The Story of the Origin
My name is Rabari Jesang Bhai Hadu Bhai. I will tell you a few things about the origins of the Rabari. As the story goes, one day Parvati was feeling bored and said to Shivji, 'I do not like to be alone and want someone to play with.' Shivji said, 'Take the dirt off your skin and shape it into a statuette and I will give it life.' So, Parvati took the dirt from her body and created a statuette and they gave life to it. Then they thought of naming him, and decided to name him Sambhad, since he was created from dirt. After naming Sambhad, they created a five-legged camel and gave him to Sambhad, who would take the camel out to graze everyday. He got bored grazing this five-legged camel everyday, as it could not go everywhere in the jungle. He said, 'God, please do something about this'. Granting his wish, the god pushed the fifth leg upwards, which created the hump, and from being five-legged it became four-legged. Now the camel could go anywhere in jungle since it had four legs.
Parvati started to worry about Sambhad’s marriage once he got to the age of 20-25. Back then, apsaras (celestial women) used to bathe in the Manasarovar. Shiv and Parvati told Sambhad to steal the clothes of any one apsara and run off. Sambhad did this and the apsaras came after him and complained to Parvati that her son had stolen their clothes. Parvati said their clothes would be returned if they agreed to fulfill a wish of hers. They asked what she wanted. Parvati said, 'One of you will have to marry him, and only then will you get your clothes'. They agreed. Parvati instructed Sambhad to ask for the hand of an apsara named Rai. Sambhad married Rai and from them the Maaldhari, Rabari, Raika and Desai people came to be. After the apsara Rai we came to be called Raika.
Gradually their family grew: Sambhad had many sons and daughters who were married off to the Rajputs. Vihotter Naath came to be from them: vi is 20, ho is 100 and ter is 13—our community grew into 133 castes. Gradually, everybody acquired abundant sankhrej (cows), gaad (sheep), bakra (goats), buffaloes, camels and other riches. Grazing their flocks, they wandered beyond the Himalayas—some to Haryana, some to Punjab, some to Rajasthan, some to U.P. and some to Gokul, Mathura. From Mathura, when Lord Krishna decided to migrate, they followed him to this Gujjar Pradesh—back then Gujarat was known as Gujjar Pradesh. From Gujarat, many people migrated to Bharuch, and some to Kathiawad near Saurashtra. Among them, three clans in Kutch known as Vaghad, Dhebar and Kashi, they crossed the Rann and came to this area.
These three Kashi, Vaghad and Dhebar Rabaris stayed in Jaisalmer zilla in Rajasthan. Back then, the ruler was of Islamic faith. Once he saw a beautiful daughter of a Rabari and demanded they give her to him and he would make her the queen of his kingdom. We said, 'You are the lord and we are your subjects; we cannot intermarry. You follow Islam and we are Hindu, your demand is not right.' He said, 'If you give her willingly then good, otherwise I have to take her away forcefully.' They (Rabaris) had great unity amongst them and they asked for 20 days to think it over, after which they promised to give an answer. The ruler agreed to give them time but in return took 25 leaders as prisoners, who were to be released only after they had given an answer. For Rabaris a daughter of one is the daughter of the entire community. In order to protect the daughter’s modesty, the leaders planned an escape, and all of them rode off on camels to different villages. Then one day, everybody prepared their utara (camping materials) on the camels, collected their sheep, goats, cows, buffaloes and their maal, and left Jaisalmer to come to Kutch. There was a king, Kathi Naldi Maharaj, who gave them support. Back then there was a lot of fodder here in Kutch near Khavda, Khadi and Banni areas, which is still the largest grazing land in Asia. As there was enough fodder for the sheep, goats, cows and buffaloes, they had no problems. So our people settled in Kutch and when there is a drought, they take their cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats as far as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and even to Andhra Pradesh.
The names of Rabaris have come from the parganas, which is similar to the zilla and districts we have now. Those who stayed back in Vaghad came to be known as Vaghadiya, those who stayed in between Anjar Taluka, Mundra Taluka and Bachau Taluka came to be known as Dhebariya. And those from Nakhatrana and between Bhuj Taluka came to be known as Kaashi. There is variance in the way of life: Kaashi people are now settled and keep cows and buffaloes and if they graze sheep and goats they graze them nearby. Dhebriya mostly keep sheep and goats. They travel to Maharashtra, Andhra and even up to Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, graze animals and live their lives. Vaghad also migrate but only within Gujarat.
