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


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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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