Have you ever imagined that someone could earn a living by showcasing emotions and mourning to the hell? A group of low-caste women in Rajasthan are entitled to do so. Christened as Rudalis, the women are invited as soon as any royal family witnesses demise.
Whenever there is a death in the royal family, the royal women are confined to the haveli due to traditional norms. However, the men gather around the cadaver and speak about the great deeds and achievements of the dead person. Then comes the Rudalis wearing black attire (as black is the favourite colour of Yamraj: the god of death). The coterie of women starts beating their chests and beat their hands on the ground and display intense sorrow. Tears after tears keep on falling from their cheeks but they continue mourning for hours and hours.
It may seem as a bizarre profession but to these lower caste women, it is the way and means of their living. They are essential and form an integral part of Rajasthan’s culture. Rudalis lead a tough life as they are born in inferior families. They are also abstained from having a family because if they are happy then who is going to mourn on the death of the royal populace. If a Rudali gives birth to a child, then that child is treated as an illegitimate child. These women are given low position in society and this makes them vulnerable in the society. They live alone and sell their tears to earn a living for themselves. That is why, they breathe a sigh of relief as soon as they hear the news of someone’s death from the royal family.
Rudalis represent the feelings and sadness of the upper-caste women. The royal women are kept away from the death ceremony. It is believed that they cannot display their grief and emotions as it would be against their dignity to mourn in front of commoners. Since women cannot weep and men do not weep so someone is needed to cry when the royal members die. The Rudalis come into play.
They cry for the death of someone who they don’t even know and lead an alienated life and in return they get very less payoffs. They charge Rs 5 to 6 for wailing and rolling on the ground till the corpse reaches the cremation ground. They are also given rice, old clothes, raw onions and leftover rotis of the royal family. They try to mourn for longer duration and may mourn for up to 12 days. The larger period they’ll mourn the higher it speaks of the family’s economic status.
The task of Rudali is indifferent and difficult. To bring out tears, they think about their painful lives. Professionals use either saliva or onions to induce tears. Some use a certain plant that makes the eyes watery. Some of them use a spray that is available in the market. It causes burning sensation in the eyes and induces tears.
Though, they have a prominent role in Rajasthan but with the outbreak of modern culture, people are heading towards a quiet funeral and the jobs of these Rudalis are under extinction.