To visit a popular tourist destination only to cover the famous tourist places is never on my agenda of traveling. for me, there is a clear demarcation between a tourist and traveler. I believe that tourists are those who visit a particular place in a particular season with an agenda to cover all the landmarks of the place for which the place is known for. In the same time, a traveler walks some extra miles to explore more . The Traveler never restricts himself/herself to the geographical boundary of the place but are equally curious to know about the historical and cultural background . And in that , I consider myself a Traveler, not a tourist.
And I must tell you that Rajasthan is one of the favorite states of mine in India. Rajasthan – The name itself is the introduction to the great cultural heritage of India which not only includes music, dance, architecture, traditions, and traditional attire but also includes their colourful way of living. I think Rajasthan is the only state in India which celebrates colors in a very extensive way. Everything about Rajasthan is colourful. It may be their traditional attire, their culture, folk music, royal palaces, or may be their way of living. It’s really amazing to see the celebration of colors in the deserted lands of India.
During my research on Jodhpur ( also called the Blue City ), I found out about a community called Bishnoi and their sacrifice story to protect the nature. Historical records reveals that almost 28 KM from Jodhpur , there is village called Khejarli where in 1730 AD , 363 people from Bishnois community, led by Amrita Devi sacrificed their lives by hugging the trees while protecting green Khejri trees which is considered sacred by the community. It is said that the Great Chipko Movement in of 20th century in Uttar Pradesh is inspired by this incident in the recorded history.
So with many unanswered questions in mind about the community, I boarded the Jaisalmer Express from old Delhi station. It takes 14 hours from Delhi to Jodhpur. So around 5.30 am in the morning, I reached Jodhpur station.
The blue city of Rajasthan is known for its royal palaces, Forts and Havelis which symbolize the royal lifestyle of the Rajput. But instead of visiting the royal heritage, But i was keen to know more about the roots of the Bishnoi instead. As I believe, when you want to know a place, it’s very important to know the root of the communities who make great contributions to build the identity of that particular place.So I decided to take a village safari with Deepak, a local from Jodhpur who organizes these safaris to the interior of Jodhpur to promote Rural Tourism.
Almost 28 KM away from Jodhpur city, my Destination was khejrali village. While driving towards the village, I was amazed to see the well constructed road towards the interior of Jodhpur. It’s a great initiate to promote rural tourism in the state. Rajasthan government has done incredible job to encourage their tourism. As I was moving towards the village, I was recounting the story about Amrita Devi’s sacrifice story. Then my guide told me that Amrita Devi was Bishnoi woman. And the incident happened in 1730 AD, when she came to know that many people had come down in their sleepy village called khejrali to cut the Khejri trees . It was Giridhar Bhandari, a minister with Maharaja Abhay Singh who was the Ruler of Marwar (Jodhpur) state wanted the sacred green Khejri trees to burn lime for the construction of his new palace. Since there was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the middle of Thar Desert, the king ordered his men to get the woods . On the other hand Bishnoi community is known as great protector of the nature and as well as animals , So being a Bishnoi , Amrita Devi protested against to cut their sacred khejri trees by hugging a tree. While protesting, the soldiers of Maharaja Abhay singh axed the tress along with her head . After the incident, news spread like wild fire. After which almost 363 people from Bishnois community scarified their lives.
I was amazed to know the fact that a community can be so much attached to the nature that they gave their lives to protect the khejri trees. With more curiosity in my mind, I tried to dig out more about the community. I also visited that place in Khejrali village where the whole massacre took place. As informed by my guide, in the same place, on 9th September, a large fair is held to commemorate the massacre which now has become an annual celebration.
While traveling through the villages, I saw those round shaped huts.
I also saw black bucks, and herd of camels on my way to Guda Bishnoi village. I love their architectural style. Those round shaped huts, large agricultural lands, and colorful costumes of village women had introduced me to this new sight of Rajasthan unlike their royal lifestyle. I was mesmerized.
To know more about the community i decided to visit one of the Bishnoi families in Guda village. As soon as I entered the house of the Bishnoi family, the head of the family offered the traditional hospitality to me. Later I got know that Bishnoi community mostly resides in the farmhouses during monsoon season as their main livelihood is agriculture. Since water is a big crisis in Rajasthan, so Bishnoi community depends on rain water for their farming.
He told me that Bishnoi community is distributed in several north Indian states, but it is most densely located in Western Rajasthan, where their founder Guru Jambheśvara was born. According to him, the name Bishnoi means the people of the twenty-nine rules made by their guru. The rules includes protecting nature and animal, personal hygiene and maintaining good health , drinking filtered water, taking a daily bath, prohibiting the use of opium, alcohol, tobacco, and meat etc. Also women are prohibited from any kind of house hold work for thirty days after childbirth. But among all the rules, protecting nature and animal are on their priority. I was really fascinated to know their love towards nature and animal. Bishnoi community is considered the first ecologist community in the world. For me they are the real people who practice environmentalism in true sense.
I also got to know that Bishnoi community never cremates dead body, instead they bury the body as they believe that this is the most natural way to practice this ritual. Interestingly, widows from Bishnoi community wear the same colorful cloths after the death of her husband. This is to ensure that widow is always happy and feel the sense of belonging to the family. I was spellbound. A community which was born in 14th century practicing the modern values in the deserted land of Rajasthan with a great ease unlike People like us having high degrees; living in modern society are not even close to them. In fact many of us are so stereotype in nature that we don’t shy away to treat our widows differently in our so called modern society. The irony is we claim ourselves to be modern, but in real sense we don’t practice modernity in our daily life , whereas a community like Bishnoi which may not know the meaning of modernism but is practicing modern thinking in real sense. For me Bishnoi community is not only the most Eco Friendly Community in the world, they are the one of the modern communities I have ever come across.
While exploring the village life, I came across many villagers on my way with their colorful costumes. I initially thought that these villagers were from the same community. But later I got to know about their colourful costumes which was unique in nature. In fact, one can identify the community by their color of the costumes. isn’t that incredible .As my guide informed that apart from Bishnoi community, there are different other communities also live in nearby villages that one can identify by their costume. Each community has their own color codes like a man from Bishnoi community wears White Shirt, Dhoti and a White Pagri , whereas woman from same community wears Red Skirt with Black and White border on it, Red Dupatta ,and a Big Golden Nose Ring.
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