Project - Organization Marustali


  • Introduction
  • Background and philosophy
  • Running activitites
  • Planned activitites

 Project Marustali    Introduction

With the deep love for the shepherd culture, and the pain in seeing it disappear, Jyoti and Nashi founded Project Marustali.

The Project Marustali was launched with the aim to preserve the shepherds’s own knowledge, traditions and legends, and the knowledge about the shepherds, through photo documentation, audio- and video recordings, research, gathering of items and a small production of textile handicraft, creating a witness of an ancient lifestyle, a disappearing culture, a living heritage of the world.

This work is not an anthropological study and has no academic pretensions. It is completely based on Jyoti’s and Nashi’s personal experience and capability to understand and absorb the local people’s true, unfiltered thoughts and everyday situation, in the life with them as community and family members.

Project Marustali is trying to arouse awareness among the shepherds about the vanishing of their culture and traditions and encourage them to preserve such aspects they themselves feel its worth to preserve, but the people in Rajasthan are generally not at all interested in keeping anything old. -Isn’t it usually like that, only when you have already lost something you will realize its value and miss it?
   In India, that point is not yet reached; the population is fully occupied in getting modern and are not thinking of what they actually still have in their hands: that small ray of the past still shining but which very soon will be no more.
   At this particular, very narrow place, just on the ridge running between tradition and development, it is this small period of time that we have to grasp, while the old people of today are still here with us, while there are still knowledge and items to save.
   Everything needs balance, persons, the world... A balance have to be made between the future and the past.

Misha Lal Gurjar with his uncle and daughter on their way home

The goal is to create a base - a micro-cell of traditional rural life - to be reference point for other projects of different kind, social and cultural activities in direct contact with the local environment and people. At the same time it will be a reference point for visitors - like travellers, students or any one who has the desire to experience a closer contact with India's most concrete reality.

Shree Maharaj Balakdasji, religious leader of the Gurjar community southwards of the holy town of Pushkar (central Rajasthan), in charge of the Gurjar temple ‘Sawai Bhoj Mandir’ in Pushkar, has expressed great appreciation for Project Marustali’s intention and work. He discusses often the Project with visiting villagers and especially elder persons become very touched by the ‘kind thought’, sometimes spontaneously bursting out in saying -Thanks!!.

The result of the work of Project Marustali is available for Photo Exhibitions, Original items Exhibitions, Lectures and Workshops.

  See: Examples of the result of Project Marustali's work   >>>

 Project Marustali    Background and philosophy


"The main wealth of the desert lands of the west and north consists in the vast herds of camels, horned cattle, and sheep which roam over the sandy wastes and thrive admirably in the dry climate"
(Imperial Gazetteer of Rajasthan – 1908)

Wilderness in south Rajasthan

In the past, the shepherd people was the richness of the desert, and the dry rain-poor wilderness was a blessing for the shepherds, a harmonious and fruitful relation which made the area famous for its milk products and wool production. Nomadic shepherds covered huge areas wandering with their flocks and during centuries they developed races which manage well during drought and can walk long distances with only little water and food, and they developed also an own pharmacy of herbal medicines to cure both the animals and themselves. Most often they headed west towards the Indus valley for winter grazing and returned home during summer before the monsoon, but after the Indian-Pakistan border was drawn they were forced to change direction and instead head northeast towards Delhi or east and southeast towards Madhya Pradesh and Maharastra.

Pushkar valley

The ancestors of the Gurjar are thought to have entered into India from the northwest around 500 AD where they were split into various endogamic groups. Today there are both Hindu and Muslim Gurjar, from Afghanistan and Kashmir to Rajasthan and the area which was named after them: Gujarat. Even if they have owned both sheep and goats, they are most associated with cows, and proud of being herders of an animal which is the most venerated and holy in India, they willingly tell the many Hindu myths in which they are named. Now the water buffaloes becomes more and more popular.
   (Jyoti and Nashi have shared most time with the Merwarya Gurjar group of Ajmer region in central Rajasthan.)

Vana Ram Raika, Godwar

Anthropologists have documented that the Raika cast, also known by the name Rabari, has existed since minimum 500 years and they are thought to have originated in Persia or Baluchistan. Today there are approximately 300.000 Raika living in Rajasthan. Traditionally they have been herders of dromedary camels and in their oral epos it is told proudly that the camel was introduced in Rajasthan by the Rajput hero Pabuji with the help of a Raika. The Rajputs were the feudal aristocracy and consisted of the Maharaja, barons and landowners. They used the camels both in their armies and for transportation of people and goods, and it was the Raika who were engaged to breed the camels. This relation continued up to the beginning of the 20th century, and then, except camels they would breed even sheep and goats. There are two different endogamic groups of Raika in Rajasthan, the Maru Raika who are settled mainly in central and west Rajasthan and Chalkia Raika who are settled in the southwest Rajasthan. The Raika cast in Gujarat is called only Rabari.
   (Jyoti and Nashi have shared most time with the Chalkia Raika group of Godwar region in south Rajasthan.)

