sub-continent is abundant with amazingly varying landscape - one can
find awesome mountain peaks, hills, lush greenery, areas covered with
fertile red mud, arid desert lands, seascapes and so much more, when
one travels from region to region within the country. Tremendously
diverse in tradition, culture and language, each region has its own
constitutes nearly three-quarters of the entire Indian
population. Each region in rural India offers a different perception of
the beauty of Mother Nature. Rural India, at the present time, is a
brilliant fusion of ancient systems and archaic beliefs, along with
modern inventions. Some of the most breath-taking rural areas in India
are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Kerala and so on.
Each of these
regions differs in terms of traditions, customs, rituals,
dances, music, cuisine, festivals and professions. Rajasthan is most
known for its colourful clothes, fairs and festivals. Kerala is famous
for its many temple festivals, boat races and the fascinating Kathakali
performances. Maharashtra presents its vibrant Lejhim and Lavani dance,
whereas Bengal in Eastern India is most famous for its delectable milk
sweets and Rabindra Sangeet.
In this two-part
article, we take you on a rare journey into the depths of rural
India. We bring you some of the commonest professions in the villages
of India. India is filled with a plethora of arts, crafts and
small-scale cottage industries, which is what binds together the fibre
of the country, giving it its own unique, distinct identity.
In order to give you
a more vivid picture of rural India, let us first
try and give you an idea about the most common sights you can expect to
VILLAGE WOMAN FETCHING
WATER FROM THE WELL
Travel to a rural
area in India can be a tremendously enriching
experience. Walking along the lush greenery, watching the paddy fields
being caressed by a gentle breeze, sitting under a tree and taking in
the sights and smells of the locale is probably the best energizer
Huge fields are dotted with little mud huts and rarely, a bigger independent house. In fact, foreign tourists wanting to get the real taste of village life in India sometimes stay in these huts for a night or two, before proceeding to the next destination. Sleeping in a 'charpai' or a portable rope cot is an experience in itself. One can spend the night gazing at a brilliant star-studded sky, which is a rarity in cities.
Another very common sight in a village is women pulling out water from a well. Well water is pure and constantly replenishes itself. Hence, this is a most popular source of water.
RAJASTHANI WOMEN FETCHING WATER
One more sight you
can often find, especially in rural areas of North
India, is groups of women winding their way along the sinuous paths of
the never-ending fields, delicately balancing several pots of water on
their heads. One is bound to be stunned by their graceful gait and
their sheer natural beauty, shorn of any artificial makeup that we are
so used to seeing in urban India. Bodies toned from all the hard work
in the fields, olive skin glowing and long, braided hair swaying behind
them as they walk, these women look truly ethereal, like apsaras and
nymphs from heaven!
The Zamindar system was commonly prevalent in India, till the end of the British Raj. The Zamindar system gained popularity from the advent of the Mughal rule. 'Zamin' means 'earth' and the suffix, 'dar', implies 'the holder'. Hence, 'Zamindar' signified the person wielding authority over the particular plot or plots of land in that particular region. A zamindar is called a Wadera in Sindh; a Jagirdar in Maharashtra; and Chaudhary, Lambardar, Malik or Sardar in Punjab.
The Zamindar was an
official employed by the Mughals to collect taxes
from peasants. This practice went on even while under the British rule
with colonial landholders. But after Independence, this system was
abolished in India and Bangladesh. This system still continues to exist
in Pakistan, though, especially in the provinces of Sindh and the
ZAMINDAR OF MEDIEVAL BENGAL
During the Mughal
Era, the zamindari system was employed to ensure
proper collection of taxes during a period of time. With the Mughal
conquest of Bengal, though, "zamindar" became a generic title, which
included people with land holdings, semi-independent chieftains to the
peasant-proprietors. All these zamindars were required to perform
certain duties. Strangely, although zamindaris were allowed to be held
hereditarily, they were not treated as the proprietors of their estates.
