The ship of the desert or Camels are naturally adapted to the way of life in a desert.
North Western Rajasthan is the natural home to these enchanting creatures of God.
Numerous folk tales recite the tales of how the camels came to inhabit Earth.
Goddess Parvati ( the consort of Lord Shiva) is fabled to have sculpted the Camels from clay and the Lord is supposed to have infused the breath of Life in them.
The story goes on to say they initially had 5 legs, but were then unable to walk, so Lord Shiva folds the fifth leg and pushes it into the chest, this then forms the hump and leaves a mark as well.
The story continues as the Camels create mayhem by going about their merry ways and eat up all the foliage. The Lord Shiva then creates the RAIKA (also called Chaamad) from his body( chamdi or skin ) to tend to camels and thus restore order.
The Raika are a unique community of camel herders and breeders who survive to this day in the colourful state of Rajasthan in India.
The following picture shows three Raika men in traditional attire with their musical instruments at the extravagant annual musical festival RIFF held at Jodhpur.
The backdrop is that of a hand painted Phad which tells the epic story of a local deity Pabuji.
( more on this in a separate post)
The Raika firmly believe they were born for only one purpose, that is to take care of Camels.
Their lifestyles and future are thus delicately bound to Camels.
With modernization and mechanization, the demand for Camels as a means of transport has sharply declined.
Spinning yarn from Camels hair and making Carpets and other textile products is one of several ways for the Raika to survive.
Do notice the leaves at the back of the gorgeous turban of the elderly Raika.
The extremely intricate relation between nature, animals and man is highlighted by the lifestyles of this amazing and enchanting community called THE RAIKA.
A closer look at the Bobbins shows how the Raika use the twigs of the desert trees and camel’s hair.
The gorgeous but large turban is made from 10 yards ( 9 metres) of cloth.
This large cloth acts as a protection against the scorching heat of the desert , as a tether for camels and also as protection against angry camels.
The elderly Raika has Camel’s milk in his hand in a practical and environment friendly container, the leaf of the Aak Shrub.
The desert is an unusual forest and the preservation of water is a compulsory adaption for all forms of life.
The Aak ( Hindi and Sanskrit ) bush , Apple of Sodom ( English) , Calotropis procera ( scientific name) ) is used extensively by the Raika .
The leaves of the Aak have been used extensively by the Ayurvedic school of medicine for centuries and are supposed to be a great antidote to snake bites and a cure for jaundice as well.
The Raika thus always keep the leaves tucked away in their extensive headgear.
The leaves of the Aak make ideal containers to drink Camel’s milk. They are large , leathery and do not permit liquids to seep through them.
The flowers of the Aak are revered and garlands are made from them and offered to Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva is also supposed to have absorbed the poison from the churning of the Ocean and saved all living beings from its effects.
The milky sap of the Aak bush also contains some of the most vicious poisons like Calotropin.
Much like Lord Shiva, the Raika have learnt how to transform the naturally occurring poison into a cure for numerous ailments.
The Raika are a living enigma and a wonderful example of Mythology coming to life.
Their beliefs and way of life are a wonderful example of maintaining harmony with nature even under adverse and harsh circumstances.
The Raika are a truly amazing community but struggling to survive and preserve their ancient customs and way of life.
Have experienced only a small glimpse of the Raika at the RIFF at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.
I believe there is a CAMEL FESTIVAL which celebrates this community in early November in Pali district of Rajasthan.
Keep reading as more posts will follow.