Being Shepherd is not a Profession, it is a Culture, soon extinguished...

"I am in India since a decade, but looking back on all the changes that I have witnessed during this time, it feels more like a century has passed"    (Nashi -2006)

Throughout history shepherds have, because their livestock demand free and untouched wilderness, been living outside the frames of civilization (town life). The distance to the settled society have survived and even if many of them today have been forced to abandon their traditional work and animals, they do still in many ways live separate, as in India the Rabari/Raika still do. Their communal pride, reserved lifestyle and clear suspiciousness toward other people and communities, have made them one of the groups that have stood outside of development and modernity and therefore they are often seen with less respect by those who have gone through the 'modernization'. These shepherds have though, by the same reason, been able to preserve their specific traditions and have become a unvaluable window to the past.

The number of camels in Rajasthan has decreased around 70 % the last decade mainly because of scarcity of grazing lands (increased agriculture and deforestation). The elders of today and very few youngers, are the last ones who will ever be shepherds in its true sense. Their lifestyle, with all cultural aspects included, is drawing on its last breath. The shepherds of India have been marginalized to leave place for the much more popular farming, as it has happened for so many shepherds around the world since ancient times. The traditions, handicrafts, songs, legends and practical knowledge that have born, lived and developed during thousands of years and been part of million of peoples lives, is now only living in a few persons's memory and a few survived material examples, not always in cautious hands.

If just looking a little closer at the work, the jewellery, everyday rituals, thoughts and attitude of this vulnerable, but despite everything still surviving culture, anyone can see the similarities with the world wide shepherd culture as in the history of Middle-East and Europe, from the biblical world and ancient Greece to the world of the Celts and Germans. These shepherds in Rajasthan are unaware bearers of the last living traces of a world heritage, still owning some of the world's "family treasures".

Seeing these similarities is a surely a great source of inspiration. Since Nashi and Jyoti live thoroughly inside this culture, in a deep relation with its people, they have many stories from their first hand experiences to share, and outside of the main trend of pointing out the diversities –an attitude which create separation, fear and scepticism, Nashi and Jyoti prefer to concentrate on the similarities:

"To link together and see what we have in common, is the best way to approach and create a relation with a person, a country or a culture, and hence being able to build a platform for understanding. Understanding itself is the platform to a more human world"

"In nature any stranger is an enemy who has to be killed, to avoid to be killed oneself. This instinct the human beings are carrying as a seed even today and makes us turning antagonistically to every new thing or person and reject it/him immediatly, just seeing the differences... Only putting attention on the similarities instead, can lead us to overcome the bestial stage and recognize others as potential friends, only this will make us evolve beyond"

Questions at issue

Heritage: Culture – Heritage: World
The words Cultural Heritage and World Heritage have become too much synonymous with buildings and places part of the world's architectural treasure, which are concrete and static things, made and completed in history, all immensely valuable in their own accord, but somehow the more wide definition of Heritage is therefore becoming hidden. The living, creative and dynamic folk cultures are left out of people's attention, thus the profound meaning of Heritage is being forgotten. By flipping the words they might be more clear, making them more personal, they make you point inwards and put yourself the question: What is it that I inherit? The Culture. What is it that I inherit? The World.

Significance of loss
Focus should be made on all the world's folk cultures and intangible cultures which are drowning and disappearing in the modern world, and the significance of loosing them. For whom will it be a loss? What will I lose?

Benefits of preserving 
Many questions can arise. Which are the benefits of saving the living cultural heritages? Which are the benefits for modern people? Which role could these cultural heritage's play in the lives of modern people? How and why is many people's searching for 'cultural roots' born? Can this heritage facilitate meeting of people of different cultures?

Environmental aspect
Because scarcity of rain in this dry area, and thus difficulties to cultivate, Rajasthan has been for centuries the shepherds's Promised Land, famous for its milk production. But after the introducing of the diesel/electrical pumps, the ground water could be used and consequently the farming was largely increased and subventioned, which has forced the shepherds to the margin so extensively that they can no more survive as shepherds and thus their culture and knowledge vanish. The entire Gurjar community has soon become farmers, while the Raika/Rabari youths are going to work in factories in the big cities to sustain their families. Now, Rajasthan is facing a heavy scarcity of ground water (in many places it has already finished) but the farming continues. When the time will come when the water to the cultivation has finished totally, then the shepherd culture will also have finished totally, and then we will stand with no alternative... What will we do?

Shepherd today
Is there any future at all for the world's all shepherd communities?