We all follow the same god, our chief god is Vadvara, and he has two chief pilgrimages. Vadvara means where the vad (tree) was sown and the pilgrimage of Ram, Lakshman and Janaki, so it was named Vadvaro. Then we have Kuldevi (clan goddesses): Vihat Mata, Momai Mata and Chamunda Mata are our chief Kuldevis. Then we also worship brave men and other gods like Pabu Dada, Vachra Dada, Goga Dada, Vanua Devji. Though we are Maaldhari, we are mostly vegetarian. Maaldharis follow the Hindu religion, feed the ants and give rotlo (bread) to the cows. Marital engagements are made within the clans. Ten years ago we practised child marriage, which we don’t anymore. Nowadays many Rabaris are getting themselves and their children educated. Rabaris may have been illiterate but they were never ignorant. They knew their Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata, their religion was to offer food, water and tea to everyone who visits them. They believe in extending help to the needy.
In the beginning, the god gave them only camels, and it was gradually during the Dwapar Yug (the third out of four yugas, or ages, described in Hindu scriptures), that these people started to keep cows, buffaloes, sheep and goats for increased sources of income. With the rise in population several changes took place in the profession. The Kaashi people prefer grazing camels, while we Dhebriya Rabari prefer grazing sheep and goats, same with Vaghadiya Rabari. Rabaris have traditional knowledge of animals, so devoted all their efforts and energies to taking care of them. We are never afraid to roam in the jungles, and expect support from no one, be it the government or a king. We have safeguarded and preserved our traditional breeds like the Kutchi camel, Kharai camel, Marwadi sheep, Kutchi goat, Jhalawadi goat, Kankrej cow and Kundi buffalo. Like the government, there are laws within our community about exchanging breeds amongst ourselves. This practice for their preservation has worked well, for example, the Kundi buffalo can withstand hunger and their milk is very flavourful. It has strength to maintain itself during dry seasons. The Marwadi sheep is similarly healthy. We preserve these breeds, and do not let foreign breeds come in, to maintain production levels. But there are many problems now, there are many factories in Kutch (like Adani, Ambani, Tata, Birla and Sanghi and several others), fewer jungles, problems of fodder and water. It is getting very difficult to maintain certain breeds. In the present situation the profession of animal keeping is under threat. If the animal-keeping profession continues, only then can human beings sustain themselves in this the world. There are always new laws, some say tie them and graze, some say create farms. If one has 1000 sheep and goats, where will he tie them and where will he graze them?
When the drought comes and there is shortage of fodder, we migrate. Then, five to fifteen families together decide to leave and see what lies ahead. If they leave from Anjar and from Samakhiari and from Mariya and go straight towards Amdavad or towards Bhaal or to Kathiawad or towards Narmada towards Rajpipla, they know these areas by heart—they do not have maps or ask for directions. We have complete knowledge of Gujarat, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh. We know about every place: every zilla, every taluka, rivers and canals. We have experience of 20-22 years of migrating, grazing sheep and goats in six to seven states of India. We never encounter problems: we have knowledge of everything, where there are thieves, where the tigers are, where dacoits and Naxalites reside, where we can find proper fodder and water. But we do not get any aid during difficulties, drought, and pregnancies. Our children are mostly born in jungles, naturally. We face many problems in education, health and security for women. Our community is nomadic, semi-nomadic, Vicharti & Vimukt Jaati (OBC), we wander wherever we wish.
