For what is referred to as a desert, Rajasthan is amazingly populated: its landscape
scattered with a number of villages and hamlets, telltale signs of tree groves and
populations of cattle being the only indication that there is such a settlement
in close proximity.
The typical village has always been difficult to spot till one is actually upon
it. Its simplest hamlets, the most basic form of civilisation with a way of life
that has probably remained unchanged since centuries, consists of a collection of
huts that are circular, and have thatched roofs.The walls are covered with a plaster
of clay, cow dung, and hay, making a termite-free (antiseptic) facade that blends
in with the sand of the countryside around it. Boundaries for houses and land holdings,
called baras, are made of the dry branches of a nettle-like shrub, the long, sharp
thorns a deterrent for straying cattle.
Eco - friendly Houses
If a hamlet looks bleak, it is hardly surprising: the resources for building these
homes, which are the most eco-friendly living unit, are made with what is available
at hand, and in Rajasthan, and particularly so in its western desert regions. This
can mean precious little. A village that is even a little larger may have pucca
houses, or larger living units, usually belonging to the village Zamindar family.
Consisting of courtyards, and a large Nora or cattle enclosure, attached to one
side or at the entrance, these are made of a mixture of sun-baked clay bricks covered
with a plaster of lime.
Decorative facades in such units are limited to creating a texture in the plaster
in the facade, or using simple lime colours to create vibrant patterns at the entrance,
and outside the kitchen. These homes capture, for many of its residents, the only
cosmos they know. For the women, but for visits within the village community, the
only social occasions were in the nature of pilgrimages which were usually combined
with fairs. But it is when they step out that the stark desert and the village break
into a feast of colour: turbans bob past in saffron and red; skirts billow beneath
mantles that veil the faces of their women- if they didn't, the jewels that glint
on their foreheads and faces would add to the shocking surprise of their magentas
and their blues, greens and pinks.
A Multi-community Settlement
Each village is a multi-community settlement, the various castes creating a structure
of dependence based on the nature of their work. While changes are being wrought
in this structure, with ceilings on land holdings, and with young seeking employment
opportunities in towns distant from their villages, the social fabric has still
not been rent.
Rajputs - The Ruling Community
At the head of the village settlement are usually the Rajputs, the warrior race
whose kings ruled, till recently, over these lands. The Rajputs served their kings,
joining their armies, and raising their cavalries , but an attendant pursuit was
as agriculturists. Often, they employed labour to work on their extensive fields,
and kept cattle for dairy produce. In fact, the cattle density in Rajasthan is very
high, and milk from desert settlements is supplied to the large cities close to
the state, including Delhi.
Intensely Religious People
An intensely religious people, each home in Rajasthan will have a room or at least
an alcove where they fold their hands and say their prayers before calendar images
of their gods. To seek benevolence from their gods, for in this hostile landscape,
it is easy to be superstitious, and they pray to the terrible image of Kali, the
wrathful form of Shiva's consort, to protect them from the demons of the elements,
and the scrounge of mankind.
The principal meal for the family consists of dinner, when freshly baked bread and
porridge is served with a yoghurt curry called karhi, and with vegetables that may
consist of dried beans, or, now, increasingly fresh produce that is grown and transported
from neighbouring states. For most families, breakfast is a glass full of hot tea
gulped down with stale bread, before rushing off to attend to the day's tasks, and
lunch is a frugal meal of unleavened bread eaten with a spicy chutney of chillies
Most meals are vegetarian, and though they eat meat, the Rajputs too do not consume
it regularly. In the old days, game would be hunted, and the spoils shared with
families in the village. With the ban on hunting, meat now comes from the goats
raised in the communities, but they are slaughtered only for special occasions,
and at the time of festivals that demand offerings of blood. It is this frugal diet
that keeps the people of Rajasthan in fine fettle, slender of build, and not given
to fat, and with a posture that is erect.