Women now prefer lighter, ‘modern’ clothes to heavy ghagra-cholis
Chandri never stitched Lambani clothes but wears them every day. To her, money matters more than conserving her culture. In Gajendragad taluk of Gadag district, Lambanis, the community Chandri belongs to, are in a minority but the most visible people because of their colourful clothes and accessories. Their culture is fading for many reasons.
Chandri lives with her husband and two children in a 20×20 house. Her husband who earns Rs 200 to Rs 250 a day by cleaning tables in a nearby eatery, said the house is ancestral and the only asset they have. Twenty years ago, the couple used to live in Latur, Maharashtra, making a living by digging earth for to lay phone cables.
Asked why she doesn’t care about preserving her culture, she replied that she and her husband used to receive a monthly old-age pension of Rs 1,000 from the Karnataka government, but for the past four years, they have not got any help.
Sandur’s Lambani clothes received a GI tag, but in Gajendragad, there is no such tag.
Around 1,000 families live in Gajendragad’s Lambani Thanda. As colorful as their attire are their houses, which have comparatively cooler rooms that are painted sky blue and white.
Shop owners and tailors who sell traditional Lambani clothes suffer losses every year. One such shop owner, Andappa Shivappa Rathod, said he sells one ghagra-choli for Rs 2,000. During Covid, he said, he incurred huge losses. Even now, he invests Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh, but is only able to make sales of Rs 50,000.
Rathod, whose shop is named Kasturi Bayi Rathod, said he has been making and selling Lambani clothes for the past 40 years in Lambani Thanda. He buys raw material from Hubballi and Gadag for Rs 3 lakh. The prominent material is cotton which he says is very costly.
Covid was the harshest phase he faced. He had to shut his shop down. He survived the difficult phase by working on his two-acre jowar farm.
By selling Lambani dresses, he earns only Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 per month. During the wedding season, his sales go up. “The government does not help us,” he said.
For some, Lambani attire is too-old fashioned. Dhanava Shekhappa Rathod, president of the Rajur gram panchayat, laughed and said: “If I wear a Lambani dress, my children will say I am old-fashioned. The dress is very heavy; I cannot carry it every day.”
Most Lambani women have stopped wearing traditional clothes because it takes a lot of time — nearly one year — to stitch a ghagra-choli. Another reason is changing taste. Younger women like to wear light clothes.
Shilpa Rathod, a woman in her twenties, said she does not know how to stitch Lambani clothes. She does not wear them either as they are too long and difficult to carry in summer. She wears traditional Lambani clothes only on festivals like Dasara and Diwali.
Declining interest in culture does not always indicate financial issues or a changed in preferences. Many Lambanis are progressing with education. Chatrappa Rathod, a Lambani farmer, said since it takes a lot of time to make Lambani clothes, it is better for women to wear the sari. His sadness was visible when he was asked about his community’s waning traditions, but he shook it away by saying he has four children, two of whom are doctors and one is doing MBBS.
There are Lambani women who used to stitch ghagra-choli, topli, ganno, ghero, buriya, kodi, kache, patiyaa, ghughi and badlu.
Devakka, who seems to be in her seventies, said she doesn’t know her age. When The Observer entered her house, she was stitching ganno, a clothing which has small pieces of glass and many different colours. “Earlier I used to sell these (gannos and other pieces); now I feel weak. Nowadays women don’t wear these clothes; they wear saris and lehengas,” she said.
Hailing from Bagalkot, Devakka had to leave her husband’s house after his death. She now lives in her daughter’s house in Lambani Thanda in Gajendragad.
But a few like Umava Rathod and her 23-year-old daughter are positive that Lambani clothing will sustain for a very long time.
Umava showed The Observer her favourite work “Gor Banjara ki Kasuti”, a garment given to girls at their weddings.
“This is our samskruti,” said Shruti, daughter of Umava.
The ghagra-cholis Umava stitches are sold for Rs 30,000 to filmmakers in Maharashtra and Gadag. “That Hindi film which has the Dola Re Dola Re song had clothes that we stitched,” said Shruti.
But sales are rare. It takes Umava a full year to stitch a dress which is not much in demand.
In 2021, Prabhu Bhamla Chavan, a three-time MLA from BJP took oath wearing a traditional Lambani attire.
In January 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi distributed 52,000 land title deeds among Lambanis in Yadgir, Kalaburagi, Bidar, Raichur and Vijayapura districts.
Rama Naik, a research scholar, wrote in a report published by India Today that Lambanis “constitute for a minute vote-bank” in various parts of Karnataka. Hence, no party helps them grow. The article said Lambanis do not enjoy the benefits of several government schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and are not entitled to the monthly supply of foodgrains under the Public Distribution System.
Lambani is a tribe, which according to various online sources, migrated from Europe to Afghanistan and then to Rajasthan during Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s period. The community helped him carry goods to southern India. Lambanis, also called Banjaras, and are known for the colourful clothes and traditional dance performances.