A dhobi is a washerman in Pakistan and India.

Scope and job

Dhobis usually operate from door to door collecting dirty linen from households. After a day or two, they return the linen washed, sometimes starched and ironed. Dhobis were the forerunners on the Indian subcontinent to modern professional dry cleaners. Since the dhobi charges are much lower than dry cleaners, they are popular with most households.

Each dhobi marks a unique symbol or character on garments belonging to a particular household. This is marked in black indelible ink to prevent it from being washed off. Dhobis may wash the clothes themselves or outsource it to dhobis who only wash clothes. In Andhra Pradesh this caste is known as Rajaka (Chakali) and they make up 6% of the Andhra Pradesh population.

Associated places and terms

In Mumbai, dhobis are an integral feature of the city. All the dhobis wash their linen in the Mahalaxmi area known as Dhobi Ghat. This area is strangely popular with foreign tourists looking for a piece of quintessential Indianness. Another region in South Mumbai, Dhobitalao, used to be a (now filled up) lake where British soldiers used to have their uniforms washed about 120 years ago.

There are also streets called Dhoby Ghaut in Singapore and Penang (Malaysia), where Indian dhobis used to carry out their ancestral business.

Dhobi remains British Armed Forces slang for washing (i.e. "doing your dhobi"). In addition, washing powder is known as "dhobi dust".

Sometimes, a colloqial verb "to dhobi" is used. The sentence "My clothes were stinking, so I took them off and dhobied them native fashion by bashing them on a wet rock" appears in the novel "The Gold of Malabar" by Berkely Mather, an author who had spent many years in India.

Dhobi itch is an alternative name for jock itch.


External links

  • Video of Dhobi Ghat -

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