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

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