Baba Hathiram
Sant Prem Singh
Baba Lakhi Shah
Sham S Muchhaal
Pradeep Manawat
Sandeep Rathod
Main News Page (1)
Jhalkari Bai
Freedom Fighter
Guest Book
Mein Bhi Kaain Kehno Chha
Goaar Darpan
Goaar Forum
What Do You Think?
Special Mail
Gor History
Dr. Tanaji Rathod
Pradeep Ramavath-1
Goaar Goshti
Religious Persons
Political Persons
Social Reformers
Goaar Chetna
Goaar Ratan
Goaar History
Goaar Writers
Attn: Researchers
About Us

Impact of Dress and Ornaments on Banjara Women in Andhra Pradesh, India: A Study

Dr. Surya Dhanavath

Department of Telugu,
Faculty of Arts,
University College of Arts and Social Sciences,
Osmania University,
Hyderabad-500 007, A.P, India;

Impact of Dress and Ornaments on Banjara Women in Andhra Pradesh, India: A Study
Dr. Surya Dhanavath


The Banjaras (Lambadis) are versatile ethnic tribal group living in India. They are in good number in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, India. The colorful and elaborate traditional dress and ornaments of Banjara women are endangered today. They are discarding their age old dress and ornaments and adopting the local main stream dress patterns. The study has focused to analyze the impact of dress and ornaments on Banjaras in the modern living conditions. On careful analysis of their livelihood conditions revealed certain ground realities. The study clearly indicates that there are major perceivable socio-cultural changes which brought unforeseen, unavoidable cultural imbalance on material culture and traditions of Banjaras, which led to a cultural crisis in their community. The study suggested that, there is an urgent need to adopt a national policy for integration of Banjaras with the mainstream in this fast-changing cultural scenario by strengthening the core aspects of tribal culture.

1. Introduction

Banjaras are one among the nomadic, versatile tribal groups living in India. They are descendants of the Roma gypsies of Europe who migrated through Afghanistan and settled down in the deserts of Rajasthan and later migrated to other states in India. Evidences from mythological legends, historical accounts, academic studies and individual responses indicate that they hail from North-West Rajasthan. They were forest wanderers and used to transport the food grains, salt for the armies of Moghal Emperors on their pack of bullocks (ladani). They took up the job of supply of food grains under the Maratha rulers of Satara, the Peshwas of Pune, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British in Mysore war (1792-1799) and Maratha war (1800-1818). They associate chiefly together and seem to have no home, they travel great distances to whatever parts are most in want of merchandise. Later they settled in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by establishing small hamlets called ‘thandas’. During the British period they were suspected of being desperate criminals by the police and they were brought under the ambit of the Criminal Tribes Act’ 1871. After Independence, they were recognized as ‘De-notified Nomadic Tribes’ (DNTs) in 1950. They were recognized as Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions from 1956 and in Telangana region from 1978 in Andhra Pradesh.

They speak ‘Goar Boli’ language also called as ‘Gormati’, which has no script and written literature. They are living in most of the districts of Andhra Pradesh except a few districts of coastal Andhra. In Telangana districts of Andhra Pradesh they are called as ‘Lambadis’, and they are known as ‘Sugalis’ in Rayalaseema and Andhra regions. They are numerically predominant in Telangana districts of Andhra Pradesh. According to 2001 census, they constitute 41.40% (2,077,947) of total listed Scheduled Tribes (STs) population of 5,024,104 (6.6% of total population) in Andhra Pradesh.

The traditional dress and ornament patterns of Banjara women are the most colorful and elaborate. They design their clothes with needle and thread. Today, their age old traditional dress patterns are endangered. Though, half of the older generations are still holding, most of the younger women are discarding their traditional dress and adopting the local patterns consisting of sari and blouse. Their traditional dress and ornaments are rare ‘folk art craft’ and stand as symbol of their ethnic identity. Therefore, there is a need to protect their rare ‘art craft’.

