Kutch has the most significant population of pastoral communities in Gujarat. Each tribe can be identified from its costume, and gains income from farming or crafts such as weaving, painting, woodcarving and dyeing.
The Rabari, the largest group, rear cattle, buffalo and camels, sell ghee, weave, and are known for their fine embroidery. Most of the men sport a white turban, white cotton trousers tight at the ankle and with baggy pleats above the knee, a white jacket (khediyun), and a blanket thrown over one shoulder. Rabari women dress in black pleated jackets or open-backed blouses, full black skirts and tie-dyed head cloths, and always wear heavy silver jewellery and ivory bangles around the upper arms. In Bhujodi, near Bhuj, the Rabari weave camel wool into blankets and shawls.
The Bharvad tribes infiltrated Gujarat from Vrindavan, close to Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The men are distinguishable by the peacock, parrot and flower motifs sewn into their khediyun, and the women by their bright backless shirts, kapadun, rarely covered by veils. Mass marriages take place among the Bharvad every few years.
The wandering Ahir cattle-breeders, today prosperous entrepreneurs, came to Gujarat from Sindh, and settled as farmers. The men sport baggy trousers and the khediyun, together with a white loosely wound headcloth; the women dress like the Rabaris, with additional heavy silver nose-rings. The children’s bright topis, or skull-caps, are like those common in Pakistan.
The Charans, long-established bards of Gujarat, encompass in their clans the Maldharis, who raise prize cattle, and the leather-workers known as Meghavals. They claim descent from a celestial union between Charan and a maiden created by Parvati. The women are often worshipped by other tribes, as their connection with Parvati links them closely to the mother goddess, Ashpura, highly popular in Kutch.
Said to have migrated from Pakistan, the Jats are an Islamic pastoral group. The men can be identified by their black dress, while young Jat girls have dainty plaits curving round the sides of their faces, and wear heavy nose-rings.