The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 24, 2003

Rajasthan of folk arts
Padam Ahlawat

Rajasthan an Oral History: Conversations with Komal Kothari
by Rustom Bharucha. Penguin, New Delhi.
Pages 358. Rs 325.

Rajasthan an Oral History: Conversations with Komal KothariRAJASTHAN is a land that is rich in history. It has been home to most of the Rajput and Jat kingdoms. In ancient times it had a warm climate and was free of forest cover, which were conducive to the growth of the Indus Civilisation. Its Aravalli Hills were the site of Stone Age tools, which form a definite step towards civilisation. The climate of Rajasthan was such that a rise of a few degrees in temperature and low rainfall resulted in migration. The Aravalli hills were and still are populated by a large population of tribal people who lived off hunting and gathering.

Contrary to what the title may suggest, the book has nothing about history, oral or otherwise. It is a rambling oral account of Komal Kothari written by Bharucha. The focus is on folk arts, culture and folk music.

To give the book a wider appeal the author has included issues like land and water. The rambling talk on land is about ownership agriculture, and nomadic occupations. He talks of how farming is difficult in the desert and how 80 per cent of rich land is owned by 20 per cent of the people. Excluding the tribes such as Bhils, there are several occupational nomads. These include Banjaras who trade in salt. The Jogi tribe includes the Kalbelia, Ghattiwal, Bansdewal, Kuchbandiya and Godolia Luhar, who all provide different services.


However, the real nomads are the Gawla, who keep cattle, and the Raika, who keep camels. The milk of camels is widely used, but it is not used to make butter or ghee. These nomads eat meat, even that of the jackal and fox.

Water in Rajasthan is a scarce commodity and is sparingly used. Agriculture depends entirely on the monsoon. The wells and other water bodies have been built with money from the rajas or rich people. Water is collected using the khadin system. In this water is drawn from a rocky highland catchment area, from where it flows into a low-lying plain area enclosed by earthen work. Kothari mentions how tanks and canals in one area result in the drying up of wells in surrounding villages. Some of the manmade lakes include the Pichhola lake at Udaipur and the Gulabsagar at Jodhpur.

The little rain that Rajasthan receives is a boon and its failure results in drought, even famine. According to a belief, the Bania is considered to be the culprit in such cases as he is thought to usurp the clouds!

The Pabu epic is very popular in the region in which people depend on breeding cows, sheep and camel. Pabu is worshiped as a Bhomiya god who protects the cows and kills cattle robbers. At the end, Pabu dies.

Komal Kothariís chief interest lies in folk artistes and culture, their songs, music and dances, one of the dances taking the form of teratali. These folk artistes are usually poor and perform on certain occasions for the rich patrons. Coming from low castes, Langas and Manganiyars earn their livelihood by singing and dancing.

They were exposed to international interest when in 1962, the BBC made a film on Pabuji ki Par. In 1970, French scholars recorded their folk songs. Komal Kothari helped select and train these folk artistes and they performed in Paris in 1980. This exposure earned them fame and money they had never dreamt of. The Festivals of India from 1985 to 1992 presented more occasions for folk artistes to perform and get exposure.

Global exposure opened them to drastic change in life and eagerness to earn. It also brought in questions of copyright, as to who owned these folk songs as music companies began recording these songs and beaming them. The folk artistes began to be paid not only for live performances but also for the recordings.

This rambling account includes a lot that could have been edited and made more readable.