separate groups.

In traditional villages, the professional castes are employed for the purpose of singing and dancing for their patrons. One or more Dholi, the drum beater caste is attached with a village. This family has rights and obligations to serve the village with drum beating and singing. Mirasi, Langa, Dadhi, Kalavant, Bhat, and Rao are various castes who sing, dance and maintain family records of their patron castes. Some of the folk musical instruments are often simple and even improvised from kitchen utensils like the thali or metal platter, katori or metal bowls, cups, fire tongs and the earthenware pot. The other instruments are jantar, ravanhatha, tandoora, ektara, bhapang, kamaycha, while flutes, pungi-the snake charmers' flutes, and dhols, dholaks, nagaras and changs (all drums) are popular with folk musicians. Ravanahatta, a stringed instrument, is played with a bow and is a forerunner of the western violin. Some of the musicians roam villages singing songs about the adventures of ancient Rajput heroes. These wandering minstrels are known as Bhats.

Religion in Rural Rajasthan

In Rural Rajasthan, each village has its own deities (devtas) with shrines (devata sthans) where the villagers go to pay obeisance. In the summers, when most of the land has a parched and barren look, such religious spots are characterised by a denser greenery and a small pond for bathing, cooking and picnicking. These spots also provide shelter for small animals and birds. Most of the shrines are located near the source of water since cleansing of oneself is a necessary part of the ritual of worship. Pathwari, the goddess of the path, is found in almost all villages in the form of a small earthen or stone square structure which is worshipped whenever a person undertakes a pilgrimage. There are other mother goddesses before whom the villagers pray for shelter, nourishment and protection from disease. The Bhairuji is a powerful deity who looks after the interests of the people of the village. Bhairuji's shrines are rarely in the form of a temple, and only a stone platform is there. Sagasji is another local deity who offers protection to harvests and animal life. Generally, Sagasji is propitiated on the boundary of a farm, or near an irrigation well. Regional heroes such as Deo-Narayanji, Gogaji, Tejaji and Ramdevji are worshipped in villages. Some other gods which are worshipped in the temples in Rural Rajasthan include Lord Shiva, Krishna, Ram, Lord Ganesh and other incarnations of Vishnu. In villages where Muslim families have their homes, a mosque or a roadside shrine of Pir Baba can also be found. In a cluster of villages, one deity is usually more powerful or popular for a particular power or authority. The shrines and trees are not only protected, but also regarded as sacred groves.

Fairs and Festivals in Rural Rajasthan

Fairs and festivals lend vibrancy to village life in rural Rajasthan. A large number of fairs are organized in rural areas, and the rural population gather in large number to attend such fairs. Such fairs have a mixed commercial and religious aspect. For example, in the Pushkar fair, cattle and camel trading is combined with the annual pilgrimage to the Brahma temple and Pushkar lake for ritual bathing and worship. Villagers use such opportunities for buying the things they do not usually get in and around their villages. In the local fairs, the villagers buy simple implements, tools, utensils and jewellery. Women buy dresses, mirrors, utensils, printed bed sheets, bangles and toys for children. Festivals are celebrated as family or community events. During Gangaur festival in the month of Chaitra (March-April),

Fairs and Festivals of Rural Rajasthan

young unmarried girls and those recently married visit gardens in groups to bring flowers and water pitchers and worship Gangaur or Gauri Mata, the mother goddess, for being blessed with an ideal husband, or for the husband's well-being for about fifteen days. Teej is celebrated in the rainy season, a festival again for women, and linked with marital celebrations. Amavasya, the dark night, is considered inauspicious by villagers who neither buy nor sell anything on that day. Craftsmen, milkmen, farmers and vegetable sellers do not work on that day. On festivals such as Holi, Diwali and Rakhi, rice and sweets are cooked as consecrated offerings for the gods. The tradition of telling stories on those days when people observe fasts is also popular in rural Rajasthan. During such festivals, the women from the same neighborhood tend to worship together, and recount tales related with the fast. Remembering myths and history is one way of transmitting culture from one generation to the next.

Cuisine of Rural Rajasthan
Cuisine of Rural Rajasthan

The cuisine of villagers in Rural Rajasthan consists of one or two vegetables and rotis (breads) on which ghee (clarified butter) is used. Rotis of wheat, maize, and millets (bajra) are made. Rural cooking is a simple exercise, and done by the women of the house. There are no sweet shops in the Villages, and only milk and milk products like butter, buttermilk and curds are consumed. Many communities are vegetarian, and in most hamlets, these two frugal meals of Roti and Milk provide their basic diet. Chai (tea) is prepared early in the morning, and in the afternoon or evening, and whenever there are visitors. It is usually strong, milky and very sweet.

Industries in Rural Rajasthan

In Rural Rajasthan, agriculture and allied industrial sectors employ about 89.5% of the labour. Jowar and Bajra are important food grains grown in Rajasthan. Some of the roads or lanes are connected with the farms, and people are associated with some form of agrarian activity. A few prosperous farmers have substantial agricultural holdings to manage wells or canals. The middle level agriculturists tend to work on their own farms, while those whose holdings are small or not arable enough find opportunities to work outside their farms. Tractors, threshers and irrigation pumps have shortened the manual work of most men on their lands. Most of the villagers now have enough electricity to run irrigation pumps. Sheep grazing is a common sight, and sometimes girls take up this job. Wool, dyeing and hand-painting are the main industries. Bandhani prints are the main example. Today, with improved means of transportation, fresh vegetables have arrived at the doorstep of even the most remote village which was even not possible a decade ago.

Infrastructure of Rural Rajasthan
Agricultural activity is looked after and helped by government departments. The cooperative banks provide loans and new varieties of seeds, chemical fertilizers, medicines and seedlings. Most of the villagers now have enough electricity to run irrigation pumps.

Industries in Rural Rajasthan
 Drinking water facilities have been created in almost all villages. Dispensaries and medicines are not far off from villages. Roads have joined villages with towns, and regular buses and other means of transport are available. Television sets and radios are providing the basis for more changes in rural life. Telephonic communications link the smallest village with the world outside. Cinema and newspapers are reaching across to them. But even as changes are being brought about in their lifestyles, the villages continue to be the heart and soul of Rajasthan.
Villages to Visit
There are many villages in Rajasthan which can be visited. Some of these villages are located in the Shekhawati region, around Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Bikaner. The villages of Rajasthan are a classic way of exploring the arduous life of Rajasthani folks who lives on the stubborn pulse of nature. If you want to experience the true essence of Rajasthani village life and that too from a close quarter, then you can stay in the rugged huts of the village people and also enjoy their unique lifestyle with delicious village cuisine. More....

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