The zamindars had legal authority and so, they held regular courts, called zamindari adalat. The courts fetched them power, status and also income by way of fines and so on. Some of theem even had some share in the dispensation of civil and criminal justice. The Chowdhurys could deal with the complaints of debts, thefts and petty quarrels within the community as well.
during the British Raj, would collect taxes on his lands
and then hand them over to the British authorities, keeping a
percentage of the same for himself. In the Eighteenth Century, the
English and Scots merchants residing in India noted a similarity
between the existing zamindari and the landed gentry - the Squires or
Lairds - that were once prevanlent in the British Isles. Some of the
later Zamindars were old Rajas or princes too, whose families had an
illustrious lineage in the past. The zamindar of Burdwan was the
largest tax payer and was hence called the "Maharaja". Other big
zamindaris included Raj Darbhanga,Balrampur, Sahaspurbilari and
the zamindari system was legally abolished in India.
This gave rise to each of the states making their own "Zamindari
Abolition Acts". There have, however, been many cases of impoverished
nobles marrying into rich families with no titles.
What sets India
apart from many world cultures is that art and craft in
this country is actually considered a way of life, rather than a mere
profession. Though it may also serve as a major form of livelihood, an
artisan, both in rural and urban India, treats his skill as something
divine, as something he needs to bow down to and be honest with. The
relationship between the art and the artist is deeply spiritual and the
latter's approach to his profession is more like a devotee sitting in
prayer in front of his lord.
Let us now take a look at some of the most common traditional professions in the villages of this wonderful country.
cobbler (who's referred to as a "mochi" in Hindi) is
one who mends broken footwear. Cobblers usually work with a last, which
is a rough shape of a human foot. This helps him work further on the
shoe shape and size. Additionally, the cobbler's tools include shoe
stretchers, little shoe stands, hammers, nails, needle and thread, wax,
glue and dubbin. Skilfully using his pincers, needle and thread, the
cobbler works to mend the worst, seemingly irreparable slipper tear.
Cobblers usually sit
cross-legged and work away all day, diligently
bending over their work. They do not even seem to notice the grime and
the dirt that gets onto their bodies and clothing, during the course of
Many of them even
manufacture new footwear items, including slippers,
sandals, boots, moccasins and even shoes. They also repair a whole lot
of other everyday items, such as bags, clothing, broken zips, umbrellas
and so on. They can mend items made of rubber, plastic, leather, jute
and other plant material.
Many cobblers use
many types of material to mend the soles of shoes.
They may sometimes, for example, use cheap tire to create or mend the
The cobbler charges
a very paltry sum - in fact, next to nothing - to
mend items. By and large, an Indian cobbler would ask only for Rupees
Two to repair a very badly damaged sandal or slipper. He therefore
invariably ends up struggling to meet both ends. Hence, the proverb,
"The shoemaker's children are often shoeless." Of course, those who
also manufacture footwear along with undertaking repair are much better
generally found everywhere - in the villages, towns and
cities of Mumbai. They set up tiny roadside shops and work untiringly
all day long. This is a male-dominatied profession, which is usually
traditionally handed down from generation to generation in rural India.
"carpenter" comes from the Old French word "carpentier",
which is again derived from the Latin "carpentries" or "maker of a
carriage". A carpenter is a skilled worker who works with wood
and other related material to construct, install and maintain
establishments, furniture and other objects. The carpenter's work
involves heavy manual labor and outdoor work. Carpentry is a skill that
is gained through tough experience and study. This, too, is a
A carpenter can
create, maintain and repair items like household
furniture, woodwork, window casings, mantels, doors, building models,
shop fitting, platform framing, timber framing, beam framing and so on.
Many carpenters in the urban areas even work with advanced techniques
such as shuttering and falsework, as in concrete construction.
The concept of
carpentry even features extensively in Indian mythology.
Vishwakarma, the Divine Draftsman, is considered the presiding deity of
all craftsmen and architects. This Son of Lord Brahma drafts the whole
universe and is the official builder of all the gods' palaces and other
abodes. Vishwakarma is also said to have designed all the
Pushpakavimanas or flying chariots of the gods, and even their weapons.
The Mahabharata, one
of the greatest epics of Indian mythology,
describes Vishwakarma as "The lord of the arts, executor of a thousand
handicrafts, the carpenter of the gods, the most eminent of artisans,
the fashioner of all ornaments ... and a great and immortal god."
