Arna Jharna, Rajasthan’s desert museum, tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary objects, says Nishita Jha
SOME MEN do listen. Padma Bhushan recipient Komal Kothari spent a lifetime listening to tales of weapons, instruments and proverbs, only to realise that the intricate web of folk wisdom was under threat of disappearing as modernity crept into Rajasthan.
Kothari and writer Vijaydan Detha established the Rupayan Sansthan in 1960 for the preservation of Rajasthani traditions. They collected over 12,000 hours of audio – visual data documenting the oral history of their people. Kothari’s ultimate vision Arna Jharna, the desert museum of Rajasthan, located in village Moklawas, Jodhpur, was completed only after his death in 2004. Unlike museums that house antiques and collector’s items, categorised according to dates — Arna Jharna (meaning ‘waterfall of the forest’) is alive. The traditionally constructed structure of the museum is surrounded by medicinal plants, along with Arna Jharna’s own water body that produces nearly 50,000 litres of water for local consumption.
Kothari divided his study of Rajasthan based on their main crops — jowar, bajra and makai.The crops are indicative of factors like climate, flora and social practices.
The first of the three sections is for brooms that clean inner spaces — with soft bristles and short handles. The brooms meant for temple floors are of feather-like softness. The charming but misleadingly titled room with ‘brooms for outer space’, has long-handled specimens with twig-like bristles for cleaning animal waste .“I can look at a broom and tell where it came from, what grass it is made of, and which caste made it. Even trained botanists can’t do that!” Kuldeep Kothari, caretaker and son smiles.
An audio-visual room displays the socio-economic significance of myths that surround brooms. Lakshmi Devi from Sirohi explains: “We do not share brooms with those we do not have good relations. A married woman cannot take a broom to her new house, or she will empty her parent’s tijori (coffers). A good daughter-in-law must not scatter the grass in a broom — that is a sign of bad character. You must never sweep when a loved one leaves, or he won’t return. When death visits your home, you must sweep the house as soon as the body is carried away.” Members of the main sweeper castes of Rajasthan, the Kolis, the Banjaras and the Harijans speak of a time when Brahmins shuddered at the thought of cleaning their own waste. “Brahmins today don’t think twice about picking up dead animals with their own hands; as long as they don’t spend extra money,” Kamala, a Koli sweeper, laments.
Brooms are just the beginning. As Kuldeep unlocks his library to show walls covered with musical instruments, puppets of varying sizes and characters, a universal truth is revealed — every object has a story, and that story is worth listening to.