When we leave from here, we leave Gujarat and first come to Dhule zilla in Maharashtra. Towards the Gujarat border, near the Avha Dangs, there are several dense forests: our system is, when people leave for grazing, we have a Patel (group leader) who decides which way to go, then they scout around the jungles for cotton shrubs, babul, good grass and fodder. Then we go to Yavatmal zilla in Maharashtra, Amravati zilla or Khandesh or Nagpur, Bhandara, Tulsar, or beyond towards Marathwada in Aurangabad, Jhalna, Challisgam, Kannad, Beed, Pathan, Ahmednagar—we wander everywhere. Earlier juwari, tuvar or teel crops used to grow; this has declined and now there are new crops. Now dams have come up, so many canals. Cotton used to grow in abundance in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, which has changed. So there is a significant change in climate, which affects us. Wherever we go we get shelter from people, never has it been that Marathi people have troubled us, or people from Madhya Pradesh have troubled us. People always find it convenient to let sheep and goat sit in their fields. There is a lot of sowing of chillies in Shankarpur, Chimor, Chandrapur and Bhandara Zilla. They let us sit in their fields, give us Rs. 400, 500 or 1000 to stay the night. Whenever we went to Andhra, never have Naxalities troubled us. In fact they are astonished looking at us, 'Yeh kya baat hai. Tum baal-baccha leke jungle mein baarish mein ghum rahein ho. Yeh toh bahut badi baat hain. Hum bhi tumko dekh ke pareshan ho jate hain' ('What is this! With young children, you are roaming the jungle in the rain. This is something! Looking at you, even we start to worry.'). At times when we are in jungles and there is a marriage or an inauguration of a devsthan (shrine), they invite us for the feast.
When we go beyond, there is the Vanjara population who are a little more difficult than Maratha people, and sometimes steal from people. Among Adivasis when Bhil people attack us, we face them. We have gophan (catapults) with us, we have dogs; we have a team so we are never afraid. We also know many tricks, we know how to climb trees, how to fight, to swing a stick, draw milk, face a lion, and deal with thieves. Our ladies also know how to churn buttermilk, to milk, make ghee, butter, take care of children, take care of cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats. They may be illiterate but they have all kinds of necessary knowledge. When there are 20-25 families it is called a dang. The biggest dang is made up when our uncles, aunts and other relatives (kaka-bapa, fui, mami masi) get together, with this dang we wander everywhere. We go only there where there is good fodder. When we cross Kutch, we go from Radhanpar to Suigaam, then ahead to Jarol, Sachor, right up to Barmer, Padra, Valodra, Makrol, Mahilyavas, Samdadi, Sanandi. Then if we wish to cross Marwad we even go to Mewar, towards Udaipur, Chittorgarh, and may even cross over to Madhya Pradesh, to Ratlam, Bhopal.
Our utara carries about 250-300 kilos. We call it ghar vakhri, and we take every necessity one would require if one were at home. Cloth to wear and as coverings, utensils for eating and drinking, items for bathing and washing, things to fill water. Small children also sit on the utara, along with young lambs and goat kids, and if someone has fever or is sick he also sits on it. The camel can carry any amount of weight. It is called a car for our home. It is just like when we build a beam or foundation for a home. And if it falls sick there will be many problems. So, we really take care of and protect the camel because the entire foundation of our occupation is the camel. Just as small kids create toys from clay and after playing they break them, our lives are similar: we create our homes daily and then migrate everyday, towards grassland. Migration is constant. The fodder which is available here in Kutch like gundi, gargeti, luski, kendoori, kher, bawar, meetho bawar, vedho, limbdo, is not available ahead when we go to Maharashtra. There are different kinds of vegetation there. So accordingly we have to graze him to make sure he is well maintained.
Once Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira-ji came to meet us in Kutch—there was a drought at the time, and an earthquake had also come. They asked whether we need some arrangements regarding land. But after that nothing happened. Owing to severe drought and earthquake there was massive rainfall due to which around 60-70,000 sheep and goats died in Kutch, Banaskantha, where there were no bridges or roads. I was then around seven or eight years old, and undertook migration. Like this I have spent around 35 years wandering. All my children, three daughters and two sons, all were born in the jungles. My younger son was born in Andhra Pradesh, the elder son in Kathiawad, the younger daughter in Madhya Pradesh and the youngest one in Yavatmal in Vani Taluka. When Naxalites came to Maharashtra they told the Adivasi people to cut the forests and start farming. Same in Andhra Pradesh. So little by little, the jungles started disappearing. I remember this very clearly, when the jungles were being cut down, rainfall also started reducing. There are jungles only for the sake of it. Then I also thought, it is very difficult to sustain this animal-keeping occupation, we got fed up as all our children were wandering in the jungles, there were no facilities for them to get education, no medical or health facilities. There was no ration card, election card. So people used to enquire about our identity, since we change states. Each state has its own animal-keeping communities, like Bhangi in Maharashtra, who wander just like us. In Andhra Pradesh, there are Kurba people, who wander with their black and red sheep and goats. Due to these issues, gradually people started to leave this profession. Otherwise, the income is very good. But the two main reasons are grass-fodder and water, while the third is lack of health and education. We had no tension, all we thought of was to fill our stomachs and live independently. But now we also have tensions, we have come to know that we have to guard our own borders. Our fathers and grandfathers went to Pakistan to graze sheep and goats. There was no trouble back then, all trouble arose with Partition. Otherwise the water of Sindhu used to come right up to Karachi. In our community the burden of work is greater for women than men. After waking up in the morning, they churn buttermilk, make butter, feed rotla to the shepherds, pack their lunches (bhataar). After that, they feed the camels, tie the lambs with galan (handmade rope, sometimes made of goat/sheep hair), then fill the utara, and walk to fill water, collect firewood, and prepare the stove.