2. Objective

The primitive ‘folk art craft’ expressed in their dress and ornaments is going to vanish slowly and thus they are also going to lose their ethnic identity. They are now pushed into a dilemma of integration and isolation in the process of transformation. Therefore, there is a need to integrate them with the modern society for socio-cultural reasons and continuing to identify them as a tribal community. The main objective of this paper is to study and analyze the impact of dress and ornaments on Banjara women in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh and bring out the reasons behind discarding their traditional dress patterns. The study also focuses on the need for protecting and strengthening the core aspects of tribal culture in the event of fast changing cultural scenario.

3. Description of Banjara Dress and Ornaments

The dress and ornaments pattern of Banjara women are in typical Rajasthani style. The closest analogies to Banjara dress within India are found in the Himalayas, the Hindu-kush and the tracts adjoining these mountain systems. It suggest that the Banjaras have their origin from one of the tribes which joined in the invasion of the Ephthalites or White Huns, multitudes of whom entered Persia and India during the fifth and sixth century B.C.

3.1 Dressing 

The Banjara vintage dress comprises of ‘Phetya’ (skirt), ‘Kaanli’ (blouse) and ‘Tukri’ (mantle). They are elaborately ornamented with materials of silver, brass, some gold, kwaadis (snail shells) (See Fig.1). 

Phetya is a skirt made of red, black and white cotton cloth with patches of silk cloth, embellished with pieces of mirrored glass that are embroidered on it. The borders are embroidered in mustard and green thread. They use mostly red, yellow and green colored cotton cloth or rarely silk cloth, colored woolen and cotton threads, small mirrors, mercury, laaldi (lac beads), qwadies (snail shells) and coins for carving the designs and decorating the dress with needle work. It is long enough to cover the legs up to ankles and right side of the waist, adjacent to the right thigh, there is one a hanging called 'Ghero' ornamented with qwadies and beads which hang up to knees.     Kaanli is with open back and typically made of cotton material. It is rich in embroidery work and generally red in color and is tied at the back with flat strips attached to both the ends. It is well suited for the hot climate. It is made in multiple pieces with the intention that they would be easily modified. 

The cloth which covers their naked back and head is called 'Tukri'. It is also generally red in color and measuring two and half to three yards. It is also with rich embroidery and one end of which is tucked at the waist and the other end is thrown on the left side over the shoulders and on the head. 

The uniqueness of the Banjara embroidery is that it is a fine needle work using variety of techniques. They do not make any seasonal changes in their dressing pattern but normally embroider the images of flowers called as ‘phoonda’ on their dress. The patch work will have regional significance. The specific stitch designs are called ghero laman, jodero teko, bakya, baratkam, sasyaar dant and und jali. There are so many stitch designs for which they have a specific name and most of the stitching patterns and reflect the flowers, plants, animals and birds. 

3.2 Ornaments

The Banjara women are distinguished and identified due to their unique adornments which are elaborate and traditional. The unique ornaments of Banjaras are Baliyaa (Cuder Baliyaa and Mooter Baliyaa) which are made of ivory. The other ornaments include Ghugraa, Ghughree and Chotla (hair ornaments), Bhuriya, Phulee (nose ornaments), Haar (necklace), Haanslo, Haansli (neck rings), Weentee, Phoola Paawla (finger rings) Kasse (ankle ring), Wankdi (anklets) and Chatki (toe rings). They are usually made of lead, brass, bronze, gold and silver (See Fig.4, 5 & 6).

3.3 Tattooing

The custom of tattooing the body is also seen in Banjara tribe. They generally get tattoo marks on their hands, forearms, backs and face as well. The tattoos among women are mainly for the beautification. But few people say that the tattooing relieves body and joint pains. Men usually get their names tattooed. The figure of scorpion is commonly tattooed on forearms of men. They believe that they will never have a scorpion bite and if at all it bites it will not be a fatal.

