Everything About Rabari Tribe :The Wandering Gypsies

Clad in black attire, distinctly visible tattoo art on her body, with wrinkles on her face, a fairly old lady was busy with her embroidery work, unperturbed by anything surrounding her. The intriguing thing was to see the detailed thread work, perfectly weaving with so many colors by a woman, who was probably about 80 years old.

I was later told that she belonged to the Rabari Community. Until then, I knew nothing about the tribe and their craftsmanship. My curiosity to dig out more about this community lingered in my mind and I decided to get some detailed information about this tribe.

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

A busy Rabari woman busy stitching

The tribal communities and their unique cultural fabrics have been fascinating me ever since. The cultural variation, social practices, the customs and traditions and their social hierarchy within the community makes it an interesting case study. The word ‘Rabari’, means “Outsiders”, which mostly defines their occupation and status within the society.

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

A Rabari Woman migrating

Origin

The exact origin of Rabari Tribe is unknown, though many claim that they migrated to India via Afghanistan through Baluchistan. Rabaris have 133 sub castes and a majority of them are Hindus.

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

Portrait of a beautiful Rabari woman

Conventionally, the Rabaris are highly nomadic in nature, are found in the deserted lands of western India, mostly in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The main occupation of this tribe is to raise cattle, camels and goats. For pasturing their cattle, they wander from one place to another for half a year, chasing seasonal rains .

Though with the times changing, only a few are still living a truly nomadic life, while others have started living in villages, located far away from cities and towns, in remote areas.

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

The Rabari man with his herd on the way

One of the most striking features of this community is that they practice matriarchal social system, where women take charge of the majority of affairs and men are found dwelling with their cattle, which they consider as a true asset.

Rabari Embroidery

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

Rabari Women busy stitching

Unlike, other tribal communities, Rabari women are known for their exquisite artworks, particularly their thread, mirror and mud-relief work. They are renowned for the finest embroidery and bead-work. They are skilled artisans, embroider trousseau, bride’s Ghagro (skirt), Kanchali (blouse) and Ludi (veil), the groom’s Kediyan or shirt, children’s cradle cloths and auspicious Torans (door hangings) etc.

Rabari style of embroidery is unique and evolving. A variety of patterns and mirror work are distinctively present in their designs. Inspiration is derived from mythology and the desert surrounding.

Everything about the Rabari Tribe

The Rabari embroidery and destined patters

They use the chain stitch method to outline their garments. The use of mirror, the aesthetically destined patters and the excellent choice for colors make Rabari embroidery a unique one in the world.

Rabaris also use decorative back stitching , known as Bakhiya , to make the seams of women’s blouses and men’s kediya/ jackets look appealing.  It takes months to finish one single attire. But it’s worth a look.

Mud Relief Work of Rabari Tribe

Everything About Rabari Tribe

The beautiful round shaped mud houses in Kutch, Gujarat

Rabari women are also very expert in decorating their mud houses. Their houses are embellished with mud-relief work, which makes it an extraordinary work of art.  The designs of their mud-relief are derived from their own embroidery and stitching patterns.

The elements such as Elephant, Camel, Peacock, Parrot, Scorpion, women with water pots on their head, women churning butter milk, trees, flowering vines, hills, and temples are found as common motifs used with lot of mirrors in round, square and triangle shapes.

Everything About Rabari Tribe

A young Rabari inside the mud house busy stitching

Rabaris believe that a woman with water pots is the most auspicious sign for the community. The use of mirror in their embroidery and also in mud-relief work signifies their deep rooted belief. According to Rabaris, mirrors dismiss the negative effects of the evil eye and due to this reason, abundant use of mirror work is evident in their crafts.

Dress Code

Another interesting facet of this community is their dress code, especially for women.  The color black is dominant in their color palate. According to the folklore, “during one of the hunting days, a Rajput King from Jaisalmer saw a beautiful Rabari woman and was mesmerized by her. Later, he sent a marriage proposal to the Rabari community to marry that girl. The Rabari community declined the offer, saying that even though he is a King, they can’t allow a Rabari woman to marry outside the community. The rejection didn’t go well with the King. Realizing the consequences, the Rabaris decided to flee from Jaisalmer. They moved and reached Sindh province. The King, Dodo Soomro who used to rule the Sindh province at that time, welcomed the nomadic community and allowed them to take shelter in his province. At the same time, the political scenario was changing slowly. His brother Dodo Chanesar wanted the throne. But, his plea to become the King was rejected by the King’s cabinet. He then approached Alauddin Khilji and offered him a deal. According to the deal, if Alauddin Khilji helped him to get the throne from his own brother, he would get to marry the sister of Dodo Soomro. Soon, Khilji wrote to Dodo Somroo and asked him to give the throne to his younger brother and offered a marriage proposal for the King’s sister. The King Dodo Soomro outrageously rejected the marriage union. Alauddin Khilji who was looking for a reason to declare war, attacked Sindh. In that war, the people of Sindh fought for their King as the Sindh armed forces were not in large numbers in comparison to Khilji. The King Dodo Soomro was killed by Khilji in the war. From that day onwards, the Rabari tribe, especially who are in located in Gujarat have been mourning the death of their protector, King Dodo Soomroo. That’s why women wear Black attire and Men wear White Pagris. ” There are  many versions of this story.

