What Bishnoi Village Can Teach Us About Nature Conservation

Bishnoi Village, Jodhpur Bishnoi Village in Jodhpur is a perfect place to experience a taste of tribal Rajasthan in India. The Bishnoi community is a Hindu religious sect known for living their lives built around preservation of nature. Read on to discover more about the Bishnois and what you can expect visiting the Bishnoi village.

 

Bishnoi Village Jodhpur

 

Who are the Bishnois of Rajasthan?

 

Bishnoi takes its name from Bish meaning 20 and noi meaning 9.  Its founder, Bhagwan Jambeshwar, articulated 29 principles of morality and conduct, founded on protecting plants and animals.  Followers of Guru Jambeshwar consider trees and animals as sacred, and believe that humans and nature should co-exist harmoniously.  Among the Bishnoi’s tenets is the prohibition of felling of trees and hunting of animals.

Guru Jambeshwar’s reverence for nature and deep spirituality has earned him a large following.  His followers consider him as a reincarnation of Vishnu, a Hindu deity known as the preserver and protector.  When he died in 1537, his followers’ commitment to the Bishnoi principles remained and spread over western Rajasthan, and some parts of Hayana and Punjab.

As someone who works in the field of environmental management, it is fascinating to know that at a time when environmental degradation isn’t a serious issue yet, Guru Jambeshwar and his followers already understood what is termed today as environmental sustainability.  If we are to probably follow the mentality of the Bishnois of Rajasthan, then willfully damaging the environment will be considered as sinful.

Bishnoi Village Jodhpur

Nice mural in a Bishnoi home 

 

Bishnoi 29 Rules

 

Already curious what the Bishnoi 29 rules are? Find it here.  These 29 rules can be classified into four categories:

Conservation of nature and protection of all life forms – As already mentioned above, the Bishnoi community is prohibited from killing animals and felling trees. Before using dung as fuel, they have to ensure that no insects could die from fire.  Since felling of trees is not allowed, they do not use wood as fuel and timber, except dead twigs and branches.

Another interesting Bishnoi rule is the abstinence from wearing blue clothes.  In India, blue dye is traditionally obtained from indigo plant.  The explanation behind this is that extraction of the blue dye entails cutting large volumes of indigo shrubs.

Since slaughter of animals is also forbidden, it follows that Bishnois are vegetarians. Furthermore, unlike many Hindus who cremate their dead, Bishnois bury their dead instead, to avoid use of wood for burning.

Personal hygiene and good health – The people of Bishnoi village have to drink only filtered water and milk to prevent contamination and should take a bath daily. (Side thought:  Filtration, though, may not be enough to remove all disease-causing bacteria.) They are also prohibited from smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.

Good morale and social behavior – Seven of the 29 tenets deal with healthy social behavior such as not lying, watching ones speech, no stealing, not condemning someone, and to not engage in useless debates. This part of the Bishnoi 29 rules is much like the Christian’s 10 Commandments.

Sound spiritual life – Bishnois should worship their Lord and perform certain religious rituals.

The Bishnoi 29 rules remind me of the book Ten Commandments for the Environment, written based on the ideas of Pope Benedict XVI.  This book is about helping us understand man’s role as stewards of Creation, recognizing that our responsibility and accountability is to God, and thus, the environment should not be abused and misused.  If you would like to know what these 10 Commandments for the Environment are, read here.

Bishnoi Village Safari

Animals are considered sacred by Bishnois

 

Bishnoi Community: Environmental Heroes

 

I guess an introduction of the Bishnois of Rajasthan wouldn’t be complete without telling the story of Amrita Devi and the Khejarli Massacre.   Bishnoi villages, despite being located in deserts, are known as oases where trees and wildlife abound.  In 1730 in the Bishnoi village of Khejarli, a woman named Amrita Devi protested against the men sent by the Maharaja to cut the Khejri trees.  The trees will be used for burning lime for the construction of the Maharaja’s palace.

In an attempt to resist the cutting, Devi hugged the tree but the Maharaja men were relentless and went ahead with cutting the trees.  Devi’s head was axed together with the trees.  Following this incident, 363 Bishnois including Devi and her three daughters gave up their lives to save the trees.

Maharaja Abhay Singh was struck by the villager’s courage and ordered the tree cutting to stop.  As an apology, the maharaja gave a royal decree preventing the cutting of trees in all Bishnoi villages. The incident is a powerful inspiration for the fight for the cause of environmental protection.

Two hundred sixty years after the Khejarli Massacre, history repeated itself in what came to be known as the Chipko movement.  The Chipko movement is an organized protest against the felling of trees in the Indian Himalayas in favor of government-supported commercial development.   A group of women from the rural villagers hugged the trees to resist the contractors from cutting the trees.  The movement became successful and inspired other villagers facing the same situation to follow suit. This prompted the government to implement policies to control commercial logging in India.

 

Bishnoi Village Safari

 

Bishnoi Village in Jodhpur is located about 22 kilometers from Jodhpur’s “Blue City”.  If you are looking for places to visit in Jodhpur away from most of the tourists, forget the Blue City for a while and head to a Bishnoi Village Safari for a taste of traditional Rajasthani villages.

