The Shearing Of Sheep : A Photo Story

by | Apr 23, 2024

Sheep shearing is the process by which the woollen fleece of a sheep is cut off. The person who removes the sheep’s wool is called a shearer. Every year the sheep are sheared twice in Gujarat. Once in the month of February and then in October. I got a chance to visit Mohan bhai Rabari’s house during the sheep shearing season, in Dhundhalpur, Surendranagar district of Gujarat. Mohan bhai, the resident of Dhundhalpur has a herd of hundred sheep.The series of photos below show us the process of sheep shearing and activities around it.

The sheep are washed a day before shearing and dried. In the picture we can see the sheep drying in the sun and grazing.

Before getting into the photo story let me tell you the story behind the name ‘Rabari’. In the month of January, I was working with Seeta ben maasi and Poori ben maasi, two Rabari women from Kutch and they told me this story. The story goes like this,

Long time ago, during the time of kings and queens, our ancestors used to migrate from one country to the other. When they entered India (from the present day Gujarat and Rajasthan), soldiers stopped them and asked them whom they were. They replied that they are ‘Raah Bharis’ or the people who migrate (nomads) and later the name ‘Raah Bharis’ transformed to ‘Rabaris’.

At present there are majorly two types of Rabaris in Kutch, the Kutchi Rabaris and the Debariya Rabaris. The story was surprising in so many ways and one thing that’s still happening today is, Rabaris are still stopped and questioned when they are migrating outside Gujarat, which was also the case few centuries ago.

“We Rabaris are fair people, in order to mix with the local population and not to stand out, we started tattooing our hands and legs, the visible body parts”.

Seeta ben Maasi
A pair of scissors and a stick with a metal cap used by the Maldharis of Gujarat
Mohan bhai doing Pooja before shearing

Rabaris identify themselves as Hindus but also have some Gods exclusive to their community and one such prominent God is ‘Goga Maharaj’ or a Snake God. Every village has a place called ‘Than’ to adore Goga Maharaj, the popular folk deity among Rabaris. I have observed that ‘Goga’ is the most common name of choice for the tea stalls run by Rabaris in Gujarat.

Mohan bhai and his friend shearing sheep
Mohan bhai’s backyard where the shearing was happening

A number of problems occur if a sheep goes too long without being shorn. The excess wool impedes the ability of sheep to regulate their body temperatures. This can cause sheep to become overheated and die. Urine, faces and other materials become trapped in the wool, attracting flies, maggots and other pests.

Commercial shearing is very different from the way pastorals shear their own sheep. Shearers are paid by the sheep, not the hour, so there’s an incentive to work as quickly as possible. The sheep are frightened by the rapid pace, rough handling, and whirring of the shears. They can also get cut from the sheer speed of operation or while trying to reorient themselves to feel safe.

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