Everything About Rabari Tribe

Young Rabari woman with her traditional attire

I was quite amazed seeing how gracefully Rabari women carry black colored attire on their brown body.When it comes to dress code, there is an unwritten rule in Rabari Community.  The married women wear blouse pleated at the breast, setting them apart from single women. One of the most identifying elements in their attire is the Ludi (veil), which also carries different color codes for different age groups and it also signifies their marital status within the society.

Unmarried young women, wear white Ludi or shawl, whereas married and elderly women wear brown or black. Also, in case of young married women, the Ludi is adorned with tiny deep red circular designs. Likewise, the ‘Puthia’ or Ghagra for unmarried girls are in red, pink, blue or green.

The ‘Puthia’ is made of ‘Mashru’ or ‘mem’, which is a blend of silk and cotton. Another distinctive fashion statement of Rabari tribe is their long earrings. The Nagali earrings of the Kutchi Rabari with their spiral, give the shape of a spring and is one of the cultural identities of the community.

The Rabari men generally wear complete white attire. Men wear dhoti and on the top, a short double breasted waist coat (all white) laced over the chest and tied, with long sleeves and a white turban. On festive occasions, they wear red turbans embellished with ‘Gota’ work. The men wear the ‘Murki’ in their ears and also the ‘Jhela’.

I am amazed by the fact that how just a dress code can play a significant role in deciding the social status of a community and becomes a cultural identity. The exquisite artworks of Rabari Tribe have earned them the reputation of one of the most skilled tribal communities in India. Their contribution to the world of Indian Art and Craft is remarkable.

Meeting the Rabaris and visiting their villages in Gujarat just gave me the opportunity to peep into their daily life. The best defining moment was when  I came across a migrating Rabari Tribal family on the road in Gujarat, with their children sitting on Camel backs, slowly and steadily walking towards their next destination. It was a sight that will be etched on my memory forever.

Everything About Rabari Tribe

Rabari family migratin. It was a sight to behold

For me, Rabari Tribe is not just about the wandering gypsies in modern times, but they are also one of the most fascinating Tribal communities to look for in coming days.


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47 Comments

  1. saleem saiyad

    The community has been in India long enough to forget their origins but from the social patterns they seem to have migrated from central Asia before the Turk migrations that entered there from further north. The Shiva god origin is funny and mythical and cannot be introduced in social articles like this.

    Reply
  2. James

    Nice Blog and it is really very knowledgeable…keep posting blog like that.
    Thanks a lot for this awesome article.

    Reply
  3. Tirthak Rabari

    I am rabari…..but the whole article is about kutchi rabari……you should visit more in gujarat for rabari community.may be kutchi rabari is 5% rabari community .we live in all districts of gujarat .so you should do more research on it. Thank you

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      I would like to connect with you. Kindly drop your email address or just drop me an email.

      Reply
  4. ragiya ranjit (rabari)

    Thank you for visiting the rabari community of india

    Reply
  5. Homestay in Surat

    Wow this is a wonderful posting with excellent pictures

    Reply
  6. Home Vilas

    No doubt Indian Women are very hard working

    Reply
  7. Umgee

    Wandering gypsies are known for many things but few others than their craft of fortune telling. From behind their crystal balls to their fortune wheels and tarot cards, it is said that they can help you see into the future. Love the stories told behind these great images.

    Reply
  8. Stefano uTravelShare.com

    What a fascinating tribe, I really loved how you describe their habits and legends. I’ve always loved to find out more about this ancient tribes, so interesting..many thanks for sharing this incredible experience 🙂 .

    Reply
  9. Tatum Skipper

    Those little huts are the cutest. I love seeing in depth pictures of the culture of some places. The expressions and emotions you can almost feel from some of these people. Their handy work as well seems immaculate!

    Reply
  10. Iftekhar Idris Asif

    I like the life of tribes as they remind us our ancestors. Thanks a lot for the article & photos.

