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The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan
Bishnoi and Bhil people

continued (page 4 of 5)

Over the centuries, the Bhil have become semi-nomadic, offering their services to kings and maharajas as mercenaries and soldiers for hire. As the era of warring maharajas and kings came to a close in the early 20th century, the Bhil lost their only source of income and were forced to adopt a different way of life. Since then, they have settled in rural villages where they live from hunting and limited herding.

In recent decades, more and more Bhil people have settled next to Bishnoi communities, drawn to the few places with dependable sources of water and game. Unlike the Bishnoi, they have never farmed—their legacy for centuries has been their merit as fierce warriors on the field of combat.

Bhil people practice the Sonatan religion, a form of Hinduism. Although they do not use the Hindu veda book, they pray to the same gods and worship cows. They venerate the prophet Bhapuji, a 15th century warrior known for his courage, and honor him once a month during a full moon celebration called Jagaran. Women are not allowed to attend these celebrations where male drummers called bhoppas play and sing all night to accompany the men as they dance around a large fire.

In contrast, Bhil women are dominant when it comes to marriage. Marriages are always arranged and treated as a business agreement. Yet in this case, the negotiations are reversed. Bhil families do not pay a dowry to marry off their daughters; men outnumber women. It is the men who must pay 10 goats (about $100) for the right to marry an eligible woman! Every year during the July to August Full-Moon Day Fair, young men compete for the honor of marrying some of the wealthiest young women.

Page 4 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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