My interest lies in working with craftsmen from rural areas and I need to travel often for this. I generally pick a city which is a hub to all the villages that I wish to travel to. My daily routine there is to take a six seater or bus to villages. I travel every day with several people staying or working in various areas around the city.
Rabari women in their black attire are very common site when you are travelling in Bhuj. For me it was how they were. I never gave much attention to it and took it as a matter of fact until one day an Italian, crazy about India and its culture, asked me why Rabari ladies wear black dress and why the “Odhani” - the “Stole”, that they wear is black with red dots.
I was surprised as to how much this Italian must have observed and how easily I took everything for granted. So on the next day I was travelling to a village in “Chhkra” - a six seater, and there were 3 Rabari ladies sitting across. All had similar black “Odhani” with red dots. I was so intrigued that I had to ask. They gave me some interesting insights on how the embroidery on “Odhani” defines different age group. The one youngest must be in her 20s was married and was wearing an”Odhani” with little embroidery and applique work, the one who was in her 40s was also married had very light work on her “Odhani” and the oldest who was in her 60s was wearing “Odhani” with no work on it at all. This was interesting though I was not very clear.
Luckily, I planned a visit to Shrujan Museum the same day. The Museum has showcased details on Rabari women and their dresses. The difference in the dresses signifies the stage in which a women is in in her life cycle. So a young girl can wear a colourful blouse, skirt and Odhani but the blouse cannot have a stitch that supports breast. A woman ready for marrying will have a colourful blouse but will switch to black skirt and Odhani, both can have colourful embroidery on it. The lady who is married will wear black skirt, black odhani and a blouse with a stitch that supports breast. A married woman does have some embroidery on her blouse and odhani but the skirt is all black. The elderly or widow has no embroidery on their blouse and odhani. Their blouse is mostly black but can add colors if they wish. The blouse with a breast supporting stitch is worn by married or widows only. The black odhani always have red dots irrespective of the stage in a life cycle. These dots could be made using hand block printing, screen printing or tie and die.
This clothing thus makes it extremely simple for anyone to understand which stage a woman lies in her life cycle. Learning this new fact made me more observant. One more interesting observation is the blouse of each woman is backless and they do not make any explicit attempt to hide it either. There is nothing charming or sexy about it. It is a way of life for the women and men alike.
This community is a migrant from Pakistan and Afghanistan and is considered lower caste and backward caste. I think their backwardness has kept them grounded with their thoughts and ideas. Their neutral approach to fashion makes me question when and how our society changed so much because today a backless is called sexy or slutty. Simple things are unnecessarily complicated and in the confusion it reaches another level altogether. What we need is a simpler and neutral approach. Like Rabaris other communities and for that matter Indians should be more realistic and accepting, in their ways of life. I am no way saying that Rabaris have flawless lifestyles. They do have their own share of tragedies but let us take the best of all the worlds and make this world a better place to live.