4. Importance of Banjara Dress and Ornaments

The art of primitive people run a wide gamut from technical clumsiness to high skill, from materialism and realism to conventionalized abstraction. The passage from simplicity to complexity, from homogeneity to heterogeneity, which, from empirical observation of living societies and their material remains may be deduced to have occurred and to be still occurring in the world of social life among men. The tribes are essentially people of nature, deriving all traits and ways of living from natural phenomenon. To a nontribal most of the objects of tribal art may not look beautiful or artistic. For the full appreciation of a work of tribal art, it should be seen as far as possible in the setting for which it was created.

The primitive art expressed in the Banjara folk art craft is pure and show their artistic concern, occupational, religious, recreational and other aspects of their everyday life. Primitive art is a genre of art made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists. It is a native art or artistic endeavor having a characteristic form or technique. It is quite interesting to note that, the unique and versatile dress of Banjara women is designed according to their living conditions. They were forest wonderers and transporters used to carry on journeys on their pack bullocks through mountains for thousands of kilometers. Their clothes are suitable for their wandering life, especially for the protection from harsh climate in deserts and to distinguish them from others. It is also meant for protecting themselves from wild animals. The ornamentation of mirrors on their cloths is to give a light reflection to the eyes of animals, so that they cannot reach them. Even though there is a danger of attack by wild animals, their body with full of ornamentation protects them from animal attacks. The usage of metals like silver, bronze, copper and brass has a significance of health and hygiene.

It is also interesting to note that, there is a socio-cultural purpose behind their unique dressing and ornamentation patterns. Each ornament has its own significance and importance in their life. The adornment of women distinguishes unmarried from married and married from widowed women. Married women wear their horn/ivory bangles (Chuder Baliyaa) between wrist and shoulder, whereas unmarried women wear up to the elbow from wrist. Ghugri is a silver ornament and looks like a pendant made of a tube with small silver beads hanging. It is an indicative of the marital status of a woman. A widow can wear it if she is married again. It is attached to the hair on both sides with a pin and covering this pin is a clamp shaped silver disc. The silver beads almost touch the cheeks (See Fig.4). Unmarried girls wear black bead necklace called ‘Hansli’ which is taken off at marriage. The finger rings made of old silver coins and called ‘Phoola Paawla’ and worn by both married and unmarried women. They wear ‘Kasse’, a bell metal anklet which is round in shape with different designs drawn on the surface. It is worn by both married and unmarried women, but ‘Wonkdi’ type of anklets are worn by only married women (See Fig.6).

The traditional dressing pattern of the Banjara women living in Afghanistan and Pakistan is same as Indian Banjara women. The closest parallel to the Banjara head-dress in Asia and outside the India is that of the Druse women of Syria. Their dress also distinguishes married from unmarried women, as is the case with the pointed cap worn by Jewesses in Tunis.

The silver ornaments of Banjara women indicate their economic and social position and stand as an asset. Their mirror embroidery stands as a trade mark and geographic indicator for Banjaras and has a tremendous commercial value in the embroidery market.

5. Impact of Dress and Ornaments on Banjara Woman

The transformation of the society from one stage to another is a natural phenomenon. The cultural and material changes have to take place simultaneously. If there is an imbalance between cultural and material changes, it leads to a crisis in society. The transformation process on the one hand creates scope for structuring of their society and on the other hand gives rise to some structural problems in quality of life.

The cultural changes in a tribal community occur due to acculturation, assimilation and the culture contact with the neighboring population. The assimilation is possible only when the outlook of one society is inclusive and when society is definitely stronger and its culture is more advanced. The tribes are classified based on the influence of ‘Hinduism’: (i) Real primitive (ii) Primitive tribe with a degree of association with Hindu caste and (iii) Hinduized tribes. The tribal communities were divided in to four divisions: (i) tribal communities (ii) semi tribal communities (iii) acculturated tribal communities and (iv) totally assimilated tribes. Earlier, the tribal communities have enjoyed the advantages of balanced ecology fully in tuned with the natural resources of their environment. These classifications reveal that the process of assimilation has been a part and parcel of the Indian tribal culture. Therefore, it is understood that they are also in the process of assimilation and it is part and parcel of their culture.   

