If a hamlet looks bleak, it is hardly surprising: the resources for building these homes, which are the most eco-friendly living unit, are made with what is available at hand, and in Rajasthan, and particularly so in its western desert regions, this can mean precious little. A village that is even a little larger may have pucca houses, or larger living units, usually belonging to the village zamindar family. Consisting of courtyards, and a large nora or cattle enclosure, attached to one side or at the entrance, these are made of a mixture of sun-baked clay bricks covered with a plaster of lime. Floor are made with a mixture of pounded lime, limestone pebbles, and water.
Decorative facades in such unites are limited to creating a texture in the plaster in the facade, or using simple lime colours to create vibrant patterns at the entrance, and outside the kitchen. These homes capture, for many of its residents, the only cosmos they know. For the women, but for visits within the village community, the only social occasions were in the nature of pilgrimages which were usually combined with fairs. But it is when they step out that the stark desert and the village break unto a feast of colour: turbans bob past in saffron and red; skirts billow beneath mantles that veil the faces of their women – if they didn’t, the jewels that glint on their foreheads and faces would add to the shocking surprise of their magentes and oranges, their blues and greens and pinks. Trims of gold ribbon add to this feast of colour, and bangles jangle not just on wrists, but all the way up to the arms above the elbow. Into the bleak, baking hamlets of the desert, the people breathe life that is palpable, carrying in their jaunty strides, the spirit that is their destiny.
Each village is a multicommunity settlement, the various castes creating a structure of dependence based on the nature of their work. While changes are being wrought in this structure, with ceilings on land holding, and with the young seeking exployment opportunities in towns distant from their villages, the social fabric has still not been rent. At the head of the village settlement are usually the Rajputs, the warrior race whose kings ruled, till recently, over these lands. The Rajputs served their kings, joining their armies, and raising their cavalries, but an attendant pursuit was as agriculturists. Often, they employed labour to work on their extensive fields, and kept cattle for dairy produce: in fact, the cattle density in Rajasthan is very high, and milk from desert settlements is supplied to the large cities close to the state, including Delhi.
The Rajput homes, therefore, came to be the fulcrum around which village life revolved. In their employ were the bards and minstrels who sang their praises in verse and song; tradesment supplied them, and the others in the community, with the goods required for their daily lives, and this was little, since they grew their grains on their own lands; the potters and carpenters were required for their services; and if the village were large enough, there were also ornament makers and cloth dyers and printers. The priests of the Brahmin families cast horoscopes, performed the elaborate rituals of their festive ceremonies, and served at the temples.