The Hampi region is not only home to a large number of communities that have historical ties to it but has also attracted a lot of people over the years who migrated here in search of livelihoods. One such community are the Lambanis.

The Lambanis are a nomadic tribe and are believed to have migrated into Rajasthan from the Gor province of Afghanistan. They travelled long distances and eventually settled down in various parts of the country including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh and took up different activities including farming, cattle rearing, and poultry farming. Traditionally, the Lambanis were traders in various merchandise, including salt, which were transported over long distances on the backs of bullocks. In fact, the word Lambani or Lamani is derived from the Sanskrit word lavana (salt). At one time the Lambanis were the principle suppliers of food grains and other essentials to the Moghul armies.

lambanis

Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

The Lambanis speak Gor Boli, also called Lambadi, which belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages. Their language lacks a script and contain many loan words from other languages. Linguists have so far failed to unravel the origins of their language. However, in practice they are multilingual having picked up the predominant languages of the regions they live in. This includes Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, and other local languages of the regions where they have settled.

The Lambani women are a colourful lot and wear baggy skirts called Ghagra or Phetiya that is usually paired with a short-sleeved blouse called Kanchali which is tied at the back. They also wear an apron tied around their waists. Their clothes have mystic and cryptic symbols and designs embroidered onto them together with beads, glass mirrors, coins and shells. This kind of embroidery is called ‘Lepo’ embroidery and involves stitching pieces of mirror, decorative beads and coins onto clothes. In fact, the Sandur Lambani Embroidery is a type of textile embroidery unique to the tribe in Sanduru (located close to Hampi) and has obtained a GI tag. It should come as no surprise that the clothes of the Lambani women are designed and stitched by specialist tailors.

lambanis

Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

Jewelry is an important part of their attire and is characterized by heavy anklets, large nose-rings, braided hair adornments and colourful necklaces. Tattooing is an important part of a Lambani woman’s life and they sport them on their foreheads, arms, cheeks and chins. The tattoos are made using traditional tools and methods when the women reach marriageable age. Besides portraying important beliefs of their tribe, there is a strongly held belief that their tattoos protect them from various dangers. It is also used to add to their beauty and as symbols of purity. They practice a form of Rangoli called ‘Choko’. This differs from the mainstream use of Rangoli in the sense that it is solely for religious purposes, and are drawn exclusively during times of worship and other religious functions. Both men and women practice the art.

The Lambani have a rich tradition of folk art and literature which includes dance, lyrical and narrative songs, proverbs and riddles. Scholars are now engaged in recording these rich oral traditions so as to preserve them for posterity.

The Lambanis add a much needed dash of colour to the arid and stark landscape of Hampi.