Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dandeli’s Lambani Tribe: The Story of the Nomadic Gypsies

They hail originally from Rajasthan, but somewhere between the 1940s and 1950s, they moved to different parts of India in search for better livelihood. They moved to Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Karnataka, they have settled in and around Dandeli and the rest of North West Karnataka with Dandeli being their largest concentration in South India.

Colourful look of a traditional Lambani tribal woman
They are the Lambani people, a tribe of Nomadic Gypsies who refer to themselves as the Lamanis. I was lucky to meet them during my recent visit to Dandeli and it was during this interesting interaction that I got to hear out their story. This scheduled tribe of today used to subsist with odd jobs during their early days at Dandeli. The men would do field work and assist in agriculture while the women would collect wood from the forest and together, they would use the money from these two sources to eke out their living.

Lamani Tribal Women sing a traditional song at Dandeli
The Lamani women were experts in making Arak, the local liquor and they used to make this in their Lambani homes and sell it to the various segments of society by the glass. Their Arak was so popular that the people would ask them to make it for all their festivals and important events. At one time, they got so popular that India’s excise department reached out to them and told them that their Arak business was affecting the government’s liquor business in that region. They requested them to shut down their business and in return they gave each house 500 rupees per month.

An Elderly Woman from the nomadic Lambani Tribe
Since this was a significant sum, the tribe agreed to stop making and selling Arak. They got these 500 rupees every month till the excise department forgot about them. By then, most of them had received basic education and they had made out a decent living for themselves. Today, the Lambani people are either in government or private jobs or manage their own small shops or businesses.

Lamani tribal Woman decked in traditional colourful attire at Dandeli
Even today, the Lambani people marry strictly into their own community. They go to a different ‘tanda’ (settlement) to look for a suitable match. Their weddings are an colorful affair and involves a lot of mutton based feasts with an unlimited supply of alcohol. Apart from their weddings, they celebrate festivals like Holi, Diwali and Dussehra. Holi is their most important festival and is possibly the most colorful too for them. During these festivals, there is a lot of singing, dancing, tasty food and lots of alcohol.

The face of a Lambani Tribal Woman at Dandeli, NW KarnatakaOne of the most colorful traits about the Lambani people are their colorfully decked and decorated women. Their younger females prefer to dress in traditional Indian attire, but the older women still dress like their ancestors. Their glass based dresses, their anklets, their large nose rings, their braided hair with jewelry, their colorful necklaces and their tattoos make for very interesting sights. Their dresses and jewelry cost them quite a bit and have to be specially ordered from a tailor specializing in Lambani dresses.

Traditional Lambani Gypsy Woman from Dandeli
Out of their entire appearance, I found their tattoos very interesting. They have it on their arms, above their ankles, on their legs and most importantly on their forehead. These kind of tattoos are seen only on the women and not the Lambani men. They are made using traditional tattoing tools when the women reach marriageable age and portray important beliefs of their tribe.

This is my short story on the Lambani tribe of Dandeli and I am sure I would be able to find more such stories about this unique culture when I again get to spend a longer time with them. If you haven’t met them, I would recommend you do and more so if you are headed in the direction of Dandeli in North West Karnataka.

Courtesy: I met the Lambani tribe when I was on a trip to Dandeli that was organized by

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