Bharat you see, is no education; it is tradition. The mother fills the Bharat, and the daughter watches her filling, and follows her to fill the Bharat. There was only one reason to ban Bharat: in our community there was this custom that only after the daughter filled a certain quantity of Bharat would she be allowed in her home (husband’s home). But it was not a good practice, because some had the time to fill the Bharat and some did not have any time at all.
When Lord Krishna was small, Yashoda and the gopis had filled the Bharat and made him wear the jhuldi (upper garment), this art has come to us from the times of Lord Krishna. There are different names for Bharat like toya jhurdi, this is tarpariya, this is lathkania, this is toran, this is madh nu bharat, this is kamku, this is kapdu, this is kediya. After the ban on Bharat, a large market opened up for it, foreigners came and paid double its value. Nowadays only a few people are filling the old-style Bharat. The culture of this tradition is called gop-sanskrut. Dhebriya Bharat has achieved the greatest recognition: in almost all the countries there are samples of this Bharat. These days Bharat is displayed and can be seen in big government buildings and offices: where they sit in collectors' offices you can see Rabari Bhumo or Rabari Bharat, depictions of Rabari camels or Rabari sheep and goats. You cannot see it in our homes anymore.
We celebrate different Hindu festivals like Janmashtami, Ram Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi, and our personal festivals like Bhadarva Sud Pachem, Bhadarva Sud Satem, Bhadarva Naurta, Navaratri. We also worship pirs; we undertake jatra (pilgrimage) for pirs. Then there are some community festivals, where the community gets together and celebrates, e.g., when we establish a new temple to Khetarpaal Dada we do a Pran Pratishtha Mahotsav.
When an animal falls sick, we treat it. We know what to do if they break their leg, which is to take the bark of the bawar and tie on the goat’s leg, and massage it with oil. We never felt the need for a doctor. Ever since these doctors have come, now people are making use of them. Earlier whatever it was, they used to use natural medicine made from local vegetation. Even now if someone cannot figure out the problem with the health of their cows, buffaloes, they will directly say, ‘Call that Rabari and ask him what has happened to him’. The Rabari checks its face, and teeth, and says it has such-and-such disease and to do this medication. This medication is based on the natural knowledge of the local vegetation. For example, turmeric is used, soonth (dry ginger), ajmo (ajwain), black pepper, oil, things we use daily are needed. The lives of animals and humans are interrelated. Where a man would make a hut for himself, there a cow will come and stand beside it. You can call it the tradition of traditions. In the modern times knowledge of letters has taken predominance, and many types of doctors have emerged. The sheep, goats, cows, buffaloes also used to get shitala rog (small pox or measles), same as human beings. Rabaris can treat that as well: sometimes they carry out surgery with blade or razor.