A Bishnoi Village Safari will help you better understand the Bishnoi culture and way of life.  Here is a glimpse of what you can expect from visiting Bishnoi village.

shepherd in Bishnoi Village

 

Gudha Village

 

Riding through an open jeep from Jodhpur city, I set off to the first Bishnoi village in Gudha with Pintu, my guide/ driver.   Gudha Village is perfect for spotting desert trees and wildlife such as antelopes, blackbucks, chinkaras and various bird species.  It’s hard to imagine such animals would abound in a desert environment.  However, the presence of oases in the village coupled with the Bishnoi community’s care for trees and wildlife has probably helped preserve biodiversity despite being in a dry region.

birds at Guda Village

Spotting birds in a body of water in Gudha Village

We were at Gudha Village around 3 PM.  Pintu drove slowly to make sure we don’t miss seeing roaming wildlife.  Aside from cows leisurely walking along the roads, we saw peacocks, other bird species, antelopes and chinkaras.  We also passed by a shepherd herding goats through the side of the road.

Bishnoi Village Safari

Cows crossing busy streets in Indian cities are common and it’s no different along the quiet roads of Bishnoi village.

Bishnoi Village Safari

Peacock, India’s national bird

Bishnoi Village Safari

An antelope peeking behind the trees

 

Opium Ceremony in a Bishnoi Home

 

I haven’t read all the Bishnoi 29 rules until after I visited Bishnoi village.  Reading Rule #24 which states that they should not partake of opium, I am now confused why an opium ceremony is a norm for Bishnoi people.  Opium is prohibited in India but Bishnois have special permission to grow them for religious purposes.  In fact, as told by our guide, disputes are sometimes resolved over an opium ceremony.

Anyway, we were invited into a Bishnoi home to witness how they traditionally prepare opium.  They showed us a pre-prepared cube of sugar, which, as our guide explained, contains a very small quantity of opium.  A small piece of the cube is pounded in a pot, water is added then the mixture filtered several times with a sieve.  A chant was uttered while the mixture is filtered.

Opium ceremony in Bishnoi villageOur host offered us a mouthful of the liquid by pouring it in his cupped hands and drinking from it.  He clarified that we can refuse the drink without him being offended.  Considering his gesture as an act of hospitality and justifying at the back of my mind that a small dosage of opium taken once wouldn’t harm me, I happily sipped the prohibited substance.

 

Demonstration of turban tying

 

Turbans are traditional men’s headdress that symbolized honor and respect.  The style, size and color of the turbans are indicative of a man’s class, status, religion and region where they’re from.  Bishnoi men traditionally wear white or colorful turbans.  Shepherds, on the other hand, would wear red turbans.

Bishnoi shepherd

The same man (forgot to note down his name) who showed us how to prepare opium also demonstrated how to tie a turban.  Turbans are generally 10 to 20 meters long cloth wrapped in folds around a man’s head. It looks easy watching how he tied the turban but I know this is a skill that cannot be mastered with just one time of watching how it’s done.

Bishnoi Village Safari

 

Kankani Village

 

We visited a potter’s workshop in Kankani Village, where a Bishnoi potter demonstrated the traditional craft of making pots using clay.  The method isn’t actually something unique, but is the same as those I’ve seen in Vigan, Ilocos Sur in the Philippines, Avanos village in Turkey and Bhaktapur in Nepal.

What makes each place different are the designs, finish and method of drying.  In the Bishnoi community I’ve visited, they let the pots dry under the sun before curing at higher temperature in a kiln.  That makes sense as the weather in the desert is almost always sunny.

Kankani, Bishnoi Village Kankani, Bishnoi Village

 

Salawas Village

 

Our last stop was the Salawas Village, where we visited a skilled artisan who makes durries (thick woven rugs or carpets).  Bishnois weave durries out of cotton, wool or camel hair.  The interlocked weave of the durries make the designs reversible.

Depending on the pattern, material and size, making durries can take less than a week to as long as 6 months.  Bearing in mind the craftsmanship, quality and time spent by the artisans, anyone who wants to buy their products can afford to be generous.  Their woven products are also exported, an attestation to the excellent quality of their products.

Salawas, Bishnoi Village Salawas, Bishnoi Village

 

Choosing a Tour Company for your Bishnoi Village Visit

 

As with any other tours, I recommend that you do some research first and choose a responsible tour company.   A Bishnoi Village Safari is a great way of experiencing the rich cultural heritage of Rajasthan while at the same time enjoying wildlife sightings.  Making the best out of the visit will depend in part on how the tour company handles the safari.

I went with Rajput Cultural Adventures for my Bishnoi Village Safari.  The company donates a portion of its profits to Sambhali Trust, a non-government organization that aims to empower underprivileged Rajasthani women.  The organization provides women with educational and vocational skills, and livelihood to direct them towards financial independence.

