Hansiba Museum: Rabari Styles

On the attire and traditions of a pastoralist nomadic community scattered across the deserts of western India.

By SEWA Hansiba Museum

SEWA Hansiba Museum

Hansiba Museum (interior)SEWA Hansiba Museum

Rabari traditions

The Rabaris are a Hindu pastoralist nomadic community scattered across the deserts of western India. Traditionally, they earned their livelihood by grazing sheep, and tending to herds of cattle and buffaloes. The inhabitants of Radhanpur, Santalpur and adjoining areas in Eastern Gujarat belong to the Vagadia Rabari and Desi Rabari groups. The women of this community practice fine embroidery that has become eponymous.

A Rabari FamilySEWA Hansiba Museum

A Rabari Family

Religion is important in the Rabari community and finds its influence in many of their daily use textile pieces, with motifs inspired from mythology and from their desert surroundings. Picture here is the front of a Rabari home. It usually has a small verandah, but as the facade here is not a fully walled area, the inside room acquires a verandah's function.

Rabari MenSEWA Hansiba Museum

Traditional male attire among the Rabari

This photo shows Rabari men across generations, and in a range of clothing - it is common for children to be in western wear, but the old man (in the background) is in the traditional all-white, while the young men are wearing colorful embroidered shirts.

Relaxation TimeSEWA Hansiba Museum

Rabari men are distinctive for their white turbans. It is a long piece of cloth and hence, when tied, becomes and can look immense!

The Rabari are a nomadic community, migrating with their cattle during summer to greener areas from dry regions. In the monsoons and winters, they're able to relax at home, usually on a locally-made charpai (a bed with four posts.)

Kediyu (Pleated Top for Men)SEWA Hansiba Museum

Traditional upper attire for Rabari men

Male Pant Drape, Dhoti StyleSEWA Hansiba Museum

Traditional lower attire for Rabari men, which is in a dhoti style.

An old Rabari Woman in plain black woollen garmentSEWA Hansiba Museum

An olde Rabari woman in a plain black woolen garment 

A Rabari widow wears distinctly dark clothing with no surface ornamentation. This is unique, as the traditional attire in India for funerals or widows is white. 

Dark Rabari Clothing, From the collection of: SEWA Hansiba Museum
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A Rabari Bride's Chunni, 2016, From the collection of: SEWA Hansiba Museum
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Dark coloured Chunni (head gear) with intricate motifs. Usually worn by the Brides.

Ludaki (Headgear), From the collection of: SEWA Hansiba Museum
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Ludaki (woolen head cloth)

A unique combination of tie-dye and embroidery, this head cloth is normally woven in two parts in wool and joined in the center by multicolored hand embroidery. It is worn by married girls when they go to their husband’s home for the second time after their wedding. Ludaki are not worn by the elderly ladies of the community or widows.

Girls from Rabari Community, From the collection of: SEWA Hansiba Museum
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Cho Bagli (Jacket)SEWA Hansiba Museum

Cho Bagli (Jacket for Kids)

This is an embroidered baby jacket, part of a set of 5 pieces. This is part of the woman's 'jeeanu' - the dowry at first delivery. The yellow interlacing motif border in the front panels is called khari kaangri while the scattered square pattern interspersed with mirrors is called khaapchaukdi.

Topla (Cap)SEWA Hansiba Museum


The topla is decorated with intricate beadwork and buttons and hence is referred to as motivaro. This headgear - for children - is worn on the first Holi (the festival of colours) after birth during the ceremony by the uncle of the child ("mama or kaka fera").

Dharaniyo (Covers)SEWA Hansiba Museum

Dharaniyo (Decorative Textile Covers)

A decorative quilt cover used for festive occasions such as lagan, mata no mandvo etc. It in embroidered in two styles (mocha bharat and patchwork) displaying the skillful hands of an artisan adept at these two crafts forms.

Chaakla (Wall Decoration)SEWA Hansiba Museum

Chaakla are square household decorations hung on the walls usually in pairs.

They are embellished with embroidered stitches and mirrors.

Storage Jars With MirrorworkSEWA Hansiba Museum

Storage jars With mirrorwork

The traditional mirror work on the wall which was found only in one house now, since all others were destroyed in the 2001 earthquake. Its significance is enhanced, as it is sadly a dying tradition in this part of Gujarat. The patterns of the mirrors on the wall are very similar to the motifs on the clothes of the ladies in the village. The main difference is that the wall is only white while the garments are full of colours. Such mirror decorations on the wall have found value on storage articles which are very common in Rabari households. The middle one is used for storage of food grain on daily basis - like milk, curd and bread etc., while side ones would contain dry grain storage article (Kothi). Also seen in this image is a little part of the inside bedroom of the house. We see tiny spot lights falling on the floor. These are caused due to the gaps in the roof of the house, which was simply a criss-cross mesh of some material like bamboo.

Credits: Story

Online exhibit:
Reema Nanavaty
Tejas Raval
Neeta Trivedi
Parul Sagarwala
Savita Patel

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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