BANJARAS – BHANGARH, RAJASTHAN
A tribe that exemplifies existing in harmony with nature and also keeping alive their culture, the Banjaras, even today, give a testimony of their devotion towards the surroundings and the self. The origin of the term ‘banjara’ comes from the words ‘varna chara’ in Sanskrit meaning ‘wanderers of the jungle’ and resonates perfectly with how this tribe used to live in the forests.
Originally residing within the tenacious forests of Rajasthan, this tribe slowly grew to areas like Gujarat, Bengal and Karnataka. Presently, the dialect they speak is called Lambadi or Gor Boli which comes within the range of Indo-Aryan languages and is mixture of typical Indian languages that include Sanskrit, Rajasthani, Hindi and Gujarati. With the passage of time, like they adapted to different languages, their occupation also drastically changed. Originally, the Banjaras were merchants who traded in grain, salt and cattle but with time, they took to different means of earning livelihood like agriculture and textile embroidery.
Banjaras are one of the few tribal communities residing in the Indian subcontinent who are proud of the culture that they have inherited over the ages and hence, actively take part in living it through their lives. This is evident from the attire that they have embraced. The women are often seen wearing coloured combinations of ghaghra and choli. The chunari constitutes the most important part of their attire–it is used by women to cover their heads and faces. With this oomph of colour, the clothes are often laden with decorations of silver coins, shells and mirrors that make the attire look more attractive and traditional. It is believed that men also used to have mirrors embedded within their outfits so that they could see reflections of animals approaching from the rear side and could protect themselves. As time passed and occupations changed, the men started wearing only plain white kurtas and dhotis that is often paired with a pagdi worn on their heads. The community regularly takes part in dance and music and believes in exhibiting their cultural sides in order to keep up the spirit of harmony and joy within the tribe.
One of the most striking features of this community is the tradition of tattooing–on arms laden with white and silver bangles, the skin of the Banjara women is covered with several tattoos. These tattoos go into scripts, graphics and are traditionally inscribed onto them because the women of the community like it. This is their way of being a part of the folk that they have gotten from their ancestors. Tattooing, like rangoli making and painting walls is considered as a part of appreciating art that brings human and culture together.