This museum is different, literally in every sense. The word museum generally conjures up images of a place where antique pieces and items with historical importance are displayed for the present generation to learn. This museum is different as it focuses on current life and processes followed by indigenous communities.
Arna-Jharna, a unique ethnographic museum in Rajasthan, was set up by the late Komal Kothari. The museum, which celebrates traditional knowledge systems and lifestyles of the rural communities of the desert state, is now a big draw for tourists visiting Jodhpur.
Focusing on creative strategies of survival, it links everyday cultural practices to larger ecological concerns. Jodhpur-based Rupayan Sansthan, a folklore research institute set up by the late folklorist and oral historian Komal Kothari, has conceived the museum as a holistic exploration of living folk traditions and a treasure trove of contemporary ethnographic objects, in addition to housing a library and an audio-visual archives centre.
The first-of-its-kind museum, celebrates the open spaces of the vast Thar desert, including its flora and fauna.
Designed as a rural stone hutment, the museum is nestled between desert
medicinal plants in a 10-acre land.
Rupayan Sansthan Secretary Kuldeep Kothari said: “A museum of folklore has to be linked with everyday life and arts of people, their traditional knowledge systems or the environment they live in. Every part of this museum, right from the food crop zones, the folk exhibits, the water conservation efforts, the flora and fauna to the breathtaking locale, reflects its vision to create a living repository of desert life.”
Located in the village of Moklawas, 23 km from Jodhpur, the museum draws its name from the local dialect Arna-Jharna (means forest spring), which is how local communities identify the surrounding region. Arna-Jharna is linked to mythical stories of the curative power of spring water which is believed to have generated in the neighbouring Arneshwar Mahadeva Shiva Mandir.
In 2002, construction work began at the museum site—a harsh and stony
terrain which included abandoned sandstone mine. Today, with water harvesting, the mine has been transformed into a lake which has become a hot destination for nesting of birds, notably peacocks. The soil has been nurtured to accommodate a rich biodiversity of indigenous grasses, cactus, and the resilient trees of the desert—khejri, ker, ber, rohira, kumbat.
All these aspects of biodiversity, geology, and water-harvesting are part of an
interactive learning process. The exterior and interiors of the museum are interrelated.
Komal Kothari believed that the best way to portray the desert’s diversity would be through its three staple food crop zones bajra, jawar and makka (pearl millet, sorghum and corn).
In separate strips, these crops are cultivated-- a task made possible only through careful soil selection, levelling of patches, channelling monsoon water and endless nurturing.
Food actually governs life system more than anything manifested in one’s lifestyle, social customs, festivals and folk arts play. Rajasthan is an excellent example of how the staple food crop cycles affect everything from social calendar to petty household objects. The significance comes only more beautifully with the |majority of desert cover and uncertain monsoons, chief determinant of the crop, the family income of the predominantly agricultural rural populace, marriages and other celebrations.
The museum devoted the initial three years to a single object – the broom. Backed by extensive fieldwork on grasses, brooms and broom-making communities, 40 subjects were selected for study. The broom-making community was earlier making date-palm brooms (sourcing material from the Northeast) but now makes the popular phul jhadu.
The nomadic Banjara community produces brooms made of different grasses (panni), the migratory Koli community and the Bangariya community of Rajasthan use date palm (khejur), while the Harijan community specialises in brooms made of bamboo (baans).
According to Kothari, several communities are migrating from other states to the western parts of Rajasthan to take up broom-making for a living. Kothari points out those brooms made from millet, jowar and maize zones provide good material for comparative studies, including the techniques of making them.
The museum has a collection of 350 varieties of brooms from the three staple diet zones and the products displayed show the life and work of indigenous communities. Broom’s specimens are tagged on the basis of name, material and region.
“The specimens of brooms are tagged on the basis of their name, material and the region they come from. A number acts as a reference to a larger dictionary kept nearby. If someone wants more information, they can refer to books stored at Rupayan Sansthan’s headquarters in the city,” Kothari stressed.
The museum, which has received an endowment grant of Rs one crore from the Ford Foundation, is now working on to store various contemporary ethnographic objects such as musical instruments, pottery, illustrated manuscripts, utensils and marionettes.