Would you pay someone to cry on your loved one’s death?
Doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc are some professionals we can find today. Fashion Designing, Interior Designing, Event Management, etc are some professions we would like to join in. But would you ever like to be a professional mourner? Would you cry at a death of a stranger for money? Well, not today, but our Indian Culture was home to one such profession, where the lower caste ladies were hired to cry at a death by the upper class people. And such lower class women are known as ‘Rudaalis’. Along with the loud hues and cries they also sing along some songs in praises of the deceased. It’s like giving an eulogy to the deceased person.
Since the upper class women are not allowed to show their grief due to their status in the society, these Rudaalis are hired to cry on their behalf. They trade their tears in exchange for money. Hiring such professional mourners was considered as an act of social status at that time.
Also read:- Are we caged birds?
This profession was mainly practised in Rajasthan, India during the 19th and 20th century.
Black Odhni is their uniform. Because black was considered as the colour of death and it was also the favourite colour of the death god, Yamraja. Their long necks tattooed into big traditional symbols and big eyes shaded into black kohl, always ready to flow whenever given a call. Along with the loud crying, they were also supposed to create a scene by beating their chests and slapping the floors for the next 12 days. Because, the more dramatic the act, the more it is talked about by the neighbours. They take a small lunch break from the crying and shouting and relish on the leftover rotis and raw onions provided by the relatives. And then continue with the same performance again by chanting,“Hey Raam, Hey Raam”
There’s a popular excerpt from The Lost Generation,
“As long as a woman has a husband, she has esteem in the village.”
When a young woman loses her husband, especially the lower caste woman, she is considered unlucky and blamed for her husband’s death. And then she is forced to do this black odhni to earn a living.
In the Darogi community, the Rudaalis also worked as Daoris (mistresses) to the Thakurs of the Haveli. They used to live in a small hut outside the Haveli and take care of the Thakur’s kids during the day and used to please them at the nights, and also used to work as professional mourners. The kids born to these Rudaalis had no father and they used to work at lower posts for these Thakurs. And if any girl was born to these Thakurs then she is killed off immediately to avoid dowry at the time of her marriage. And the daughters born to these Rudaalis used to continue with their mothers profession. As they used to work for the Thakurs, they would take care of them financially.
There’s a popular Rudaali saying,
Pando bhalo na kosko, beti bhali naek Leno bhalo na baapko, sahib rakhya tek.
[Walking on foot even for a mile is not favoured, nor is the birth of a single daughter.
A debt of one’s father is not favoured, so may God protect us from these misfortunes.]
They considered daughters as unlucky and female foeticide was also practised here.
The Rudaalis of the Mirasi community worked independently and went to mourn for someone’s death, when called for. They did not serve the Thakurs; hence, they had to fend for themselves.
Today, this is one of the dying professions in our country. In some parts of Rajasthan, we can still find this being practised but it has decreased with time. I am glad that this societal dogma has been slowly moving out from our country. With the wave of feminism going on and woman standing equally to men, with time this profession will be eradicated completely. People nowadays tend to have silent funeral, so these Rudaalis don’t get any work. Slowly with time, even they are moving out of this and exploring new opportunities. They are learning that their talent is not just limited to crying loudly, but there are other interesting things worth their time and their efforts.
They’re more than what they’ve been confined into. The society made them into Rudaalis, but they chose to rise above the superstition and changing times. You’re a human first, your clan or caste comes second. We respect to the human in you. No work is big or small. They cry to earn a living for themselves and lead an independent life, but still they aren’t given the respect they deserve. So no matter what work you do and which caste you belong to, you are a human first. And we need to respect that.
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