The Bishnoi community is a religious sect founded by Guru Jambleshwar in 1485 who commanded 29 rules or principles for his followers and hence the name Bishnoi as Bish means 20 and Noi means 9 in their local dialect.
What makes the Bishnois stand apart is their fierce love and loyalty for the environment and wildlife. They realized the importance of natural life centuries before global warming has forced us now to look back on our actions and make amends. They have complete intolerance for hunting and cutting trees. Despite being a Hindu community that worships Lord Vishnu, they bury their dead instead of cremating them as cremation involves felling of trees for firewood.
To understand more about their culture, heritage and way of life, join a Bishnoi Village safari tour when in Jodhpur. The village is about half an hour from Jodhpur city. A distinct feature of Bishnoi women are the large circular nose-rings adorned by every married Bishnoi lady. Jodhpur is known as the Blue city and ironically, the Bishnois do not wear the colour blue as a huge quantity of shrubs need to be burned to obtain the blue dye. The villagers live in mud huts with thatched roofs.
These huts are locally called ‘Dhani’. The floor of the huts are overlaid with cow dung to keep away vermins and also to keep it naturally cool. Another interesting fact is that Bishnois grow opium for religious purposes. And as they are fond of it, they usually greet visitors with Amal, an opium drink.
As part of the tour, you get to visit the distinct attractions that are a part of the Bishnoi community. These include the Shepherds village, Weavers village, Potter’s village, Khejarli, Kankani, Gudha village and the Guda Bishnoi lake.
Shepherds village, as the name suggests, are the families whose livelihood mainly is grazing cattle like goats, sheep, camel etc. Here you can get a first hand experience of a rural lifestyle.
Weavers village in Salawas is the land of magic carpets. The age old tradition of weaving is yet kept alive in villages as this. Locally called Dhurry, these rugs are weaved out of cotton or wool.
Potters village in Singhasni offers the finest works in pottery. The potters use clay and sawdust as raw materials. You can watch them at work and even try a hand at creating your own clay masterpiece.
Kankani or the block printers village showcases lovely terracotta work and the art of block printing.
Gudha Village and the Guda Bishnoi Lake is where you can witness nature at its finest. The kindness of the villagers towards animals is returned as you will spot cranes, blackbucks, chinkaras, peacocks, antelopes, rabbits and numerous species of birds here.
Khejarli is a historic site and marks a landmark movement in the Bishnoi history. The village got its name from the ‘Khejri’ tree which was found in abundance here. In the year 1730 the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Abhay Singh, ordered these trees to be cut for the renovation of the Mehrangarh Fort. Amrita Devi and her three daughters offered their heads in return of mercy towards the felling of trees. She quoted, ‘Sar santey rookh rahe to bhi sasto jaan’ (If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it’s worth it) Despite this sacrifice the royal party went about carrying their orders which sparked off a protest which led to the Bishnoi villagers embracing the trees in the hope of saving them (a precedent of the 20th century Chipko movement).
However the ruthless royal party continued the chopping and ended up mercilessly killing 363 Bishnois before they gave up. 363 trees have been planted in their memory around the Jambheshwarji Temple. Honouring this brave act and in remorse for the crime caused by his officials, Maharaja Abhay Singh issued a royal decree stating that cutting trees and hunting animals within the boundaries of Bishnoi villages is strictly prohibited.
A visit to Bishnoi will certainly make you realise that living even in the simplest of means can be satisfying. For an off the beaten track experience, it is a definite must visit. You can either opt for a half tour tour from Jodhpur which ends with a traditional vegetarian lunch with a family and costs about INR 1000-1500 per person or you can spend a night at a homestay for an authentic village experience.