    Reply
  11. Wanderlust Vegans

    Their thread work is pretty colourful in contrast to the black they wear. I wonder how much of the legend of how they came to wear black is fact. It’s quite interesting how culture forms over these years.

    Reply
  12. Joanna

    It is so interesting to emerge yourself into the life of a community different than the one you live in, and get to know it. I am surprised how the Rabari community is speaking through non-verbal signs, like the way they dress. Just by looking at a woman you will know her age, her marital status… that is fascinating. I used to study symbolistic in uni and the Rabari tribe would be a perfect study example.

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      The community studies are enriching and intriguing. Thank you so much for your lovely words.

      Reply
  13. Swati & Sam

    Wow, didn’t know that such a tribe even existed. Loved the way the designs have been made on the walls of the mud houses. The design patterns on the dresses also look amazing. It seems you had an enriching experience.
    Swati & Sam recently posted…Luxury Resort in Ubud – Maya Ubud Resort & Spa ReviewMy Profile

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thank you Swati. Yes, I did have an enriching experience. I love knowing about new communities.

      Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thank you so much Indrani ma’am. Watching them migrating was the epic moment of my trip.

      Reply
  14. Ash

    An amazing insight and story of this tribe. Despite the modern world’s advances in every aspect of life, they have preserved their culture and tradition. Their simple lifestyle, skills and strong sense of community are admirable. Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  15. Laura

    What a beautiful and informative tribute! Thank you so much for sharing this. I loved learning about the community, but I am particularly fascinated by the mud relief work – what a unique and gorgeous art form!

    Reply
  16. amer

    This is what I love about traveling, getting to know the locals. I love getting to know the culture and tradition. You get an a real appreciation of their art and simple ways of living. It
    s captivating.

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thank You Amer. I have been fascinated by the tribal communities in India or anywhere for that matter. SO whenever I get a chance to know them, I don’t leave that opportunity. And every time I come back amazed by their culture and lifestyle.

      Reply
  17. The Spirited Sloth

    This was a really interesting post and a great piece of writing. I absolutely love the photos you took of these women. I had never heard of this tribe before, either, so this was super fun and intriguing to find out about!

    Reply
  18. Brianna

    This was a really interesting read! Did you learn this information by speaking with someone from the Rabari tribe? They certainly are quite skilled with that stitching! I thought it was really interesting how the color of their veils indicates marital status. That’s a bit more obvious that a ring on the finger 😛
    Brianna recently posted…What My Friend Carr Teaches Us About TravelMy Profile

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thank you Brianna. I did speak to one of them. But I was later told about their culture while I was exploring their villages in Gujarat. They are surely one interesting tribal community.

      Reply
  19. Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

    It’s interesting to see how this nomadic tribe has gradually adapted to the changing times. It’s heartening to see that they still proudly carry on the traditions of their artisans. I especially love how they decorate their mud huts! I actually have the same question as Luca too – isn’t it rather uncommon to wear black in India?
    Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes recently posted…Zoo Berlin, A Fantastic Attraction for Animal FanaticsMy Profile

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Most of the tribal communities wear colorful attire in India. Black color is not as dominant in their color palate like Rabari Tribe. Thats why Its uncommon.

      Reply
  20. Luca

    Is it that uncommon, otherwise, to wear black in India?
    Anyway, I like how they decorate their houses, with designs close to the ones they use for their embroideries. I see there are shards of mirrors on the wall too! 😀

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      The color black is not uncommon in India. But the way they give importance to this color which defines their social and marital status within the community is unique.

      Reply
  21. Fran Opazo

    Wow, this is super interesting! Never heard before about this community.

    Reply
  22. Jen

    So interesting. Love modern day gypsies and find the way they live their lives very interesting.

    Reply
  23. Annemarie

    Like you I had never heard of this tribe before so thanks for digging a little deeper and sharing your findings. I really enjoyed reading this, learning about their nomadic habits, their fabric making, etc. It’s super fascinating!

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Hi Anne, Thanks a lot. I was amazed to know facts about this tribe.

      Reply
  24. Ruby Singh

    This is very interesting. I have always loved the fact that these tribal (any tribes) are very creative and they live their life free from any social stigmas. Very intriguing dresses and jewelery

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thanks Ruby. The lifestyle and the culture of Rabari tribe is quite unique and interesting .

      Reply
  25. Sarah (JetSetting Fools)

    What fascinating people! I love that you included the myths and legends about this tribe. Such a beautiful story.

    Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thanks . I got so fascinated by their lifestyle and crafts that I am planning to visit them again.

      Reply
    • Parnashree Devi

      Thanks Rajlakshmi. Its quite a fascinating tribe.

      Reply

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