Vishwakarma is depicted as having four hands, wearing a crown and
decked in gold jewellery, holding a water-pot, a book, a noose and
craftsman's tools in his hands.
September 16 or 17
of every year is celebrated as Vishwakarma Puja.
This is a time when workers and craftsmen resolve to increase
productivity and gain divine inspiration for creating newer and newer
items. This ritual usually takes place within the factory premises or a
shop floor. Workers decorate their place of work on this day and fly
colourful kites to mark the occasion. Incidentally, this occasion also
marks the start of the festive season that culminates in Diwali.
often talks about Vishwakarma's many architectural
marvels. Through the four yugas or epochs, he built several divine
places and palaces for the gods. In the Satya yuga, he built the Swarga
Loka, or Heaven, where Lord Indra rules as the King of the Devas.
Vishwakarma then built the Golden Lanka (the abode of the asura,
Ravana) in the Treta yuga, the city of Dwarka in the Dwapara yuga and
Hastinapur and Indraprastha in the Kali yuga.
There is in
interesting tale about the construction of the Golden
Lanka. When Lord Shiva married Parvati, he asked Vishwakarma to build a
beautiful palace for them to reside. In just a split second,
Vishwakarma materialized a palace made of gold.
Now, Ravana, though an asura or demon, was a devotee of Shiva. He had many times pleased Shiva through acts of total surrender and devotion. Hence, Shiva invited Ravana to perform the Grihapravesh or the house-warming ritual. After the sacred ceremony was over, Shiva asked Ravana to ask anything in return as Dakshina or a fee. Ravana, overwhelmed with the beauty and grandeur of the palace, asked Shiva for the golden palace itself! Shiva immediately gave in to Ravana's wish and that is how Lanka came to be Ravana's abode.
KRISHNA AS KING OF DWARKA
Dwarka is the
capital city, where Lord Krishna lived and undertook his
activities. The Mahabharata records that Krishna had lived in Dwarka,
making it his Karma Bhoomi or center of operation. This is why Dwarka
is still considered a holy pilgrimage for the Hindus.
SRI KRISHNA, IN HIS ROLE AS AN ENVOY OF PANDAVAS TO THE KAURAVA COURT OF HASTINAPUR
The town of Hastinapura was the capital of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the warring families, during the era of the Mahabharata. After the Pandavas won the battle of Kurukshetra after an enormous struggle, Lord Krishna installed Dharmaraj Yudhisthira as the ruler of Hastinapura.
records that the blind King Dhritrashtra offered a
piece of land called Khaandavprastha to the Pandavas, for their
residence. Yudhishtira obeyed his uncle's order and went to live in
Khaandavprastha with the Pandava brothers. Later, Krishna invited
Vishwakarma to build a capital for the Pandavas on this very land,
which he renamed Indraprastha.
Indraprastha was a place full of architectural marvels and beauties. Floors of the palace threw out a reflection like that of water, and the pools and ponds inside the palace gave the illusion of a flat surface with no water in them.
Once the palace was
built, the Pandavas invited Duryodhan and his
brothers, to visit Indraprastha. Not knowing the wonders of the palace,
Duryodhan was flummoxed by the floors and the pools, and fell into one
of the ponds. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, who witnessed this
scene, had a good laugh. She boldly stated that "the son of a blind man
is bound to be blind" - Duryodhan's father was the blind King
Dhritarashtra. This remark of Draupadi annoyed Duryodhan so much that
it went on to become a major cause for the great war of Kurukshetra
described in the Mahabharata.
According to Hindu mythology, Maya or Mayaasura was an asura or demon King, presiding over the Asuras, Daityas and Rakshasas. He was revered as the main architect of the netherworld. Maya designed the three flying cities, collectively known as the Tripura. Though the cities prospered immensely and gained power and dominance over the whole world, they were ultimately torched out of the skies by Lord Shiva, due to the bad behaviour of the resident asuras. Maya, though, escapes the destruction, as he is a devotee of Lord Shiva.
father of the beautiful Mandodari, wife of Ravana, built
a capital that he called the Maya Rashtra, now, Meerut.
