How Melbourne’s Rajasthan Kutumb has evolved over time

By Indira Laisram
Chanchal Kumavat (R), President of Rajasthan Kutumb, with Rajnish Kumavat // Pic supplied

In 2001, a group of seven families formed the Rajasthan Kutumb in Victoria. It would represent a microcosm of the northern Indian desert state of Rajasthan, known for its rich art and culture and, unsurprisingly, a state high on both the domestic and global tourist map of India.

The Kutumb was incorporated in 2003. Six families—Jawale, Goyal, Manihar, Panwar, Sharma and Soni—paid life membership at that time and became the founder members of the organisation.

Over the years, with the increase of more Rajasthanis in Victoria, the Kutumb worked hard to make it an inviting place and today boasts of some 400 families in its organisation.

The Kutumb’s foundational element was to bring everyone directly or indirectly connected with Rajasthan under one umbrella, making it one of the most secular organisations in Victoria. It also aims to celebrate and keep alive a culture that has been left behind and share it with the wider community—adding to Victoria’s rich multicultural tapestry.

Chanchal Rajnish Kumavat, who is the current president of the Kutumb, has a determined pitch. She wants to see the organisation grow and create more awareness about the community that is cultural in character.

So, at the heart of her outreach is to celebrate the beautiful festivals of Rajasthan. It has been a success and an initiative that was started by the founding members and one that Chanchal is happily taking forward.

Every year, the Rajasthani Kutumb celebrates three festivals in Victoria – Teej, Diwali, and Gangaur – in a big way. Teej is an important monsoon festival in Rajasthan where women dress in their colourful attires, perform traditional folk dance and offer prayers to Goddess Parvati for the well-being of their husband. Diwali, as is well known, is the celebration of light – commemorating the victory of good over evil, and light over darkness.

First MelMilap Dec 2021 // Pic supplied

“Both Teej and Diwali are celebrated in true Rajasthani style, which not everybody will understand,” says Chanchal, who is also founder/Director of AustraIndia International Women Entrepreneur Association.

That is why the festival of Gangaur holds a lot of importance. “We keep Gangaur open for all,” says Chanchal.

The Gangaur festival is one of the biggest festivals of Rajasthan. Gana signifies Lord Shiva, and Gaur signifies Parvati. As per legends, Gauri won Lord Shiva’s affection and love with her deep devotion and meditation. And after that, Gauri visited her paternal home during Gangaur to bless her friends with marital bliss. It lasts for 16 days, people start performing the rituals a day after Holi.

“So, the festival is held in the honour of Goddess Parvati and God Shiva and signify marital love, strength, power and excellence. It is celebrated in Chaitra, the first month of the Hindu calendar, which falls between March and April,” says Chanchal.

This year’s Gangaur festival will be celebrated on March 27 at Oakleigh Hall. The whole Kutumb members have been busy with the preparations in a cooperative effort to make the event a success.

Chanchal Rajnish Kumavat. // Pic supplied

“It is an opportunity to share rich our Rajasthani Culture with the wider community in Victoria,” says Chanchal, who is also the Cultural Head of the Kutumb.

People will get to witness a kaleidoscope of colours. Prayers will be offered first after which members will carry a palanquin carrying Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati in the open. A special highlight this year will be the enactment of the stories of devotee Karma Bai and Krishna. “It is also a unique initiative to connect and educate children who are growing up here about their culture and, at the same time, showcase our ancient wisdom and culture to others,” believes Chanchal.

This will, of course, be followed by an array of Rajasthani cuisines. Rajnish Kumavat, an IT professional, says, “Hundreds of members of Melbourne’s Rajasthani community and others will be able to partake in this celebration of love, devotion, fun and food.”

The Kutumb, when literally translated, means family in Rajasthan. It is always welcoming new members, who have a connection with Rajasthan, and thereby providing a platform for people to establish connections and network.

Chanchal blends her work as president of the Kutumb with a lot of emotion. She sees connection as the essence of human experience. Having seen a conservative impulse in people to just come for festivals, eat and then leave, she found a certain connection missing. Which is why she started Mel Milap (Get Together) last December, where three members are picked by way of a chit or lottery system and they are then entrusted to organise small get-togethers such as picnic or games, which are held every three months.

“It has been very successful,” she says, adding, “The meet ups transcended the initial hesitation (as people don’t know one another). Everyone became friends.”

During the pandemic, Chanchal says, all the festivals were celebrated online, “It was something that was really important for the mental health of the community. We also engaged with children who put up puppet shows every other week online.”

Chanchal discerns the importance of also talking about mental health especially in a culture where this is not often talked about. “The Kutumb is not just a space for sharing and celebration of culture, it is also about support and helping one another.”

An established migrant community, the Rajasthan Kutumb is, in the words of Chanchal, here “to spread the essence of Rajasthan”—which is exactly how multiculturalism, at all times, should look like.

(Gangaur festival will be held at Oakleigh Hall on Sunday, 27 March)

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