HOUSE FULL OF BROOMS
Arna Jharna museum in Rajasthan has a collection of 160 varieties of broom
ABUNCH IS NEATLY lined horizontally on a raised platform inside a hut. There is a tall bunch in one corner. One is carelessly perched over a roof made of terracotta tiles and bamboo. Another hangs loosely from the bamboo fencing around a cattle shed. A cluster of huts with dung- and mud-plastered walls and floors is an unlikely museum for an unlikely object. Located in Mokalwas village, 20 km from Jodhpur, Arna Jharna showcases brooms.
The museum has more than 160 varieties, each a window to the life, food, biodiversity, ecology and climate of the region it comes from. Brooms also indicate changes in the climate of their region. Arna Jharna, which literally means forest and spring, celebrates the traditional knowledge systems of desert linking everyday ordinary objects and practices with larger ecological concerns.
The museum is the brainchild of late Komal Kothari, affectionately known as Komalda. “My father believed that objects people use in their daily lives give an insight into their ecological wisdom,” says Kothari’ son Kuldeep. Kothari, along with his author friend Vijay Dan Detha, set up a non-profit Rupayan Sansthan in 1960 to study Rajasthan’s folk culture.
Starting from Borunda village in Jodhpur, the birthplace of Detha, the folklorist and the author started travelling across Rajasthan. “They wanted to understand the relationship between the people and their environment,”says Kuldeep. They envisioned the idea of starting a museum in 1990s to showcase objects people use, and the practices they adopt, to live and survive in desert.Broom was chosen as the object to inaugurate the museum.
Kothari, who died of cancer in 2004, devoted his last years writing down every detail about the museum. “We just had to follow what he had written,”says Anil Sharma, museum’s manager.The work to collect brooms began in 2005. We travelled across Rajasthan,he says. The first exhibition was held in 2009.The first visitors were rural communities.“We are glad that rural people visit the museum. If something is to be added or corrected,they will tell us,” says Kuldeep. Brooms in Arna Jharna broadly represent three food zones of Rajasthan,named after their leading crops: pearl millet,sorghum and corn. For example, “Sinya ke bungro” is made from a shrub, sinya. “Sinya normally grows in the pearl millet zone of western Rajasthan,
characterised by sand dunes and black soil,” says Kuldeep. The broom is short in size which shows that the region gets less rainfall, he adds. A paper tag is attached to each broom that indicates its food zone.
Brooms also provide insights into environmental issues. “The decline in the use of a kind of broom is an indicator that the grass or shrub used to make it is getting scarce. This, in turn, is associated with changing landuse or rainfall pattern,” says Shrawan Kumar Meghwal, a researcher with the museum.
Brooms connect us to the lives of their makers who are generally from marginalised communities—mostly Harijans, Bhils or Banjaras. “We have been making brooms for generations. But with rising inflation, it is tough to make ends meet,” says Gopal Banjara, who, along with his family members, makes around 400 brooms a month. “It costs me 7 to make one broom which I sell for 8 to the
` ` wholesaler. Its market price is 20-25,” says Banjara who does not
` know how to market his brooms.
Kuldeep says in rural Rajasthan, women make brooms from whatever is available in their environment.The same philosophy was used to build the museum. Every material, from the sandstone used Gajra jhadu is made of date-palm leaves and is used to sweep cement surfaces Sinya jhadu is made of sinya shrub and is primarily used to clean cattle sheds Gunchu jhadu is made by Bhil tribes using dried fruits of date-palm tree for the walls to the bamboo and grasses used for the roof, was sourced from the village. “The museum site was an abandoned sandstone mine. We used traditional knowledge of communities to transform a harsh and dry terrain into a terrain with lush green grasses and trees,” says Meghwal. The mine’s crater has been transformed into a lake, through rainwater harvesting.It is now nesting ground of birds.
“They patrol the museum at night,” says Kumar, pointing at a pair of owls which have made their nest in one of the huts.
Stories they tell
Brooms are often associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.It is said that Lakshmi graces houses which are clean. As brooms help in cleaning, they are associated with Goddess Lakshmi, says Kuldeep. Such mythological association means brooms are kept in safe places to avoid being brushed against or crushed under feet. It is said that one should not sweep after a loved one leaves the house as he or she may not return.
Legend has it that people take out some blades from the broom made of daab grass and keep it next to the body before it is cremated. “This grass always stays green and represents continuity of life,” says Meghwal. Brooms are also offered to temples to get rid of skin diseases.
“Every broom has rich mythological value. Brooms are never thrown away in Rajasthan,” says Kuldeep.
Brooms are just a beginning. Kuldeep and his team are collecting more materials of daily use that reveal the traditional knowledge of communities and their interaction with their environment. Panni jhadu is generally made by Harijan men using leaves of panni grass Bald jhadu is made of bald shurb whose seeds are used in laddoos Karvat Khejur jhadu is made by Verma tribes using date-palm leaves Kheemp jhadu is made of kheemp shrub that grow on sand dunes
Komal Kothari (left), who died in 2004, had envisioned the museum (bottom) after travelling across Rajasthan. His son
Kuldeep Kothari started building the museum in 2005
Arna Jharna museum near Jodhpur has more than 160 varieties of broom on display