Banjara women are identified by their dressing and adornments. The adornments present excellent opportunity to express their artistic creativity. On the other hand their traditional dress and ornaments are slowly disappearing and only old aged women are wearing the traditional dress and ornaments. Their costumes were advantageous when they were leading wondering life. But, today they were changed to be disadvantageous in the modern context. The transformation process has created structural problems in their society which lead to huge loss of their traditional, ethnic and linguistic identity.

5.1 Loss of Traditional Identity

The alienation of their lands for projects, mining, industrialization and roads and buildings lead to the loss of traditional land ownership and livelihood opportunities. This is resulting in large scale migration tribal to urban areas in search of livelihoods either temporarily or on permanent basis. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for them to upkeep their traditional costumes, celebrate their traditional festivals after migration to cities causing a negative impact. The impact of the modern society on them is considered to be more intensive and responsible for a major jolt in their lives.

There is a drastic change in their festival and marriage patterns. In olden days they used to celebrate marriages for a whole month and now it is cut down to just one or two days. The marriages are performed in Hindu marriage style and only few rituals of their traditional marriage system are still performed. The customs like sending the bride on bullock in traditional dress were forgotten. However, the few important customs and traditions like distributing ‘goal’ (Gur) as token of confirmation of alliance and offering ‘hukka’ and ‘supari’  at the time of welcoming the bride groom are still followed.

The modernization and adoption of Hindu dowry and marriage customs created a crisis in the Community. Due to a sharp shift from the practice of bride price to dowry system, they have experienced a great deterioration in their traditional patterns of marriages. Few decades before, there was a practice of paying a bride price and the expenditure for the bride’s parents. The age old practice is abandoned now and the youngsters of the community are demanding huge amounts towards dowry for marrying their own community girls. This is the reason for eliminating their female infants with a fear of paying dowry. It is paining to note that, some mothers kill their babies or sell down them as an act of ‘mercy’ that they may be saved from future excesses by husbands in the form of domestic violence.

The festivals like ‘teej’, ‘dasara’ and ‘holi’ are still celebrated collectively in thandas. The song and dance comes naturally to these tribal women who excel in these arts. However, they also celebrate other festivals like Vinayaka chavithi, Sankraanti, Ugaadi etc. and perform rituals by Bhman ptiests on deferent auspicious occasions. Their traditional sacred priests, who are called as ‘Bhagaths’ are also been replaced by Brahmin priests in their sacred places.

The factors responsible for the changes are broadly traditional as well as modern. The cultural contracts with the Hindus and the modern forces of transformation are acting on their lives. Their rich cultural heritage is being eroded by dominant stream of modern life styles.

5.2 Loss of Ethnic Identity

In the advent of machinery and equipments for embroidering work and craze on the modern costumes, the skill oriented Banjara ‘folk art craft’ has lost its importance. The designing and stitching the traditional dress it consumes lot of time. As their traditional outfit is so elaborate, it takes few months to complete a set of dress. The silver, bronze and other metals used for making their traditional ornaments have become costlier nowadays and not in reach of their low economy. The traditional hair style is totally different from that of main stream women. They part their hair sideways so that the hair may fall on both cheeks and on these they fix their hair ornaments. Their traditional hairstyle and the adornments of head are cumbersome and consume lot of time for weaving and it affects the hair. The hard metallic ornaments trouble the tender body of the young women and thus they dislike the heavy ornaments. As their age old traditional dress and the ornaments are heavy, costly and became disadvantages, the modern Banjara women are forced to discontinue their age old traditional dress and ornaments. Some of them feel that their dress is indicative of their community and main stream people treat them inferior less regarded. Therefore, they are slowly changing to the modern outfits used by the main stream women and wearing their traditional dress during marriages and festivals so as to up keep their age old tradition.

