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Archive for September, 2010

Kesar in Rajasthan has several connotations.   It is saffron, the most delectable of spices…It is the colour of fragrant, sublime sandalwood…Kesar reflects the golden sand dunes of the region…It symbolizes the aspiration of the people for auspiciousness, plenty and prosperity…It is one of the most favourite colours of choice, singly or in combination with hot pink and bright red, for women’s veils and men’s turbans… Above all, Kesar is the colour of the native Rajasthani’s love and longing for her/his lover… embodied as the Kesariya…

In this arid desert region of vast distances, men of all communities – other than agriculturists – have traditionally, for thousands of years, been compelled to migrate far from home in search of livelihood or fortune… whether as merchants, warriors, herdsmen or artisans.  Given the tradition of early betrothal and marriage, the experience of loneliness and separation came early in the lives of men and women here (Rajasthan’s notorious institution of child marriage, and the resulting maternal and infant death statistics, continue to reflect some of the negative outcomes of this social practice).

Marriages in Rajasthan have always been based on clan exogamy.  And since clans were concentrated in specific regions, marriages generally took place between families located almost 1000 km. apart.  Teenaged daughters left home and parents after marriage,  to live in distant lands with strange families.  A young woman’s emotional sustainability thus  depended on her skill in crafting a mutually supportive relationship with the people in her new and complex social environment.

The only person in this environment with whom she could share a deep intimacy was her husband.  In such a situation, when couples were separated for extended periods due to male migration, they lived in a permanent state of longing for the beloved…a loneliness most poignantly felt by women, for obvious reasons.

All of this is embodied in the popular word-name for lover – Kesariya.  Kesar, thus, is both the colour of and metaphor for… love and longing for…separation from and union with…the beloved.  It is also a popular name in the region for both men (Kesar Singh) and women (Kesar Kanwar).   The arrival of the rains – a deliverance to all – is co-terminus with the longed-for union with the lover.  As one of Rajasthan’s best-loved folk songs goes:

Kesariya baalam, aawo ni,

Padhaaro maaro des…

Sraavan aavan kaha gayo,

Kar gayo kol anek,

Ginta ginta ghis gayee,

Maaree aangaliya ri rekh” ,

Kesariya…”

“My love, please come to me…

All those promises that you made,

That you would be back with the rains.

The days go by, and with them the promises,

Counting them… again and again…

I have worn my fingers down to the bone.

The rains have come, my love,

Come to me…”

Mark Rothko 1957

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