Krishna and Arjuna
save Maya's life during the destruction of the
Khandava forest. In return, Maya offers his services to them. Krishna
commands Maya to construct a beautiful palace hall for Arjuna's elder
brother, King Yudhisthira, at Indraprastha. Maya does so and this large
and absolutely fabulous hall becomes the Mayasabha. The Mayasabha too,
just like Indraprastha, had reflective floors, deceptively flat
surfaces that were actually pools of water and so on.
The term, pottery,
is used to describe ceramic ware created by potters.
The most popular types of pottery include earthenware, stoneware, and
porcelain work. Potteries are places where such wares are made. Pottery
is one of the oldest human skills - one could even call it art forms,
as it takes a lot of training and hard work to create items of pottery.
Pottery is made by
shaping clay into objects of a desired shape and
then heating them at high temperatures in a kiln, so as to induce
reactions that lead to permanent changes, including hardening them,
increasing their strength and setting their shape. Each region differs
in the type and properties of clay used by potters residing there. This
often helps to produce wares that are unique in character to that
particular locality. Clays is many times also mixed with other minerals
to attain certain other works of art.
The potter's most
basic tool is his hand. There are also additional
modern tools that potters use nowadays. The potter's wheel and
turntable is yet another important tool. Besides, there are shaping
tools such as paddles, anvils and ribs; rolling tools like roulettes,
slab rollers and rolling pins; cutting/piercing tools such as knives,
fluting tools and wires; and finishing tools too, such as burnishing
stones, rasps and chamois.
Handwork or hand-building is the
earliest forming method used in
pottery. Wares can be constructed by hand from coils of clay, flat
slabs of clay, solid balls of clay, or even a mix of these. Different
parts of hand-built vessels are fused with the aid of slurry or slip, a
runny mixture of clay and water. Needless to say, hand-building is a
much slower process than wheel-throwing, but it also gives the potter
great control over the size and shape of wares.
In the process of throwing, the wheel keeps rotating
rapidly while the
solid ball of soft clay is pressed, squeezed, and pulled gently upwards
and outwards to form a hollow shape. The clay is first centered - this
is the most important step. Then the whole process of hollowing and
shaping starts off. The speed and accuracy of wheel-throwing is more
suitable for making precisely matched sets of wares such as table wares
and so on. Which method the potter uses largely depends on the kind of
wares he wants to create. Thrown pieces can be modified by having
handles, lids, feet, spouts, and other aspects added using the
techniques of handworking.
Slipcasting is used in
mass-producing ceramics. It is also used to make
wares that cannot be formed by other methods of shaping. A slip is made
by mixing clay with water, is then poured into a highly absorbent
plaster mold. Water seeping from the slip is absorbed into the mould,
letting the clay taking the shape of the mould. The extra slip can be
poured out of the mould, which is then split open to remove the
finished object. Slipcasting is largely employed in the production of
sanitary wares, intricately detailed figurine work and so on.
material to the clay while being formed, gives the object
different kinds of finishes to the item. The commonest among these
additives are sand and grog, colorants and in some cases, even gold
dust. Many times, the product is glazed with a glassy coating, as it
both ornaments and protects it from damage.
FOLK ART PAINTED TERRACOTTA
The tradition of
pottery making in India is very ancient. Being a
primarily agricultural country, pots for storage of water and grains
were always in demand. It is believed that the actual beginning of
Indian pottery was during the Indus Valley Civilization. This art has
continued to evolve through the ages. There is proof of pottery making,
both handmade and wheel-made, from all over India. In fact, the craft
was well advanced even during the time of the Harappan civilization.
Rectangular ovens for firing the product were in use right back then.
Seals and grain and water containers were made that were put to use
The potter occupies
pride of place in the Indian art milieu. Indian
pottery is rich, colourful and diverse, just like the country herself!
CANE BASKET WEAVER
Basket weaving, also
termed as basketmaking and basketry, refers to the
process of weaving together unspun vegetable fibers into a basket or
similar shape. Basket weaving is made from a variety of pliable,
fibrous materials, such as animal hair, pine straw, hide, grass,
thread, rope and wood. Basically, the material selected to weave the
basket has to be such that it readily forms and stays in some shape.
