August 2, 2015

Bishnois of Jodhpur

Visit to Jodhpur has been an amazing one, but somehow internal pleasure was not there. The joy of learning new culture, meeting different people was still to be attained on this trip. It was then came to know about visiting Bishnoi region, located at edge of Thar Desert; a distance of 22 km. from Jodhpur city.

Why? What is so special about this village. Special...Special is the custom here, special is the living philosophy and above all special is the practice of preservation of trees and wild life.

This is the place, Khejarli village where 363 people sacrificed their life to preserve trees. In 1763 Mehrangarh fort was being constructed, gypsum was required in huge quantity to cement the rock. Gypsum was prepared in those days by heating the rocks, to heat the rocks wood was the only known source. So then king of Jodhpur asked his soldiers to cut the Khejri trees which are abundant in the region around Jodhpur. As the solders reached the region to cut the trees, Bishnois obviously tried to persuade the soldiers from not cutting trees. When soldiers used force to remove Bishnois, these Bishnois simply offered themselves to be killed before cutting the trees by raising slogans of:
" सिर साटै रुंख रहे तो भी सस्तो जाँण
सिर के बदले  भी अगर वृक्ष बच जाए तो उस बलिदान को  सस्ता ही समझना 
“Even one head chopped in saving a tree is worth and has not gone waste”
It was only when 363 bishnois were killed, the news reached the king. The king then ordered not to cut any tree from then. Picture kept at existing Guru Jambheshwar temple is self explanatory in this regard:  


A memorial has been built as a remembrance to that act and on the place where the remains of those people who sacrificed themselves have been buried. Bishnois also do not burn the dead bodies of the gone, but bury directly in order to preserve wood, as it comes from trees only. Every year on the anniversary day of that sacrifice, people gather here in huge numbers to pay homage to ones who taught to this world the value of preservation of natural resources. 


There are around 20,000 Bishnois in this area. Bishnoi sect was started by Guru Jambeshwar in 1458 AD. Bishnoi sect is based on 29 principles (Bish – 20, Noi- 9: the name Bishnoi) which emphasize on love, peace and harmony among humans, animals and most important nature. They love fellow human beings and preserve Khejri trees (source of Kair Sangri) and worship Black Bucks. Their dedication to these principles can be seen by this: even if black bucks enter into the field of standing crop, they do not scare or try to move the herd out of the fields. There is also a temple dedicated to guru Jambheshwar. New temple is also being constructed.
In the campus there are lot of peacocks here in the temple roam around freely. Peacock is the only bird which reproduces when the female (peahen) swallows the tear of mail species. Tear come out after peacock get tired dancing in the rains/ monsoons. Till the time tear comes out, peahen calmly stands by the side of peacock.


Let’s go close to the life style of a Bishnois. They still live in traditionally house built with the cow dung and mud, no need to use fan as the interiors are very cold in the peak scorching summers too. They also have their traditionally built refrigerators out of husk, cow dung in which they keep and store food items. Food is cooked on chulhas, only the dried branched of trees, which have fallen to the ground by themselves are collected for cooking. You can see tea being prepared on a Chulha. Bishnoi Ladies are very hard working; they get up early do household work and help man in fields also. 

I got a chance to have tea made on chulha (earthen furnace). Bishnois welcome the visitors with opium tea. Though opium is banned, but bishnois have permission to cultivate for their religion and customs associated to it. Here is the apparatus for preparing opium tea. Opium is put into the long tube and tea is distilled slowly through the opium. 


Such is the harmony here that ladies can afford to roam around in forests without any fear. This is a place where animals and birds can live without fear. One can find a lot of migratory birds like Siberian cranes here in the local water bodies and Guda Lake. Local water bodies are not encroached by any means by the locales and are reserved only to serve birds and animals.

Living on the edge of desert is not easy, but Bishnois have created a wonderful self sustained ecosystem and are not dependent on external means for their daily requirements. We in cities might not value water so much, but the importance of water preservation is exemplified by these simple people. Hats off. Khejri tree is a prominent plantation in this region. A tree which grows/ survives/ flourishes by only rain water. No extra water is required. Sangree is obtained from this tree, which is one of the most consumed vegetable here.


While moving around on narrow but well built roads, we were often coming across freely roaming chinkaras, black busks and other animals. Amazed by the culture, we moved ahead to see the craftsmanship of these people, check out:


  • Pottery work; beautiful toys, images of Gods/ Goddesses, piggy banks, lanterns and utensils are much sought after. Crocodile visible in the back is also hand made by potters here. Prepare one crocodile is very time consuming and generally takes 2-3 months to make one.

  • Block Printing: Bed sheets with a rich mix of colors is prepared by traditional methods. these bed sheet go with number of steps and then finely a beautiful bed sheet form. You are free to buy bed sheets, good thing that they will show you bed sheets as many as you want to see, but will not insist slightly even to purchase even one. 


  • Bishnoi family was kind enough to show us the Dari weaving facility and told us the intricacies involved in the process. This is a community co-operative where most of the community members take part in Dari weaving. It ensures livelihood for all of the families in this village. By this time we were very hungry and excited as it was the time to have our lunch with a bishnoi family. Menu was Bajre ki roti, kair sangree ki sabzii, Yellow Dal and Besan ki Kadhi. Every dish was yummy and much tastier than any exotic meal in any restaurant or hotel. 
For explorers there is also an option of staying with the Bishnoi family, in their houses:

The Safari time of 6 hours in villages of Guda Bishnoiyan, khejarli and kanai passed like a second. But the take back experience of this place was awesome and worth for every moment. Take one day for Bishnoi safari and continue your journey to Jaisalmer or Bikaner...

For Information: This was the place where actor Salman Khan had killed the Black Buck, the act which was condemned widely. The case is still sub-judice in the courts. Black bucks are worshiped here as re-incarnation of their Guru Jambheshwar. As told by locales, had the vehicle been stopped by them, matter would have been very serious, justice might have been done there itself.

These days we keep hearing about people fighting all over the world for more resources. But after coming here, I firmly believe that peaceful co-existence is not that difficult if we learn to be happy within our means. People here are happy in whatever they have, but what makes them different is the pride in their culture and legacy. At this moment, Colossal Palaces and Forts do not look so great as compared to a Bishnoi house.
Remember: Needs can be fulfilled, but GREED can not be. There are sufficient resources for everyone on this earth. 

Keep exploring Guys...



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