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Members of the Rabari or Rewari live throughout the Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, states in India. There are some Rabari families who also live in Pakistan, especially in and around the region of Sindh. The Rabari are also known by other names such as Desai, Raibari Dewasi, Hiravanshi, Rebari, Rebadi and Rayka or Raika.
In the semi-desert Kachchh region of Gujarat, they and the Muslim Maldharis are the most significant of the pastoralist communities. In that area they comprise five related groups, being the Debar, Gardo, Kantho, Katchi and Ragad,
Part of a large family
The traditional Rabari are mainly dependent on the milk profession. Other communities like them are identified by different names in different regions of the country like Bharwad, Maldhari, Dhangar, Gowda etc. The only commonality is the profession of cattle and camel raising. They have lived in different parts of India for a millennia. The Rabari are comparatively a very recent migrant. They are part of the Huns (Hunas). Other Rebari tribes also each claim different origins. An example, the Oraon are the earliest inhabitants (Aboriginal) of the Orisa province in south east India. Prior to the arrival of the Aryan tribe or Sanskrit speaking people.
All Rabari follow mainly the Hindu religion. The Rabari are worshippers of Mata Devi. Many of them serve as priests (Bhuva/Bhopa) in Mata Devi temples. Mata Devi, however is honoured in all her natural elements. The Rabari also worship 'Goga Maharaj', who is believed to be the incarnation of 'Gogaji Chauhan, Wadvala dev', a brave Rajput warrior, who laid down his life to save the cows of the Rabari. The Rabari in the Saurashtra region (Gujarat) believe in Momai Mataji. They have 8 main madh(temples) and 1 deri (temple). Every year on [Navratri festival] they celebrate a community function called punj. The Rabari from all over the state, get together and worship the goddess. The Rabari in North-Gujarat annually performs 'Ramel', in which rituals are done for the whole night by Bhuvas (Priests), generally in Chaitra maas (in Summer). Some Rebari also follow Sikhism and believe in the teachings of Guru Nanak.
Rabaris have a very rich cultural past and present. They are known for their "Rabari Bharat (Embroidery)",especially in Kutch. Embroidery is a vital, living, and evolving expression of the crafted textile tradition of the Rabaris. Rabari women diligently embroider on textiles as an expression of creativity, aesthetics and identity as far back as the tribe’s collective memory goes. Afternoons are time for embroidery in all Rabari villages, where women routinely embroider trousseaus, everyday apparel, dowry bags, bride's ghagro (skirt), kanchali (blouse) and ludi (veil), the groom's kediyan or shirt, children's cradle cloths as well as dowry bags and auspicious torans. Rabari embroidery is very vigorous, with many bold shapes. Designs are taken from mythology and from their desert surroundings. They use glass mirrors in various shapes: round, lozenge, rectangular, square, triangular, and beak shaped. The stitches are square chain interlaced with buttonholes for mirror work, single chain, knot, Romanian, blankets interlaced with herringbone, running, and double running. Another interesting aspect of Rabari women is their earrings which are the most abstract form of snake earrings. Women in Puskar, Rajasthan describe a mushroom as snake umbrella, because it comes out after the rains and snakes have the habit of hiding under its hood. The nagali earring are supposed to stand for the double shape of the mushroom.
Rabari clan, now living in Kutch passed the Puskar region on their migration from the north of Rajasthan and may have seen the local earrings there, or rather transferred their main designs to the village people.
The nagali earrings of the Kutchi Rabari with their spiral, spring like shape can be considered as the form most closely related to the snake. Their attire(clothes),which is different on regional basis, also shows their culture. We can see that in the Navratri festival days, urban people try to imitate their attire. The Rabari women are easily distinguished by their long, black headscarves, which fall loosely to the ground. They wear distinctive heavy brass earrings which hang low, stretching the earlobes. They tattoo magical symbols onto their necks, breasts and arms. Their jewelry is modest in comparison to other tribal women. They wear small gold nose rings and silver and gold chains around their neck on where protective amulets are hung. Few simple glass bracelets adorn their arms.
In contrast to woman, a Rabari man commonly appears in white dress, golden earrings and a big stick in his hand. They wear dhoti and on the top a short double breasted waist coat (all white) laced over the chest and tied, long sleeves which are gathered up and folded at the arms. The head is covered with a 'Paghadi'(Turban).
They also have mass collections of rare folk songs and stories. Rabari women even sing on their loved one's death occasion, which is their tradition.
One of the most common things in their culture is highlighted in their food habit; wherever they may belong, they consume lots of milk and milk products.
Traditionally, they are camel herders and wanderers, and were once nomadic people. These days the Rabari are said to be semi-nomadic. Some live in small hamlets of round huts with mud walls and thatched roofs; others live in big villages and towns. The women usually manage the house and are very shrewd, independent, strong-willed and intelligent. They sell wool and clarified butter to city merchants and manage all money matters. The women are usually fair, beautiful, tall, strong and well built. The Rabari men are also tall, handsome and well-built ; and usually sport a moustache and beard. Some Rabari also have different coloured eyes, green, green-brown and hazel. This may be the influence of Persian genealogy over the millennium as some tribe members claim. They can often be seen roaming the countryside with their droves of animals. They travel hundreds of miles on annual migration routes in search of new pastures to graze their animals.
Rabari girls can be married as young as 15-months old. Most of the Rabari marriages take place on the same day once a year and can be a very extravagant event involving polygamist rites.
Nowadays, a very small percentage of Rabari are nomadic. (1-2%) Most of the grazing land is gone in India because of an increase in human population. After the independence of India, many other opportunities opened up in business and education. So most Rabari in the present day, have settled down in their original communities, and are engaging in commerce and agriculture. Many have entered into politics. In the state of Gujarat, some of the Rabari have became ministers and others, members of parliament in Delhi. Education has also opened up other avenues for them. Many have studied hard to become lawyers, engineers, teachers, nurses, dentists, doctors and MOD staff. Not all Rabari live in India now, some who wanted a better life live abroad in countries like Canada, USA, UK, and Australia.
- Street, Brian V. (2002), Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives, Routledge, ISBN 9781134566204
- Bose, N. K. (1937), Structure of Hindu Society, Delhi: Oriental Longman
- Davidson, Robyn (November 1, 1997). Desert Places, pastoral nomads in India (the Rabari). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-026797-6.
- Mirella Ferrera, People of the world. Published by VMB publisher 13100 Vercelli, Italy 2005
- Rabari: A Pastoral Community of Kutch: by Francesco D'orazi Flavoni