Rudaali: The Economic Service Of Tears

(Image source:-

As the name reflects Rudaali meaning “the crier”, the term signifies women of low caste(outcaste) in Northern India (particularly in Rajasthan) who perform mourning dances and songs at funeral of upper caste men. This social system of Tear Service has its deep roots in rural Rajasthan.

Wearing dark black costumes with veil to hide their identity and more, the pseudo tears that are being shed on the funeral of unknown person with whom these Rudaalis(tear service providers) have no direct or indirect relation expect the monetary aid that they are provided after completion of 12 days of funeral ceremony.
Rudaalis represent the trinity of tyranny (i.e, Class, Caste, and Gender) for women in patriarchal and cast dominant society.

The entire set up and service of Rudaalis is managed by women who are outcastes, untouchables and attached with various social stigmas that even there shadow is seen as unfortunate, socially and economically backward.

The class division prevalent in these societies restricts women to show up amidst the outsiders and express their grief openly, so, these Rudaalis are made their substitutes to fulfill the need of mourning. The more is the mourning by these Rudaalis, the higher is the social and economic status of the family of the deceased person.

The system of Rudaali was so prevalent in the past that Rudaalis were offered as a part of dowry in the marriage ceremonies of Rajputs and Thakurs. These Rudaalis were made to reside outside the house in huts or other setups. Many a times these Rudaalis give birth to illegitimate progeny of their maaliks. If the child turned out to be a boy, he was to be engaged in service of maalik and if the child is a girl, a new unfortunately Rudaali of tomorrow was to be brought up by an equally unfortunate today’s Rudali and the cycle continues.

The services provided by the Rudaali, if drawn on a canvas represents full body performance and can be said an art that includes weeping and wailing, singing praises of dead, rolling on the floor and thumping their chests in deep sorrow. Its a skill to remember all the names of family members and express family members’ sorrow as their substitute. It is a process for the entire funeral ceremonies lasting for 12 days. The economic subsistence provided are much below the standard, around 50-100 rupees per day but food is provided for 12 days and hope of clothes and extra money for loud and applauding mourning makes these weep for the unknown.

With frequent changes in urban and rural societies and the system of funeral ceremonies have upto some extent made Rudaalis unemployed as now loud mourning at one’s funeral has nothing to relate with the deceased’s social and economic status.

The practice of performing laments for the dead is not exclusive to India – scholarly writings have explored the roles of women who perform similar functions in Romania, Ireland and Greece.
The social and economic status of Rudaalis, although they provide professional services is below standards in India and this economic service of tear will soon be a history.

* References:-

•RUDALI by Mahasweta Devi
•THE LOST GENERATION by Nidhi Dugar Kundalia

Article by:- Avanish Kumar Tripathi

©copyright reserved Alysane Society

©copyright reserved Avanish Kumar Tripathi

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