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Saturday, 21 January 2012

Searching for the soul of Rajasthan

by Sunny Sebastian

Writers debate its hospitality, love for colours, festivals

The host State Rajasthan had its share on the opening day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2012, on Friday with a group of writers and academicians debating the essence of the landmass which is known for its vast desert and the rich Marwari traders of yore.

Rajasthan, now the biggest geographical entity among the Indian States, might have undergone changes in the wake of unification of the former princely States after Independence but what is intrinsic such as hospitality, love for colours and festivals and living in harmony with nature, remains, they noted.

The session, moderated by Malashri Lal, considered the oral traditions of Rajasthan and the well known Rajasthani hospitality. The oral history traditions, expounded by the Charan community in the State, kept the history as well as the lore of the State preserved throughout the centuries. Rima Hooja, author of the latest history book on Rajasthan, said she was not so sure about the tradition of history in Rajasthan but the State always had a tradition of remembering.

Tradition of hospitality

As for the famed hospitality of Rajasthan, which also finds a reflection in the well known expression “Padaro Mhare Desh” (Welcome to our state) C.D. Deval, writer, said the tradition of inviting people to this place could be also due to the fact that Rajasthanis always suffered the pangs of separation. As the Rajasthani traders used to travel far and wide for business in the past and returned only occasionally, their family members, often the womenfolk pined for them. “Rajasthan society is full of such stories of separation .The presence of anyone from outside was a relief under such circumstances,” Mr. Deval pointed out.

Rajasthanis always loved the change of seasons. The people responded to the changes in the nature and in weather conditions. Again the folk literature is full of songs on rains and frost and drought. The people always considered animals and the plant kingdom as part of their own life. The life of Vishnois is an example to this approach. There are special dances and songs to welcome the arrival of the first rain in the desert.

Economist Vijay Shankar Vyas felt that the State had both the traditions of earning and giving away. The Seths or businessmen who knew the art of making money always spent them back home — be it a dharamshala or a school. Dr.Vyas also pointed out the fact that Rajasthanis, irrespective of their economic and social status, always possessed good sense of beauty. “Look at a labour woman. She would go in her best dress, even wearing ornaments to work,” he pointed out.

Poet Hariram Meena, who specialises in Adivasi life, said the 80 lakh strong tribal population in the State still remained closer to nature. In Adivasi life one could notice this down to earth approach and a sense of belonging to the community.

No talk about Rajasthan would be complete without a reference to its chivalry. Malashri pointed out that stories of valour and chivalry were not confined to the upper castes alone. “Rajasthan had a tradition of heroism at every level. It was found in Queen Padmini and in Panna Dai equally,” she pointed out.

Intervening from among the audience scholar Shail Mayaram said the dryland life culture in the area suffered from morbidity. In the past Rajasthan's connections stretched up to Afghanistan. The region had a well developed non-Brahmanical tradition and good cultural interaction among various caste groups. Theatre person Ranbir Sinh said the State should come out of its colonial and feudal hangover.

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