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India lives in its villages, very rightly said and still germane. True, India can be viewed and evaluated through its villages only. A visit to this mystic land would by any standard remain incomplete, without a sojourn at a typical village in any part of the country.

Indians, most of them, manifest a deep loyalty to their village, identifying themselves to strangers as residents of a particular village, wistfully referring back to family residence in the village that typically extends into the distant past. Indians, so strongly and logically attached to their village that even after having spent a generation or two in a city refers to their ancestral village as "our village."

The typical village has always been difficult to spot, till one is actually upon it. Its simple hamlets, with a way of life that has probably remained unchanged for centuries, consist of a collection of huts with thatched roofs. The walls are covered with a plaster of clay, cow dung and hay, making a termite-free (antiseptic) facade that blends in with the soil of the countryside around it. Boundaries for houses and land holdings called baras, are made of the dry branches of shrub, the long, sharp thorns a deterrent for straying cattle.

A village that is even a little larger may have pucca houses (garh, garhi or rawla) or larger living units, usually belonging to the village erstwhile chieftain (zamindar) or landowner’s family. Consisting of courtyards and a large nohra or cattle enclosure attached to one side or at the entrance, these are made of a mixture of sun-baked clay bricks covered with a plaster of lime. Floors are made with a mixture of pounded lime, limestone pebbles and water.

Decorative facades in such units are limited to creating a texture in the plaster in the facade, or using simple lime colors to create vibrant patterns (mandnas) at the entrance and outside the kitchen. These homes capture, for many of its residents, the only cosmos they know.

For the villagers, but for visits within the village community, the only social occasions are in the nature of pilgrimages, which are usually combined with fairs. But it is when they step out that the stark and otherwise dreary village breaks into a feast of color: turbans bob past in pachranga (five colored), saffron and red; bright colored veils (odhnis) furl around the faces of women in their magentas, yellows, greens and pinks; the traditional (still trendy by any standards) ornaments that spangle, dangle and chime on whole of their anatomy add to the vibrant personality which they bear, bangles jangle not just on wrists, but all the way up to the arms above the elbow.

Each village is a multi-community settlement, the various castes creating a structure of dependence based on the nature of their work. While changes are being wrought in this structure with ceilings on land holdings, and with the young seeking employment opportunities in towns distant from their villages, the social fabric has still not been rent Betrothals, marriages, even deaths are occasions for the entire village to come together, as much in a show of solidarity as of participation in each other’s good times and bad. People of all castes within a village address each other by kinship terms, reflecting the fictive kinship relationships recognized within each settlement

A great many observances emphasize village unity. Typically, each village recognizes a deity deemed the village protector or protectress, and villagers unite in regular worship of this deity, considered essential to village prosperity. They may cooperate in constructing temples and shrines important to the village as a whole.

Indian Villagers share use of common village facilities-the village pond (talab or joheda), grazing grounds (gochar), temples and shrines, cremation grounds, schools, sitting spaces (chaupal) under large shade trees, wells, and wastelands. Perhaps equally important, fellow villagers share knowledge of their common origin in a locale and of each other's secrets, often going back generations. Interdependence in rural life provides a sense of unity among residents of a village.

Traditionally, villages in India often recognized a headman and listened with respect to the decisions of the panchayat, composed of five important men from the village's major castes, who had the power to levy fines and exclude transgressors from village social life. Disputes were decided within the village precincts as much as possible, with infrequent recourse to the police or court system.

In present-day India, the government supports an elective panchayat and headman system, which is distinct from the traditional council and headman, and, in many instances, even includes women and very low-caste members.