Rajput Cultural Adventures has good rapport with the people of Bishnoi Village, Jodhpur.  They consider the villagers as stakeholders in the services they offer to tourists.  A portion of the profits from the tour is used to support the Bishnoi community and their local craft .

Know more about Rajput Cultural Adventures and their Bishnoi Village Safari here.

 

Get more inspirations on cultural travel experiences and eco-tourism here:

 

How to Get to Bishnoi Village, Jodhpur?

 

It will take less than an hour to reach Bishnoi Village by land trip from Jodhpur’s city center. I would personally recommend going with a guide or an organized tour so that you can gain a better understanding of the Bishnoi culture and religion.

To get to Jodhpur, there are several modes of transport to choose from:

By Air – Jodhpur has a domestic airport located 5 kilometers from the city center.  Flights served include connection to major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

By Bus – Jodhpur can be reached by bus from north and west cities of India.  Jodhpur’s bus station is near the Rai Ka Bagh Railway Station.

By Train – The railway station in Jodhpur is well-connected to Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bhopal and Varanasi.  Click here to check available routes and schedule, and conveniently book train tickets online through 12Go Asia.

 

Klook.com

 

Where to stay in Jodhpur?

 

I stayed at Purn Haveli in Jodhpur’s Chandapole area, walking distance from the Merangarh Fort, with a good view of the fort at its rooftop.  Check and compare rates in all top online booking sites and read reviews through Hotels Combined here.

 

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Bishnoi Village, Jodhpur

Note: Rajput Cultural Adventures hosted this half day tour. All opinions are my own, and no one from this organization reviewed or approved the article. This post also contains Affiliate Links. This means if you book hotels, flights, or purchase product or services using the link(s) in this article, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you for your continued support!


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17 thoughts on “What Bishnoi Village Can Teach Us About Nature Conservation

  1. Danik

    I would totally love to see how a local puts a turban on. Didnt know the cloth was around 10-20 meters long, it doesnt look like it is after the finishing of putting a turban on. That does interest me.

  2. sunsetsandrollercoasters

    Such a fascinating location! It amazes me that the 29 rules were set in place long before so many realized the importance of preserving the environment. Rule 24 is indeed curious. I would love to learn how the turbans are tied. I’ve always wondered that (coming from a person that can’t even properly tie a scarf!)

  3. My Feet Will Lead Me

    This looks and sounds so incredible! I’m so impressed by their commitment to not harming any life, down to the insects! Just amazing and very inspiring. Such tragic but incredible stories about those who stood up for the trees. I’m pinning this for future reference, as I desperately want to visit India in the near future. This is the kind of experience I look for.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thank you! The first time I heard about Bishnois, I knew I had to visit. You should visit India. It is a very diverse country. Even I couldn’t get enough and wanted to go back for more.

  4. Lance

    How interesting to read about the beliefs of the Bishnoi. I find it fascinating that one of the tenets prohibits wearing blue, since the indigo plant would be harmed. Also very interesting that opium is part of the religious ceremony when it is strictly prohibited. I never realized how much status could be understood from a turban. I’m sure the turban trying demonstration was fascinating.

  5. Janiel

    The medical provider in me was curious if the opioid concoction made you constipated, lol. You don’t have to answer that, but I was just wondering, lol. I did really enjoy the article though, I’m obsessed with cultural idiosyncrasies and love to see that some of these ancient practices are still being utilized and lived by. How would it be to have 29 commandments though, I can barely handle 12!

    1. findingjing Post author

      Haha! Janiel, I guess the dose was too small for me to feel any side effects. I didn’t know constipation is one of them. It just tasted slightly bitter. You are right, obeying 29 rules must be challenging.

  6. TheGreatAmbini

    This reminds me a lot of Auroville in south India. The vibe of the religion and also the environmental feel to the place. Obeying all the rules must be difficult, but I am sure they would become second nature – the same way we obey so many rules in other societies. I also love the idea of having to take opioid (he did say it would be okay not to) to experience this place fully!

  7. Navita

    Bishnoi Village looks very fascinating. The nature conservation experience along with learning about the local art forms as pottery and durries would be fantastic. We have been to Jodhpur but looks like we would have to go back to visit the Bishnoi lifestyle. Hearing about Bishnoi 29 Rules for the first time and the four categories in which they are represented are noble. Would love to see them in action.

  8. Dominic Gramatte

    Travelling through Rajasthan is such an epic adventure. We passed through Jodhpur as well and visited the Bishnoi Village as well. Was super fun but looks like you got a lot more out of it than we did. We got the turban tying and opium presentation but completed left without no idea about the principles. Thanks for filling in the gaps for me. Happy Travels.

  9. Yukti

    Such an interesting post about conservation of wild-life and environment. I never knew about Bishnoi community’s love for animals and nature. Their principles are really worth. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Karie

    A visit to Rajasthan has been on my bucket list for long and I had Jodhpur on it. I will have to add Bishnoi Village Safari to that list. Love that they believe in co-existing with nature. Also interesting to learn about the 29 rules. I always admire their colorful turbans and had no idea it was 10 to 20 meters long. Hope I can visit soon! Thanks for sharing.

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