Bishnoi (Rajasthan India)

If I had gone back to the Thar desert with a production / filming crew then I’d probably have stayed in a real village and unearthed genuine gems. Not to say Bishnoi is not a real village, they try very hard to portray the real life in a hamlet. But because this particular village was so focused on tourism I missed the earthiness. Am glad the other 39Bishnoi villages in India go about their daily lives without attracting the tourists! I was so not impressed by the number of tourists that were loitering about in this village as if strolling in their very own backyard. I was glad I was here just for the day.

The huts are a piece of art. Beautifully decorated with hand drawings on the exterior walls, old kitchen utensils hung over the clay oven fireplace adding another dimension of yore. Clean and nicely spread out, the walkabout had me reflecting over the shyness I witnessed from the women living inside the huts. They rarely stepped out in front of strangers, would curiously peek thru their fairy sized windows. I attempted to talk to them, they’d giggle and hide behind the clay walls but never afforded me answer.

In 1730 CE, 363 women had their heads cut off as the first "tree huggers" in recorded history. Bishnoi means the number 29 in Hindi, referring to the 29 principles by which their caste as farmers ethically conducts itself. Two of the rules require that each caste member is compelled to care for trees; the other is that they care for all animals. In 1730 the then Maharaja Abhay Singh, ruler of Jodhpur sent out his woodsmen to cut down trees to feed the palace fires. They arrived on Bishnoi lands with the intent on cutting down their trees. One by one the women of the village sat at the foot of a tree and wrapped her body and arms around the tree trunks. When the Maharaja was informed of this he instructed his troops to cut off their heads if they did not get out of the way; hence the massacre. The first head to roll was that of Amrita Devi; her martyrdom set the example for the remaining 362 women who were to die that day.

Only afterwards, apparently in a fit of guilt, did the Maharaja apologize and decree that forevermore trees on Bishnoi lands would remain safe. I goggled this for better understanding and I was glad to see that the Bishnoi sacrifice of the past is remembered and has become a part of a modern day movement to protect trees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipko_movement).

Bishnoi is the one place where opium is legit. The ritual of making opium tea is a practice of the community that goes back a thousand years. It is used on ceremonial occasions and maybe a little in the morning and evening. Opium use is against the law in India; but in yet another of our wonderful contradictions, an exception is made for a number of castes in Rajasthan where tradition trumps law. I happily had a little of this elixir and understand its addiction.

As part of the Bishnoi safari, we also visited a local potter who learned his skills as the hereditary function of his caste. He explained that all his forefathers were potters as would be his son. The pottery is still done in the traditional way. Clay is thrown onto a 100 kg wheel which is pivoted at the center and spun, using a stick, to a high speed. The weight of the wheel maintains the momentum required to turn several pieces from a single large piece of clay. I was privileged to be invited by them to try my hand at the wheel and was thrilled to bits that my first attempt turned out rather well or perhaps it was beginners luck:) I was so enamored by my own creation and can appreciate how Dali or Bresson would have felt with their creations!

On reaching the hotel I carefully wrapped this pot to ensure its safe journey homewards. The bubble burst when I opened the packet on reaching home and saw the shattered pieces of mud lying inside the wrappings. Damn Jet airways!


sheila said...

Ah! Not too many people from Indian origin venture into these parts,which is why perhaps you see abundant foreign tourists. A shame there are so many thronging this tiny village- perhaps its been marketed rather well is my take.

Is'nt it wonderful to see Bishnois respect life in every form - animals trees and even dead branches. They are vegetarians and even in the villages they protect the animal life and don't let anybody practice hunting in the vicinity of their villages. Which is why that black buck incident became so nightmarish! ( I saw u tweeted it:))

Mike said...

Infact are they not strict vegetarians by religion? They eat nothing that grows below the earth like carrots, radish, potatoes etc. Their food consists of rice, wheat, lentils and green leafy vegetables.

Raj said...

The Bishnoi’s are the ultimate conservationist and environmentalists. We too sampled a traditional opium drink (watered down). Yamini and the kids took turns at a potter’s wheel as well as looming a Dhurri rug. It was a very educational and entertaining excursion. Thoroughly enjoyed it. So sorry about your pot breaking, I know how proud Y felt when she got back her clay pot, it continues to have pride of glory spot n the mantle:)

Shweta said...

Hey good to see you back! U been away a while now. Loved this post. I've always maintained the food tastes fresh and tasty in a village, as it was all locally grown - was it any different in Bishnoi?

gita said...

What is 1730 CE?

Awww that clay pot must have broken your heart- hugg.

Mee said...

1730CE (class encompasses) the period spanning the 1760s to 1840s concentrating on the development of political ideals and practice

sanjiv said...

Hey lovely post. Makes me want to head there right now.

Jim said...

Terrific culture the Bishnois. Had no idea such a community exists today. More power to them

sarala said...

Hey Mee,
Glad to see your post. Such gorgeous architecture and designs.....India and Indian never stop to fascinate me.Thank you so much for sharing.

Anon said...

Once again as always ...nicely expressed :) Whatl about the Food , Clothes, Haat , Medic facilities, School - Howz it !

indianluxuryhotelsdirectory.com said...

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

vinay said...

Good one Meenakshi......:)

Anon said...

Hi Mee, how have you been?
Have been reading your blog spot. Indeed its interesting and I really like the pics the angles and depth they have.

I am doing good and indeed having a nice time with further evolving telecom world.

Priyaranjan Vaid

melinda said...

Do you realize how surely the slant of thinking is shifting to "responsible" travelling for so many of us?:)

pat said...

wow awesome pics of rajasthan!

Vivek said...

really enjoyed reading the post...i think some of our very own indian best practices are so cool...

suzanna said...

Your pictures threw up a million words in my head, and your words threw up a million pictures in my head. Enlightening, vibrant post, minxi.

Venuraj Janakarajan said...

Very neat... your blog is turning out to be an amazing travelogue. Great going!!!

Mee said...

@Sheila - O it was a supreme learning experience, no doubt!

@Mike @Melinda - yes absolutely correct

@Raj - I was over it, till I saw ur comment now, and am feeling bad all over again:(

@Shweta- all locally grown produce too

@Sanjiv- absolutely a must visit!

@Jim- yup.

@Sarala @Vivek - India doesn't stop fascinating mee too:)

@Anon- would have become a very long post. So stuck to the basics:)

@indianluxuryhotelsdirectory.com - u r welcome

@Vinay @Pat - glad u liked

@Priyaranjan Vaid - all the best!:)

@suzanna - That is a HUGE compliment:) TY

@Venuraj Janakarajan - TY