The tattooing which was popular in olden days is also being discarded as they feel that the tattooing on face or hands look ugly. Their life style and livelihood has also tremendously changing as youngsters are getting educated and settling in cities due to employment.

5.3 Loss of Linguistic Identity

In Andhra Pradesh, Banjaras in addition to their language ‘Goar Boli,’ they also speak Telugu language so as to mingle with the people of main stream. As the medium of instruction in schools is either Telugu or English, they are learning Telugu and English and forgetting their ‘Goar Boli’. As their language itself is under danger of depletion, their traditions are given less importance and thus their linguistic identity is lost.

6. Recommendations

Banjaras are living in close proximity with the caste-stratified Hindu society. Therefore, it has a lot of effect on their social and livelihood levels. Though there are many forms of impact of modern society on them, the impact of dress and ornaments on their women is considered to be most effective and rapid. Their exposure to non-tribal domain at different period of ethnic history has earmarked numerous changes in tribal cultural component. The exposure to new culture and change in surrounding environment, physical, social and economic conditions affects the change process in their cultural domain. They are now subjected to a massive cultural change due to the influence of the modern society.

The studies reveal that due to the impact of the outer society, socio-cultural reasons and attraction towards the modern trends, majority of them are discarding their age old traditional dress and adornments. In these circumstances, there is danger of losing the vital links of their traditions and their unrecorded history will be also totally lost if it is not preserved. Since the tribal folk arts have to be considered as a national property, there is a need to protect the traditions, ethnic and linguistic identity of Banjaras. The tribal art reflects the culture and brings solidarity, continuity and consistency in their society.

Their traditional dress and ornaments are the indicators of their artistic concern, occupational, religious and recreational and other aspects of their everyday life. Therefore, systematic steps have to be taken to document the entire folklore of Banjaras, their mythologies, folktales, proverbs, art and craft forms, music and dances and dramas etc. This can be achieved by encouraging tribal folk arts and crafts at national level. The tribal artists, skillful craftsman, garment-makers shall be encouraged and financed so that they can impart their skills to younger generations.

 They may be also encouraged by organizing tribal fairs, festivals and competitions in various folk arts and suitable awards may be given to successful participants. There is also a need of preparing full lengths videos on their life styles and telecasting on national television channels. It will help the historians, cultural anthropologists and students of tribal art and culture to understand and work for the cultural development of Banjaras. It will facilitate harmonious integration of Banjaras into national mainstream and improve the relations between tribal and non-tribals as well as helping in preserving the vanishing tribal art forms.

Banjara dress and ornaments are the folk art and craft forms and their textiles are having very good commercial market. Therefore, they have to be encouraged to establish their own cottage industries for manufacturing of their garments. So that their traditional dress and ornaments get popularity and attracts their youngsters to adopt for innovative Banjara garments which will suit to the present day generations.

7. Conclusion

The studies clearly indicate that the adoption of new dressing patterns has resulted in socio-cultural changes that have enormous impact on material culture of Banjaras. Change in dressing pattern has resulted in major perceivable and unforeseen, unavoidable impact on their material culture. In the process of adjustment and adoption, they have experienced cultural inclusion and consequently faced the problem of identity crisis. They lost their valuable traditional, ethnic and linguistic identity. The majority of the modern society regards them with their distinctiveness. But the government programmes shall aim to integrate them with the main stream, rather than to emphasize their distinctiveness. They still need to be identified as tribal community and integrated with the modern society for socio-cultural, socio-economic and political reasons. Their material culture is to be protected in general and their valuable folk art craft i.e. ethnic dress and ornaments in particular so that the core aspects of Banjara culture are recognized and strengthened.

