THE RABARI TRIBE
The Rabari Tribe
" If culture and traditions lend character, Rabaris are full of it "
Against the arid land of Gujarat , the sharp contrast of their colorful dresses, gold jewelry and riveting lifestyle , the Rabaris are strikingly picturesque.
A nomadic tribal caste , Rabaris are believed to have lived in the north western region of the subcontinent for almost a millennium. The community is engaged in cattle herding with camels, herds of sheep and goats to tend to. They consider themselves as custodians to their cattle rather than the means of livelihood, thanks to the legend behind it.
I first interacted and photographed the men and women of the Rabari community in 2013. Enamored by the preservation of traditional lifestyle ,culture , social practices and legends behind the tribe , I kept coming back for more. Precisely, eight times in the last 5 years , visiting this region and always finding it brimming with character and legends.
The Rabaris believe that they were put on earth by Goddess Parvati . As the folklore goes, Parvati created the first Rabari to tend to the camel she created of the dust from the feet of the meditating Lord Shiva . Camel and cattle herding is thus considered a pious profession by the Rabaris.
They are further divided into many sub communities. They live a nomadic life , moving around with cattle and camels and circling the region for greener pastures. The men are in charge of the cattle and the women take care of most other work such as embroidery, village issues and money matters.
The men dress in an all white double-breasted long sleeve shirt called ‘Kediya’ and a Dhoti. They wear a red turban to protect from the heat that can soar upto 48 degrees Centigrade in this region. Women wear clothing in sharp contrast – Hues of reds and maroons and black and always covering their heads. They also wear jewelry adorning their neck, arm and ears . The earrings are called ‘Nagali’ and are made of brass or gold . These earrings are heavy and continuous wearing over a period of time leads to ear lobes getting elongated . It is easy to identify a Rabari woman with not just their sharp colored clothing and jewelry but also the vivid tattoos of magical symbols on their arms, breast and neck. The Rabari community is devout Hindu.
Over the years, the nomadic pastoralists have started settling down and now live a semi nomadic life. The next generation has evolved and the influence of digital media on this tribe is palpable. The clothing is the first to see the impact with young shepherds choosing to wear a shirt or even a trouser instead of conventional dhoti. They also have started settling and finding other professions.
It is a matter of time before Rabaris will evolve from their current lifestyle and clothing – moving away from decades of old preserved practices and culture.