Thursday, May 9, 2013

Young Girl, Banjara Community, Rajasthan, India, November 10, 2009

While working with Nirvana and his team at Nirvanavan Foundation, I stay in a local hotel which also happens to employ a young man from the Banjara Community. Like many of the young men working on the premise, his demeanor is quiet and courteous.

One evening a conversation ensued about my almost obsession with this community and the young man offered to show us his community, and others like it, near his home. While this was outside of our collaboration, Nirvana offered his team to me and access to transportation in order to get all of us to this area. We arranged a morning when the young man was free from his duties at the hotel and headed out to meet his community.

Tucked away from the main road were perhaps four or five small clusters which we were able to visit. It was so early in the morning that the young children in the first set of homes were just waking up and getting themselves ready. We went from one cluster to another photographing mostly children, always with the permission of the adults.

In the image above a few girls happened to be present and allowed me to photograph them in their casual clothing and their more formal wear. They stooped down next to a fire pit and their skin tones meshed beautifully with the surrounding hues. The camera was place higher than them in order to isolate the figures from the environment, and to also bring a more even light to their faces.

After almost every girl an older man would chime in a bit regarding the photography, and he would be assured of the purpose behind the work. The girls on the other hand only wanted us to continue and changed their outfits at the drop of a pin. For me there are few equals to this community and they have intrigued me ever since my arrival to India almost seven years ago.

According to Wikipedia:

The word "Banjara" must have evolved from Prakrit and Hindi and Rajasthani words "Bana/Ban or Vana/Van" meaning Forest or Moorlands and "Chara" meaning 'Movers'. The Banjara are (together with the Domba) sometimes called the "Gypsies of India".
The word Banjara is a deprecated, colloquial form of the word of Sanskrit origin. The Sanskrit compound-word vana chara, "forest wanderers" was given to them presumably because of their primitive role in the Indian society as forest wood collectors and distributors.
Women are known to wear colorful and beautiful costumes like phetiya (as ghagra) and kanchalli (as top) and have mehendi tattoos on their hands. They use mirror chips and often coins to decorate it. Women put on thick bangles(bandiya) on their arms (patli). Their ornaments are made up of silver rings, coins, chain and hair pleats are tied together at the end by chotla.

Their name, the manner of dress and their visible independence from the communities around them have few parallels in my experience.

It seems clear to me that I need to further study this community, devote an entirely new space to it within my portfolio and treat it more comprehensively through the photography. For my visit to India this year I intend to begin this process and hope that the foundation will lend an initial hand in providing guidance and support.
Halim Ina Photography

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