Basket weavers are also called basketmakers.
In India, the
adivasis or the aboriginal tribes are known for their
brilliantly coloured basket-weaving techniques. They first dye the
twine or similar material and then weave them together in an
impressively elaborate fashion. They either barter these baskets for
other goods, but may also use them for religious purposes.
There are several
types of basketry. "Coiled" basketry uses grasses and
rushes. The "Plaiting" type employs the use of ribbon-like materials,
like yucca and palm, which are tough and can hold better. Roots and
bark are used for the "Twining" type of basketry. The most popular
type, though, is "Wicker", which uses cane, reed, willow, oak and ash.
Baskets have a base,
side walls and the rim. They may also come with
lids and handles. They come in many shapes, sizes and colours and serve
miscellaneous purposes. It all depends on the weaver and his
imagination. Basketmaking is a very ancient skill and dates back to
many thousands of years back. With time, this art too has evolved and
re-invented itself. This is not only an item of utility, but is also
used now for decorative purposes.
In India, Punjab is
known for its spirally built baskets. Sarkanda, a
wild grass growing in swamps, forms the basic material. This is
stitched together with date-palm leaves. Dyed date-palm leaves are
worked in intricate patterns, similar to the geometric patterns of the
Kashmir is known for
its intricately designed willow baskets. Fresh
twigs of the willow tree are woven into delicate designs to make a
variety of baskets which are used in homes and also sold commercially.
The Kangri, an earthen pot in which burning coals are kept on a bed of
ashes, is probably the finest example of basketry in Kashmir. Small
pliable twigs of willows are dyed and coloured foil is pasted to the
outer side of the clay bowl. A lovely lace pattern is worked out of the
twigs, which allows the shining foil to be seen through. Tassels worked
with coloured grass are then hung from the edges to make the finished
object, a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.
Uttar Pradesh has a
tradition of making baskets out of a monsoon grass
called moonj. In North Bihar, coiled baskets are made with the local
rough monsoon grass, which is covered with a golden coloured sikki
grass and dyed in different colours.
GANESHA FACE ON SILVER COLORED WINNOW
In the Terai area of
Bihar, these baskets are decorated with stylised
human and animal figures. Special baskets decorated with tassels made
out of shells are given to the brides on their wedding day. A bride
uses these baskets to carry lunch to her husband while he works in the
fields. The shell tassels tinkle in the breeze, announcing her arrival,
so that the elders of the family move to another area.
In Mysore, the tradition for basket-making here is therefore based on the use of cane. The north-eastern region of India, which comprises of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura has the finest example of cane and bamboo work. Whole bamboos are also used for making containers as the solid knots or nodes of the bamboo make it natural tubular containers. These are used to carry and store liquids, like water and rice beer, store precious pieces of textiles and also to make the ceremonial drinking cups.
Tamil Nadu is famous
for the Chettinad baskets, which are made with
date-palm leaves. The bamboo baskets of Bengal are used for a number of
ceremonial purposes. Kulas, which are winnowing baskets, are not only
used for winnowing; but a special variety is made and painted with
auspicious symbols and is used in the marriage ceremony.
The Charkha or a
spinning wheel is basically a device used for spinning
thread or yarn from natural or synthetic fibers. This device existed
right from the eleventh century in Baghdad, China and Europe. The
spinning wheel replaced the hand spinning method. Here, the fiber is
held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right.
Holding the fiber at a slight angle to the spindle produced the
necessary twist. The spun yarn was then wound onto the spindle by
moving it so as to form a right angle with the spindle.
There are many types
of spinning wheels, such as the great wheel, the
walking wheel, wool wheel, flax wheel, saxony and upright wheels, all
used for different types of yarn and materials.
The Charkha is the proud product of India. The floor or tabletop charkha is one of the most ancient forms of the spinning wheel. The charkha works much like the great wheel, with a drive wheel being turned by hand, while the yarn is spun off the tip of the spindle.