A traditional cupboard for grain storage
Decorations on a traditional cupboard for grain storage made of mud, hay and cowdung, created by a Gurjar woman in the 1950's

What is knowledge?

"Mangu Ba (Mangi Lal Gurjar) is an old shepherd man with the profound consciousness about the imminent end of an ancestral reality in which survival depended only of the knowledge of the earth. In the coming world, he knows such knowledge will not be enough, he thinks that in the coming world, which inevitably advances on the horizon, a future is guaranteed only with the knowledge enclosed in the books, with a scholastic education he blame himself of not having offered to his children.
'But before', he justifies himself, 'the earth was enough to itself, then of what importance would it have been to know to read. There was nothing else to read than the earth'.
And the earth Mangu Ba certainly knows to read. He wouldn't gaze beyond the pen of his livestock, the boundaries of his pastures, understanding every mooing of the cows, every whisper of his land, rightly king of that environment. Now instead, that environment is oppressed by the advancing of the world of the books, of an immense world, unknown.. noisy.. and Mangu Ba finds himself for the first time inhibited. Pensive, with the glance at the horizon, border of his world, he worries about the future of his grandchildren. And he feels severely uneasy, inadequate, with all those who come from that unknown world, those who don't speak the language of the earth but that of the books"


We can thus imagine the confusion and surprise he felt when he met Jyoti, who even though coming from the most remote corner of that unknown world, is perfectly part of his reality, not giving him any feeling of discomfort. They sit down together and chat as any two shepherds would do, and Mangu Ba, underlining his feeling of ease, once told to Jyoti that he is the "Para-lika jo vapis anpar hogaya" (Literate who has turned illiterate again).

"That is definitely the best compliment I ever got"

Jyoti and Mangu Ba with his grandchildren sitting together by the cattle pen
Jyoti and Mangu Ba with his grandchildren sitting together by the cattle pen.

In today's society, it's true that the only knowledge considered valid is coming from papers, and if you don't have any papers that show that you know, you are considered not knowing. Knowledge never written down, never passed on by books, is not considered worth, knowledge based on experience has no place any more, even if that is what could be called the only Real knowledge, the Original, because it derives from the very Self and from Experience, and is not just copied by the mind.

In the west there is still the general attitude of modern western culture always being more important and superior to the third world. The third world, often accepting that vision, keeps indigenous knowledge out of sight and support, especially if it belongs to people of the margin. The more this attitude is enhanced, the more it makes the world, in total, loose a lot of valuable knowledge.

Old and New knowledge can exist parallel.

Culture Vs Development or Culture And Development?

Culture has always to stand back and give way for development, but without culture, without roots, the development cannot be very stable, we need the balance. In the third world, particularly in India, the changes are now racing so immensly quick. The contrasts between millennia-old traditions and new development can therefore be too huge to digest, the gap of centuries being too wide to jump for many village pople, and this creates much suffering.

Words of thought

"Without the power of myth and history, putative change will be unimaginable and possibly without roots. Art, life and the process of change (or development) move together and it would be a mistake to approach a community and its Development without engaging with its own ways of expressing, celebrating and evolving its own culture. It is a mistake frequently made by Development agencies for a number of mostly logistic and economic reasons. The power of the arts and the germane role of Culture as it governs all our social responses is largely ignored. A process that fosters human dignity, and therefore empowerment, can instead embrace change … it is a crossing of the border between art and life"
(Alex Mavrocordatos, King Alfreds College, Southhamptons Univeristy, England)

"... cultural barriers as well as attitudes of arrogance about knowledge and vertical practices, have not allowed donors, planners and governments to establish a dialogue with beneficiaries. Indigenous knowledge is best perceived as an acceptable claim from communities, but rarely considered as one of the main components of Development."
(Alfonso Gumusio Dagron ‘Story of Particiaptory Communication for Social Change’)

A Raika/Rabari boy in the modern Delhi suburb Dwarka
A Raika/Rabari boy from a nomad family of Rajasthan, last generation of shepherds, at an open field in the modern Delhi suburb Dwarka.

  See: Examples of the result of Project Marustali's work   >>>

 Project Marustali    Running activities


Project Marustali's aim is to document the shepherds' traditional lifestyle, work and handicrafts, their costume, jewellery and accessories, their ceremonies, religious life, legends and songs, their dwellings and utensils. The documentation is made with photos as well as video and audio recordings. The aim is to have an archive of material describing the culture as complete as possible.

The photos, made by Nashi, tell a story and give the spectator a feeling of contest, a deeper insight and an inside view: a more concrete idea of how life is like in this place for these people. Many of the photos are made as a series, where you are initiated into various elements in a specific situation, to follow a course of events.