(1) Professor, Department of Telugu, Faculty of Arts, University College of Arts and Social Sciences, Osmnia University, Hyderabad-500 007, A.P, India;
(2); visited n 10-10-2013.
(3) Mohan Rao, K. (1950), ‘THE MYTHOLOGICAL ORIGIN & CLAN SYSTEM OF THE BANJARAS’, Man in India, Vol. 30, No. 1, January – March, 1950, p.17-22.
(4) Banjaras were involved in transportation of goods by loading on oxen and used to move to farer places to supply the goods. The row of pack of bullocks with load of goods is called as ‘ladani’ (karwan) in ‘Goar Dialect’. There are historical references that Banjaras used to carry goods on lakhs of oxen and move to places.
(5) Halbar, B. G. (1986), 'LAMANI ECONOMY AND SOCIETY IN CHANGE,' Mittal Publications, New Delhi, p.16-18.
(6) Thurston, Edger, (1909), ‘CASTES AND TRIBES OF SOUTHERN INDIA’, Government press, Madras, Volume IV, p.207 to 232.
(7) ‘A REPORT ON BASIC STATISTICS ON SCHEDULED TRIBES OF ANDHRA PRADESH,’ (2008), Tribal Cultural Research & Training Institute, Tribal Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, Table.6, p.58-60.
(8) Crooke W. (1918),‘THE HEAD-DRESS OF BANJARA WOMEN’, Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research society, Vol. IV, PART III, p.256/ visited on 10-10-2013.
(9) Hoebel, E.A., (1949), ‘MAN IN THE PRIMITIVE WORLD’, Mc Graw Hill, New York, p.289.
(10) Leonard, A., (1949), ‘PRIMITIVE ART’, Cassell and Co. Ltd., London, p.12.
(11); as visited on 11-10-2013.
(12) Crooke, W., (1918),‘THE HEAD-DRESS OF BANJARA WOMEN’, Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research society, Vol. IV, PART III, p.247.
(13) Kroeber, A. K., (1948), ‘ANTHROPOLOGY’, Oxford & IBH Publishing Co., Calcutta; Sreedevi Xavier, M., (2012) 'Impact of Acculturation on Traditional Material Culture: A Study of Lambada Tribes in Andhra Pradesh, India', International Journal of Social Science Tomorrow Vol. 1 No. 6, p.3.
(14) Majumdar, D. N, (1953), ‘AFFAIRS OF A TRIBE’, Universal Publishers, Lucknow; Sreedevi Xavier, M., (2012), 'The Vanishing Forms of Tribal Art: A Study of the Lambadas of Andhra Pradesh', International Journal of Scientific Research, Volume: 1, Issue: 5, Oct 2012; ISSN No 2277 - 8179, p.128-130.
(15) Vidhyarthi, L. P. & Rai, B. K., (1976), ‘THE TRIBAL CULTURE OF INDIA’, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi; Ibid.
(16) Haimendorf, Fures C. Von. (1985), ‘TRIBES OF INDIA, O.U Publications, Delhi; Sreedevi Xavier, M., (2012) 'Impact of Acculturation on Traditional Material Culture: A Study of Lambada Tribes in Andhra Pradesh, India', International Journal of Social Science Tomorrow Vol. 1 No. 6, p.4.
(17) A traditional pipe which contains water and used for smoking.
(18) Betel nut or Arica nut

Dear Kamal ji,

Please find the attached paper on Banjara dress and ornaments and implication written by Prof. (Dr.) Surya Dhananjay, Osmania University, Hyderabad and presented at international annual conference of American Folklore Society (AFS) on 19-10-2013 held at Rodhes Island, USA for publication on your webpage, for the benefit of Banjara community.

Dr. M. Dhananjay Naik, M.Sc, LL.M, Ph.D. 
(Note: Photos coming soon-Editor)

D:\Daddy\BANJARA RESEARCH\Banjara Dress Photos'\4x6 2cc.jpg

Fig. 1 Banjara Dress
Fig. 2 Phooliyaa gaala 
D:\Daddy\BANJARA RESEARCH\Banjara Dress Photos'\4x6 2cccc.jpg 

Fig. 3 Phooliya Gonno
Fig. 4 Banjara ornaments
Fig. 5 Banjara woman with adornments
Fig. 6 Banjara woman wearing Kasse and Wankdi