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The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan
Bishnoi and Bhil people

continued (page 3 of 5)

A traditional annual celebration in honor of Lord Jhambheshwar is still observed on the first night of the new moon in the month of Chetry, two weeks after the Holy Indian National Festival. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the remote desert village to drink the salty water from the sacred source, believing it will cleanse them of all their sins.

Other Bishnoi beliefs have their roots in more modern traditions. Most Bishnoi people, converted Hindus, still believe in reincarnation and their main objects of veneration are the gentle antelope, revered as returned dead ancestors. Antelope are frequently seen in large numbers near Bishnoi millet plantations and irrigated land—a scenario that has become the crux of an oddly symbiotic and contentious relationship with their neighboring ethnic group, the Bhil.

The Bhil people are highly skilled desert hunters; the art of hunting has been in their blood for many centuries. Although the government now forbids hunting, the Bhils secretly preserve their culture by venturing out at night to kill birds, rabbits and lizards with their hunting sticks. Their favorite target is the bountiful antelope population, prized for its plentiful, high-quality meat. Among the poorest people in India, few Bhil people own rifles or those who do can’t afford the licenses or bullets. They fill rifles leftover from their mercenary work with black powder, stones and glass debris and hunt under cover of darkness.

Even more offensive to the Bishnoi than their stalking of antelopes is the Bhils’ attitude towards trees and vegetation. The Bhil flaunt Bishnoi taboos by cutting trees to fuel their fires, build their houses, and most importantly, to provide materials for basket making, especially the green wood of the precious arana tree.

Page 3 of 5 | Next page »


A young boy learning the Bishnoi religion and principles of life, which are traditionally passed down from fathers to sons.
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Bhil women cooking the chapattis that are their dietary mainstay--dipped into hot chili paste, they are only occasionally supplemented with birds, lizards or rabbits.
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Empowering Rajasthan remote villages

Native Planet and Indian NGO Nitigat have joined forces to assist remote desert villages of Rajasthan.

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