"The photographs by Nashi are reaching a noticeable depth, a rare feeling of contact and intimacy. It can be seen that they are made with humbleness and that the camera is met with embracement. That's why the realism is so clear and the everyday life described so near, that's why they are so personal, dynamic and alive. A hidden part of India is becoming unfolded, visible"
(Rekha Singhal, Director India Tourist Office - Stockholm 2000)

For the villagers in Rajasthan, a camera is still an object that they have no much experience of, but sees as a sign of richness, something that people gain money from, something that the 'gora lok' ('fair people' -westerners) as well as rich Indian city people, tourists and photographers all the time carries and most of the times clicks intrusively, in a great distance to the photographed.

"For me the most important thing has been not to compromize our friendships and our possibility of living in the villages. Photographing has actually always been secondary. Particularly the women are reluctant to be photographed, and I don't want them to feel insecure, I don't want in anyway to disturb them, their feelings are far more important than any photo. When I pick up the camera, mostly after years of relation, at the point when a camera would no longer create a feeling of observation and separation, but is creating moments of a family activity, they are completely relaxed. They say: '-I would never have let anybody else than you photograph me'. It's all about confidence."

The photos made by Nashi are a blend of portraits, documentation of daily life, work, handicrafts and various ceremonies. They tell a story and give the spectator a feeling of contest, a deeper insight and an inside view: a more concrete idea of how life is like in this place for these people. Many of the photos are made as a series, where you are initiated into various elements in a specific situation, to follow a course of events. The aim is to have an archive of photos describing the culture as complete as possible.

Sequence nr 1   Sequence nr 2
Sequence nr 3 . Sequence nr 4

An intimate moment between women: Ganesh Dadi Gurjar is getting her hair plaited after bath.

Part of the documentation are also photos from old books/private collections and village families' photo albums.

Raika/Rabari (Mardumashumari Raj Marwar - 1895)   Gurjar (Mardumashumari Raj Marwar - 1895
Anni Ma Gurjar – 2008   Bawri and her friend – 1950s

Anni Ma Gurjar shows the old photo of her loved daughter Bawri, to the left, who died in young age. To the right a friend of Bawri

Except making own live audio and video recordings, Project Marustali also purchases studio recorded cassettes/CDs of traditional folk songs and music.


The Project Marustali's collection of items aim to save them from a definite vanishing and from being destroyed, saving them for the future as a witness and treasure of the past: costume, textile, accessories, gold- and silver jewellery, traditional utensils and carpets. The effort is to make the collection as complete and descibing as possible. A fascinating part of the collection is the number of textile fragments found in old quilts. Jyoti and Nashi have managed to discover fragments up to eighty years old, securing a highly valuable evidence of the costume of the past.

Costume   Accessory   Jewellery


A small production and sale of textile handicrafts to arouse a new interest and motivation for the people to use and protect their ancient knowledge and transfer it to younger generations, thus keeping it alive.

In the production project, the women are the key figures since most textile work is done by women. The secondary aim of the production is to give women an opportunity to use their knowledge for an economic contribution to the family.

Development specialists realize now that women are the real need for making changes on the Indian countryside:

"If we seriously want to give next generations a better life than this, we have to give the mothers bigger control over financial resources"
(Gotz Schreiber, Senior Economist on World Bank's Women in Development Office)

Studies in Indian villages have shown that the increasing of a village woman's income increases the family's living standard, but generally, the increasing of a man's income does not. Women tend to spend their resources in a more constructive way and hence they form the main factor in a development where the basic needs are more satisfied.

The production is specifically engaging women who are young widows, divorced and other women in such situations and the income from the work can help them to have more power over their own lives.

Santa Bai Gurjar   Santa Bai Gurjar   Santa Bai Gurjar

Santa Bai Gurjar embroideries a veil for Project Marustali, reviving old traditional knowledge, patterns and techniques.

Santa Bai Gurjar

Santa Bai Gurjar showing her work, a memory of her own culture and tradition born from the research and efforts of Project Marustali.

The finnished veil


Close-up of the completed work.


Research about the aspects of traditional life, work and ceremonies, including the writing down of tales, legends, stories, songs and recepies as well as making audio and video recordings with interviews and talks.

  See: Examples of the result of Project Marustali's work   >>>

 Project Marustali    Planned activities

Point of reference for visitors

Offering guidance by Jyoti and Nashi: 'The Key to India', the Base would have the opportunity of making it easier for foreign visitors, as an important link between two different worlds. Giving the unique chance of a deep contact with the people, their life and culture.
Offering also crash courses in Hindi (the language and its use), and courses in the traditional handicrafts.
In cooperation with schools and universities, companies, aid organisations and NGO's, the base can be used by students or workers as a starting point for own research and work.

Nomad caravan

Beside the Base, Marustali Org. is planning a 'pastoral caravan' travelling in the surrounding, which visitors to the Base can join to get a glimpse of the traditional nomadic life of the shepherds.



© 2001 - 11 JYOTI & NASHI