Rajasthan is diagonally divided into the hilly and rugged southeastern region and the barren Thar Desert, which extends across the border into Pakistan. Within these divisions however, it is a storehouse of varied physical feature or topographical diversity. The arid Thar also boasts of Mount Abu the only hill station in the state famous for its flora and fauna. While the Aravali hills provide the much-needed relief to this arid land, the wide spread sand dunes of the desert and arid region make it one of the toughest terrains in the world. Jodhpur (the second biggest city of the state) is the edge of the dry and shifting desert land from where on the not so arid but cultivable land starts. Moreover, the rocky range of Amber, hilly range of Mewar, river basin of Bharatpur and fertile Aravali range gives the topography of the state a unique look.
Despite the challenges that the desert environment offers, people have settled all over the Thar and have innovated in their own small ways to make the arid sands habitable. There are agricultural and pastoral settlements; villages that have become pilgrimage centres; there are settlements along the river bank or wherever water is to be found, fortified shelters offer sanctuary, while jobs are to be found in mining towns and at seasonal fairs or melas. The central place is occupied by either a village well or a temple as in the case of the village Mukam where all social and cultural life revolves around the temple of Jambheswarji founded in 1593 on the samadhi (grave) of the saint.
Water is, of course, the deciding factor in their location, except in the case of villages like Goriya which are situated on the Aravalli tract where water is plentiful. The most colourful villages in the Thar are to be found on the Shekhawati tract. These have well-built houses, more often then not with painted walls and beautiful decorations and wall paintings. If the villages of the Thar are dotted with jhonpas, the cities feature a variety of architectural forms and structures. They depict either varying forms of adjustment with the inclement weather or intense love and pride for architectural richness and extravagance. Some of the towns show excellent town-planning and settlement development. Although habitations are designed keeping in mind the climate, they are also products of the political and cultural history of the region.
Some self - sufficient rural villages persist even today and a compact settlement with its tank or well and a struggling bunch of acacias, tamarix and zizyphus in the midst of yellowish sand is still the dominant feature of the landscape. Just as water is the raison d' etre for the location of villages, truly urban centres and cities are often associated with a fort perched on a hill, a palace surrounded by a haphazard collection of houses and enclosed by a city wall, the market occupying the central position on the roads joining the opposite gates.
It is also one of the most colourful. To offset the barren, colourless landscape and the monotony of its cloudless sky, the people of Rajasthan show a distinct preference for bright costumes. From the simple village folk or tribal to the rajas and ranis, the preferred colours are bright red, dazzling yellow, lively green or brilliant orange, highlighted by a lavish use of sparkling gold and silver zari or gota.
Tribal and nomadic women are known for their love for silver jewellery (although men too sport ear studs and earrings). The ornaments follow age-old designs typical of a particular tribe. In daily use the ladies wear normal ornaments of neck, hand, nose and ear but on special occasions and social functions. Women wear all the ornaments of different parts of the body to look beautiful and attractive. For its exquisite designs and delicacy of art Rajasthan Jewelry is a rage not only for ladies of India but also for women of foreign countries.
In India, the turban is popularly known as a pagdi. There are different variations of the turban, depending on the religion and region. In fact, in Rajasthan, it is said that the turban style changes with every 15km you travel. And Rajput turbans are different from Sikh turbans, which are in turn different from the classical Arab turbans. Then, there are the royal turbans from different parts of India, and the rural turban which is often just a towel wound round the head. India is a land of diversities. And it is all the more pronounced in Rajasthan. An old local saying sums it up.
"The dialect, cuisine, water and turbans in Rajasthan change every 12 miles."
In fact there are about 1,000 different styles and types of turbans in Rajasthan, each denoting the class, caste and region of the wearer.Turbans come in all shapes, sizes and colours; and there are specific turbans for specific occasions as well.
Rajasthani women have been renowned for their grace and beauty. Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, was so smitten by the beauty of the legendary Maharani Padmini Devi of Chittaurgarh that he waged a war - in vain - for her hand. In her heydays, the present day Rajmata of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi, was considered by Vogue to be amongst the Ten Most Beautiful Women in the World. And her charm hasn't diminished one bit till today!
The term Marwari literally refers to someone who hails from or is an inhabitant of Marwar - the erstwhile Jodhpur state. This term gained currency initially in Bengal, where the traders from Shekhawati and other parts of Rajasthan established their business empires. Distinct in their dress, customs and language, the traders and merchants of Rajasthan came to be known as Marwaris. Rajasthan's greatest contribution to the country's economy has been in the field of Human Resources. The term Marwari is a misnomer. Literally speaking, it signifies a person from the Marwar (Jodhpur) region of Rajasthan, although the majority of Rajasthan's businessmen are from the Shekhavati belt. However, colloquially it has come to denote emigrant businessmen from the vicinity of Rajasthan.
Traditionally, traders par excellence, they migrated from their home state way back in the 16th century and established trading outposts as far away as Assam - the eastern corner of India. With their ingrained thrift and perseverance (in those days, people had to walk miles and miles over scorching sands for a pot of water!) and business acumen, they soon converted these small businesses into industrial empires. Today, the marwaris dominate India's business and economy. As an American sociologist put it, "more than half the assets in the modern sector of the Indian economy are controlled by the trading castes originating in the northern half of Rajasthan."