A unique ethnographic museum exploring the traditional lifestyles and indigenous knowledge systems of rural communities in Rajasthan has come up at Moklawas village on the outskirts of Jodhpur.

The museum seeks to support human efforts in the desert State in sustaining life by using natural resources from immediate surroundings.

Unlike the traditional museums which tend to confine themselves to collections of objects, antiques and curiosities of historical and artistic significance, “Arna Jharna” museum of Moklawas focuses on the ongoing life and work processes of indigenous communities.

Jodhpur-based Rupayan Sansthan – a folklore research institute established by folklorist and oral historian, the late Komal Kothari – has conceived the museum as a holistic exploration of the 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, instead of being closed in a box, celebrates the open spaces of the vast Thar desert, including its flora and fauna. Designed as a rural stone hutment on a 10-acre piece of land, the museum has developed the land around it with plantation comprising mostly the desert medicinal plants.

Rupayan Sansthan secretary Kuldeep Kothari told The Hindu from Jodhpur on Wednesday that Arna Jharna would devote the first three years of its existence to a single object – the broom – to test its principles in a “rigorous and organic way”. For expansion in future, the museum has selected 40 ethnographic subjects with full documentation.

The focus in the display of brooms from different staple food zones of Rajasthan is on their correlation with a wide variety of contexts, such as natural resources, local modes of manufacturing, lives of broom-makers from marginalised sections, myths, beliefs and symbols surrounding the broom, and the economy of the broom.

Mr. Kothari said the brooms from millet, jowar and maize zones provide good material for comparative studies in view of difference in grass and plants and also in the techniques of making them. The display of brooms has also adopted a botanical approach to grasses, leaves and bamboos, providing an insight into the environmental issues.

According to Mr. Kothari, the exhibition of brooms – attracting a large number of foreign and domestic tourists – explores the themes such as biodiversity, land and water usage, agriculture, crafts, religious beliefs, epics, legends, superstitions, fairs, festivals, market, social interaction between occupational castes and the transmission of indigenous knowledge.

“Through its three-year concentration on the broom, Arna Jharna hopes to clarify its interdisciplinary methodology to analyse cultural dimensions of development,” said Mr. Kothari, adding that it would provide the much-needed support to the grassroots curatorial practices.

The museum, having collected 350 types of brooms from the three staple diet zones, has divided them in different categories on the basis of their use for different purposes, such as in the households, for clearing harvest waste and for cleaning animal waste.

“The specimens of brooms are tagged on the basis of their name, material and which 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,” said Mr. Kothari.

The stress on learning processes among the diverse rural communities and intricate ecology of the desert is attracting the public to the museum and spreading the message of dignity of labour through broom-makers. “The broom economy in Rajasthan is estimated to be of the order of Rs.200 crore,” pointed out Mr. Kothari.

The museum, which has received a grant in the shape of endowment of Rs.1 crore from Ford Foundation, plans to store contemporary ethnographic objects such as musical instruments, pottery, illustrated manuscripts, utensils and marionettes in future.

Researchers at Rupayan Sansthan are also giving a systematic shape to the documentation, audio recordings and books collected by the late Komal Kothari, who did not accord much significance to the institutional form of research during his lifetime. The institute has a collection of nearly 25,000 titles in various forms.

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