The Charkha may be
etymologically related to Chakra and it was both a
tool and a symbol of the great Indian Independence movement. The
charkha, a small, portable, hand-cranked wheel, is ideal for spinning
cotton and other fine fibers, though it can be used to spin other
fibers as well. The size of a Charkha varies, from that of a paperback
to the size of a briefcase, to a floor charkha.
the Father of the Nation, brought the charkha into
larger use with his teachings. He wanted the charkha to assist the
Indian people achieve self-sufficiency and independence. Hence, he
used the charkha as a symbol of the Indian independence movement and
included it on earlier versions of the Flag of India.
The British colonial
rule was wiping out India's textile production.
Gandhi became a role model for Indians at this time. Gandhiji's idea
was based on a principle that is good for the soil, the producer and
the consumer. He encouraged self-entrepreneurship and appealed to all
to ban all that was foreign and adopt an exclusively Indian way of
life, starting from wearing authentically Indian clothes.
Charkha is also the
name of a voluntary non-governmental organization,
which was set up in 1994, intending to bring issues related to rural
India to the fore. Now, Charkha acts as a link between the villages of
India, activists, NGOs and the media, both national and regional.
A blacksmith creates
objects from iron or steel by forging the metal.
He uses his tools to hammer, bend, and cut the metal into desired
forms. Blacksmiths create things such as tools, agricultural
implements, cooking utensils, railings, grills, wrought iron gates,
horseshoes, weapons, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, decorative
and even religious items.
The black color
occurs due to the fire scale, a layer of oxides that
forms on the surface of the metal during heating. The term 'smith'
originates from the root, 'smite', which means 'to hit'. Therefore, a
blacksmith is a person who smites black metal.
Heating metal makes them soft enough to be shaped
with hand tools, such as a hammer, anvil and chisel. Propane, natural
gas, coal, charcoal or coke are used for the forging process.
also use oxyacetylene or similar blowtorch for more
localized heating. As the iron is heated to increasing temperatures, it
first glows red, then orange, yellow, and finally white; then it melts.
The ideal heat for most forging is the bright yellow-orange color,
rightly referred to as "forging heat." Blacksmiths usually work in dim
light conditions, so that they are able to see the glowing color of the
There are four
techniques of smithing, namely, forging, welding, heat
treating, and finishing. Forging involves five basic operations,
namely, drawing, shrinking, bending, upsetting and punching. An
assistant usually helps in the forging process by repeatedly swinging a
heavy sledge hammer on the metal.
VILLAGE BLACKSMITH FAMILY
Drawing involves lengthening of the
metal by reducing one or more
Shrinking is the opposite process as
drawing. As the edge of a flat
piece is curved, the edge becomes wavy. This portion is heated and the
waves are gently pounded flat to conform to the desired shape.
Heating steel to a "forging heat"
allows bending as if was hard
plasticine. The bending is then done with a hammer over the horn or
edge of the anvil or by inserting a bending fork into the Hardy Hole
and placing the work piece between the tines of the fork and bending
the material to the desired angle.
Upsetting makes the metal thicker in
one dimension through shortening
in the other.
Punching is done to create an
ornamental pattern, or to make a hole. It
can also be used for cutting, or slitting and drifting: these are done
with a chisel.
Welding involves joining a metal to
the same or similar metal.
combination of the above techniques is used to get the
desired shape. After this, the blacksmith applies finishing to the
product, to remove sharp edges and smooth the surface. Wire brushes,
sandpaper and grinding stones may be used for this purpose.
Additionally, some blacksmiths also use oil, wax, paint and varnish to
spruce up the product further.
Hephaestus was the
blacksmith of the gods in both Greek and Roman
mythology. A supremely skilled artisan who used a volcano as his forge,
he created most of the weapons of the gods, and was himself the god of
fire and metalworking.
In Celtic mythology, the role of the Smith is held by eponymous characters, Goibhniu or Gofannon.
Every Indian village
and little town have their very own village
blacksmith. But with the advent of the Industrial Era, the demand for
blacksmiths started dwindling and so, many of them started working as
automobile mechanics, horseshoe and hardware makers and so on.
The priest occupies
prime position in Hindu culture. The priest, who is called Pundit (in
the North), Shastrikal or Vadyar (in the South), hails from the Brahmin
community, the topmost caste in the society. In order to become a
priest, the person has to go through many years of rigorous training.
