Meeting the blacksmiths in bullcok carts of Rajasthan, N.W. India. - A Dying culture. (Part 1)

9 months ago
25 in travel

In the deserts of Rajasthan in Northern India, out towards the Pakistan border, there are a caste of nomadic blacksmiths who have been living an unchanged life in their bullock carts for the last five centuries, after vowing to God never to sleep in their beds until their king was returned to throne.  They are called the Gadia Lohar - Gadi means bullock cart and lohar means blacksmith.

Today, they are one of the most marginalised communities in India - being classified by the government's caste reservation system as O.B.C. {Other Backward Classes.}  However, in the late-middle ages, blacksmiths were high caste Rajputs as a kingdom depended upon those with the metal working skills to make the weapons.  During the course of several visits, they told me their story.

Their king was Maharana Pratap of Mewar.  As the Muslim Moghul Empire advanced during the sixteenth century, their fellow native, Hindu, Rajput chieftans had mostly submitted to Moghul domination.  But Maharana Pratap had held out.  However, in 1576, he was defeated at the Battle of Haldighati and he fled to the forests, accompanied by his Lohars, the weapon makers.   That night, they vowed never to sleep in their beds until his line was restored to the throne.



However, at the subsequent battle both the Maharana and his sole son were killed, meaning his line had died out forever.  Yet despite their status as Lohar and earning potential had they chosen to serve the Moghuls, they chose not to break a vow made before God.  So they took to their Gadis and travelled around Rajputana {as Rajasthan was then called}, plotting up near different towns and villages for short periods and making tools for the local farmers as required.  

Their life stayed the same during the next 200 years of Moghul rule and the subsequent century and a half of British domination.  Shortly after Independence in 1947, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, went to visit and said that they could at last give up their vow as the country was finally free from all foreign invaders.  Yet they chose to stay true to their holy vow.



Their life continued mostly unchanged for the next 50 years, but in the last decade or so things have become much harder for them.  Cheap, mass-produced Chinese imports have meant that there is no longer as much demand for their work, and they have become one of the most marginalised communities in the country.  Indeed, the state government has had to create a special subset of the O.B.C. caste for the most disadvantaged such as the Lohar - S.B.C. {Specially Backward Classes.}

So having seen off the two greatest empires in modern Indian history in the Moghuls and the British, they are finally being defeated by cheap Chinese imports.

And the previously proud Rajputs are now officially classified as S.B.C. O.B.C.s - literally the lowest of the low.



Unable to educate their children if they travel from place to place and with business declining rapidly, they have conflicting hopes.  Some want to stay true to their vow, but others are trying to make enough money to buy some land and built a house, accepting the harsh realities of the modern, globalised economy.  Basically, I've watched five centuries of sacred history slowly dying before my very eyes.

So when Amazon Prime delivers me a product made in part with cheap, Chinese steel, I know that those few pennies I've saved are behind the eradication of a very special culture.

This is the first time I've used steemit.  But if anyone's interested in this post, I'll continue with a 2nd part where I'll explain how they live now.  How they make their tools on the side of the road with a bicycle wheel fan and hot charcoal, how the skills are passed down from father to son, how their Gadis are the centre of their lives, how they decorate them and use them to make their shelters and how they pack them for their travels.



I'll explain their thoughts on their future and their desires for their children to get an education so they can find another trade and have a better life.

And most interestingly to me, I'll explain how the arranged marriages work.  How they of course only marry within their caste, how they use a Dogra or family elder to match the families and how they always have double marriages so one son and one daughter from each family are married at the same time, meaning they don't need to have dowries and it avoids the dowry-deaths and daughter-in-law abuse common in much of India.

And I'll explain about the marriage of Saroj and Buddharam, the couple I ended up spending most time with.  How, as a Westerner, I'd always been opposed to arranged marriages and how this one really opened my eyes.  How Saroj, the girl, is beautiful with a warm, bubbly, out-going personality, and how Buddharam is ridiculously laid back, probably because he knows that he could have ended up with anyone his parents chose, but that he really hit the jackpot with Saroj. 

 

So while my friends in the West go through relationship breakups, divorce, single parenthood or being cut off from their children, I look at Saroj and Buddaharam, blissfully in love with gorgeous children from a marriage that was arranged for them in which they had no choice whatsoever.  

They may be living on the side of the road with the  bullock and cart, but true love is priceless.

So if you want to hear more of their story, let me know and I'll post it.


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