Pushkar is a melting pot of cultures, both occidental and those of our sub-continent. Spirituality brings together peoples from all over the world in the tiny valley; the mela brings the camels and the purnima heralds the pilgrims. Both of which bring the tourists.
Popularly known as the Pushkar Mela or cattle fair, this is an annual event. It's also known as the Kartik mela.
There are two parts to the mela - the first half soon after Diwali is the cattle fair
The second part of the fair is a week after leading up to the Purnima (full moon) which draws pilgrims from all over the country to this important Tirth, place of pilgrimage. The pilgrims bathe in the holy lake during these days of the mela.
Now let me introduce the Raika
The Raika are nomadic camel herders; they are the sacred keepers of the animal sent by God. These nomads walk miles with their animals in search of pastures and are in sync with nature. They have an understanding with the farmer (agriculturist) whose land their animals fertilize during their halt overnight in exchange for grain. They are one with their herd in so many ways, walking & keeping up with these long-legged animals is no mean feat for a human .. hard to imagine.
We know little or nearly nothing about these precious people and their animals.
Every year sees the biggest camel fair in Pushkar (yes it's a trade fair).
For a long time the camel population is steadily declining, now there are horses mainly and some cattle at the fair since they fetch a better price and have more buyers.
Apart from facial features and physical structure, in India we have strong communication through intricacies of traditional dress and textile.
I would like to portray this from the perspective of dress.
There is much concern and research on the front of biodiversity that is being adversely affected with the decline in the camel population.
Through my observation and research over the years I see the intrinsic role of dress that is intertwined and plays an important role with this decline indirectly affecting the biodiversity.
What is the role of dress here?
"Years ago we were sitting around at the Pushkar mela and one of the Raikas asked- 'Gujjar ho ya Raika?' He said "Kuch nahi, mai to gora hoon." (I'm neither, I'm a white man)
Had he been in urban attire it would not have drawn that question from the Raika. His desert silhouette .. the turban, jewellery .. made them curious.
One (pun intended) with the Herders
The Semiotics of dress, specially of the desert region is absolutely fascinating and highly detailed."Dress has an intrinsic role to play with the biodiversity"
This may not seem to play a role in disrupting the bio-diversity and in the decline of the camel population but to me it has an elemental role to play. Dress is a form of communication, it is what binds a community as well as pillars it, if a Raika doesn't look a Raika he doesn't feel like one and when he doesn't feel like one, he lacks pride in his work; when one doesn't pride one's work and traditionally it is hard to separate the two, it is one's identity! It is not a Job where he only plays a role, it is one's Farz, one's dharma!! The desert stays only if they stay and by they I mean the Raika and the camel as one.
Living even briefly in a rural area for an urban Indian like me is hard; although I love rural India one has become so accustomed to urban comforts that it feels a hard life.
To live not just a rural life but that of a nomad is not exactly easy for a foreigner. One has to have one's heart and soul in it. To walk with them and live with them, decipher their lifestyle and customs, be one with them.. His research is unobtrusive as he becomes One with the herders.
Editing Credits- Kavita Shah