The person is trained right from childhood in the Vedas, mantras,
Shastras and so on, till he achieves mastery over them. If his Guru is
pleased with his progress, he is declared fit to become a priest and is
absorbed into the fold.
used to be a family profession, with the priest's son becoming a priest
and so on. But this is not necessarily the case today. In the present
time, there are lesser and lesser children being sent to the Veda
Paathashala (school) in order to learn through the ancient Gurukula
(resident student) system.
DHOTI AND STOLE FOR PRIESTS
The family priest, as the term suggests, is closely associated with that particular family. He advises the family on the kind of poojas they should perform and presides over the minor and major poojas conducted by the family. This could include poojas and rituals performed during festivals, the birth of a child, naamkaran (naming ceremony of the child), sacred thread ceremony, wedding rituals, funeral rites and so on.
Some family priests even reckon the person's horoscope at birth and advises him/her about the steps he should take in various stages of his/her life.
priests are not only considered as a medium to the Divine, but also a
friend, philosopher and advisor of the family.
Snake charming is the practice of supposedly "hypnotising" a snake by playing on the "Been", a musical instrument. A snake charmer may also perform other seemingly dangerous stunts, as well as other typical street performance acts, such juggling, sleight of hand and so on. Snake charming is most common in India and can also be seen in some other Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia; and cross-continental countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Many snake charmers live a nomadic life, visiting towns and villages on market days and during festivals. The most popular species of snakes include those that are native to the snake charmer's home region, such as varieties of cobras, vipers and so on.
First, the snake
charmer must get a snake. Traditionally, he goes into the forest to
capture one. Today, the charmers buy them from snake dealers. Snake
charmers usually hold their serpents in baskets or pots hanging from a
bamboo pole slung over the shoulder. These baskets are covered with
cloth between performances.
Snake charmers are
typically dressed - long hair, white turban, wearing earrings and
necklaces of shells or beads. Once the performer finds a location to
set up, he sets his pots and baskets about him and sits cross-legged on
the ground in front of a closed pot or basket. Removing the lid, he
plays the Been or Pungi. The snake ultimately emerges from the
container, seems to sway awhile to the tune and may even extend its
hood. The snake, in most cases, is supposedly trained to sway to the
Serpents are sacred
in Hinduism, since they are related to the Nagas. Snake charmers
were hence considered holy men who were influenced directly by God. The
earliest snake charmers were traditional healers by trade. They would
treat snakebite and remove snakes that had entered people's homes.
The early 20th century was something of a golden age for snake charmers. Governments promoted the practice to attract tourism, and snake charmers were often sent overseas to perform at various cultural festivals. They also provided a valuable source of snake venom for creating antivenins.
charming as a profession, is in danger of dying out today. This could
be due to a variety of reasons, most important among them being the
recent enforcement of a 1972 law in India banning ownership of
Animal rights awareness, the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and deforestation and urbanization could be the other reasons why snake charmers are seen less and less often nowadays. In order to earn a livelihood, these people are now taking to begging or working on daily wage jobs. Snake charmers had organized a protest some years ago, regarding the loss of their only means of livelihood, and the government is at present considering this appeal.
street show which is highly appreciated by spectators of all groups is
the bear and monkey show. The performer roams around the area, along
with his trained bears and/or monkeys. These animals are trained to
perform certain skills like jumping through hoops, clapping the hands,
shaking hands with spectators and so on. The trainer further utters a
few syllables such as "duppudu taiya taiya" and the monkey is trained
to raise its front paws and dance to the rhythm. The trainer also
trains the animals to go around and collect money from all the
spectators, which he uses up to sustain himself and the animals he
This show is hardly
seen on the roads today, owing to the very same Wildlife Protection
We have been able to accomodate only a few of the professions followed in India. We will come back with the second part of this article soon, where we will talk about a few more professions in India.
This article was written by:
Priya Viswanathan, a teacher/performer of Bharata Natyam, Classical Music and Classical Instrumental Veena. A recipient of several awards for both music and dance, Priya is also a freelance writer online. She currently writes for About.com, a subsidiary of IAC - the parent company of Ask.com. (http://mobiledevices.about.com)