Updated: Mar 17, 2019
I first interacted and photographed the men and women of the Rabari community in 2013 in a town called Arambhada near Okha in Gujarat . Completely enamored by the preservation and display of traditional lifestyle ,culture, social practices and the various legends behind the tribe, I kept coming back for more. I have now visited this region atleast eight times in last five years and always found it brimming with character and legends. My jorney with the Rabaris is about 6year old to date !
The Rabaris consider themselves to have been sent by Godess Paravati on the earth. According to the folklore, Goddess Parvati created the first Rabari to tend to a camel she created. The camel was created out of the dust and sweat from the feet of the meditating Lord Shiva . Camel and cattle herding is thus considered a pious profession amongst the present day Rabaris. The older folks in the village love to narrate this story to everyone who cares to listen. They pride over their herds of animals, and seek permission from Matadevi (Godess Parvati) for many important matters.
My journey with the Rabaris was largely in Navi Dhrevad, Arambhada and on settlements along the highway from Porbandar to Jamnagara and Okha.
The origins of this tribe is unknown. Historians believe that they either migrated from Iran via Afghanistan and Baluchistan about a thousand years ago. Other school of thought links them to the present day Rajputs. Either way, the Nomadic pastoralists, have lived in the Northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent for almost a millennium. They are further divided into 133 sub castes and as on present day mostly live in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The people of the community are cattle herders. Initially , they used to rear only camels, but now the herds comprise of other animals such as goats, sheep and buffalos .
The men are engaged in cattle grazing and moving around for greener pastures , women of the tribe are worldly-wise , and are engaged in doing intricate embroidery, handling village issues and money matters. They also participate in trading milk and other items to cooperatives for other necessary household items.
The Rabaris have lead a distinct nomadic lifestyle for years living in tents or under open skies. However over a period of time they have become semi nomadic , settling in the outskirts of villages and having mud houses and moving around only seasonally. My journey with the Rabaris have included photographing them in their homes, at work, herding cattle and taking care of families.
The Rabaris are Devout Hindus . They marry between their own community. The clothing of the women are in hues or red- A long skirt called 'Ghagra', a blouse and a shawl to cover their heads. Even young girls cover their heads at all times.
I found that women were open to being photographed and while some may resort to purdah ( covering their faces), most women were uninhibited.
Jewelry is an important part of Rabaris custom. The women are always seen in Bangles, earrings and neck chain. Their large gold earrings called 'Nagalis' are either made of brass or gold and have very distinct beautiful pattern. These earings are heavy and lead to ear lobe elongation due to continuos wear over the years. The Rabari jewelry is distinct and has inspired many contemporary designers .
The Rabari women are striking in their attire. The color scheme of Red and maroon along with the gold ornaments stands out against the arid climate of the region . They also have very distinct personality and facial features that are accentuated by geometrical patterned tattoos all over her hands arms , neck and breast . These tattoos are done for various spiritual, religious and other reasons .
The men from the tribe also wear gold earring . Their dress comprises of a cotton full sleeved double breasted jacket called 'Kediya' and a dhoti, teamed with a red turban.Their clothing is suited for the temperature this region witnesses - reaching a high of 48 degrees in summer months.
The main food grain consumption is of millets. Women are engaged in making bread out of millets or 'Bajra' . Camel or goat milk is consumed and used for preparation of tea.
Rabaris marry within the community. Their marriages are a private affair. The deities they worship are Shiva and Krishna. They call themselves creation of Matadevi ( Parvati). Their societies are matriarchal in nature.
They eat simple diet of millets and Bajra and cook in open .
The influence of the digital media on younger generation is palpable. They are moving away from the traditional dresses adopting newer lifestyle along with modern clothing and an increasing number of Rabaris are not completely nomadic anymore.
And in my many travels , I have always welcomed first hand experience and a peek into their lives . Whether its form of discussion, a meal together or a Rabari making tea out of fresh camel milk! These are experiences of a lifetime and fill me with gratitude. This is mu journey with the Rabaris of Gujarat.
The Rabaris live a tough life . Few traditions and generations of preserved folklore are fading away with time and advent and influence of media.
As narrated by Navtej Singh