When the Kauravas and Pandavas ruled Hastinapur and Indraprastha, this is a story from that time, when the war was being fought. For the war camels were required and only Maaldharis had camels. But the Maaldharis had to attend the anu (baby shower) of Abhimanyu’s wife in Viratnagar. So they were asked to travel all night, perform the anu and return the next morning to Hastinapur to fight the war. But the question was, what kind of animal could travel such a distance in so short a time? There was Ratno Rabari, Bhura Bhai and Bhema Bhai with camels named Saiyo, Sangayyo, Thanakio and Manakio, and a female camel named Bhagadi. They could run as fast as the wind. So the Rabaris left on them, rode all night, performed the anu and in the morning returned to Hastinapur from Viratnagar. There is this Girdi village in Vaghad called Viratnagar, while there is another Dhodku in Gujarat that is also called Viratnagar, where the Pandavas stayed when they were hiding. This is what our history says, that they used the camels and travelled the gap of 400 km in a day. This way Rabaris have earned trust from people. If a lady loses her way in the jungle she feels safe if she meets a Rabari grazing in the jungle. Only in his shade (under his protection) will she return to the village.
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, all these states have different types of pagadis. People used pagadis in different ways. During war, people tied the helmet (gokani) on top the pagadi: during the fight if one used the sword it could not pierce the pagadi. Another was to tie the brass bowl on the head and on top of it tie the pagadi. Then come what may, even a bullet from a gun, it would not have effect. Pagadi is generally 15-20 hands in length, and was also used as a rope to draw water out of deep wells in the jungle. In the jungle when we don’t find any dang or shelter we spread it out to lie on. Nowadays the use of the pagadi has almost been given up.
Survival of the Profession
This profession of the Maaldharis is difficult to sustain due to shortages of fodder and water and lack of proper grazing land. We have many demands to make before the government, we do not get loans or subsidies for cows and buffaloes. There is no provision for fodder and water during drought. Everybody says during elections, when they come to ask for votes,‘We will accept everything, we will give land to graze, will get you fodder and water, will create stock for fodder and water.’ There are government advertisements for everything about every facility but only for farmers, like, ‘We will give tractors to farmers, seeds, fertilizers.’ For Adivasis also, 'We will give this, will give that, free education.' But for Maaldharis there are no such advertisements.
See, I have roamed around seven states in this country, I have grazed sheep and goat in all of them. If we just talk about Gujarat, in it just this Kutch zilla is around 45,000 sq. km. In it are all the jungles you would find in the world, all kinds of grazing land and fodder, seeds, flat lands. Now not even 10 per cent of it is left. The fodder is almost finished. Secondly, there are so many factories that have come up, from Samakhyari to Narayan Sarovar where the Pakistan border comes, there is just factory after factory. Then there are two major highways passing through Kutch. One from Gujarat, it comes from Delhi, passes Adesar and comes into Kutch. The other from Mumbai passes Amdavad and goes to Samakhyari. One of them goes up to Bhuj zilla while the other goes up to Narayan Sarovar. Even the area around those highways is filled up with factories. Only a certain area of Banni is left. If you look at the Banni area, from Ghaduli to Santhalpur there is a direct road from the Rann area, border area, which the government is making use of. There are applications for 40 factories already. If you allow factories to be set up in the Rann area, then where will the Maaldhari people live? So lack of grazing lands is due to these major connecting roads, big cement factories which collect all kinds of rocks, bauxite, lignite, charodi, white clay. If you go into Maharashtra, from Kutch to Ankleshwar and Surat there are only factories. If you walk through Highway 6, all you can see is factories, villages are disappearing and people are moving to the cities. There are lots of sugar factories in Maharashtra, and many cotton factories, which have come up in forest lands. In Andhra, there were jungles in Asifabad, Karimnagar, Mandabari, Macharia, Nirmal, Nizamabad, and Adilabad, but now they are all cut down in the name of development. And because of this rainfall has also reduced all over India. The way the environment is being affected is due to the exploitative nature of humans. We Maaldharis never harm nature.
I have several experiences but I will always remember this. When I went to Maharashtra, there was this well (vhiri), which had cement steps. I climbed down the well to drink water, we drink water like this with our hands. I climbed directly into the well, but the last step was covered with moss (sheval). So I slipped on the moss and fell in the well. After a lot of struggle, since I did not know how to swim back then, I managed to climb out. The second incident that I will always remember happened when I was in the jungles of Andhra. I was with this man who was attacked by a bear. There were two bear cubs near the palash tree, and as it was a dense jungle, unwittingly the man had gone near the tree and came face to face with the bear. Though I was nearby, I did not know what to do. How do I save this man? So I used the gophan (catapult) to hit the bear and made some noises. The cubs started to cry and scream, and so the bear left the man alone and ran away.