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The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan
Bishnoi and Bhil people

For centuries, the Bhil and the Bishnoi cultures have coexisted in the Rajasthan desert of central India. Though they live diametrically opposed lifestyles and have vastly different philosophies, they are drawn together by a bond much stronger than their differences: the struggle to survive in this harsh and unforgiving land.

The name “Bishnoi” (“Twenty-nine”) represents the number of principles espoused by their prophet, Lord Jhambheshwar. Despite being born a Khstriya, the second highest Hindu caste, he disapproved of the caste system and created a classless community into which all were accepted. The only requirement was to live by his 29 life principles including no killing or eating of animals, no cutting down of living trees and no alcohol consumption.

It is said that Lord Jhambheshwar attained saintly enlightenment while meditating beneath a tree in a place that would later become the village of Jhamba. There, where he discovered a water source that rescued his people from a 20-year drought, he established his ideal community, a society of people living in harmony with each other and with their environment. Many of the rules he imposed are still followed today.

Equal appearance was one of Lord Jhambheshwar’s principles. Believing that it would prevent jealousy and promote peace, he instituted a policy of uniformity that is still followed today. All women wear very bright, predominantly red saris of patterned cloth and adorn themselves with nose rings, bracelets and anklets. Men wear basic white clothes representing simplicity and modesty.

Among the Bishnoi, young married couples must settle on bare land and make it arable by digging wells, planting millet and cultivating other vegetation. The prophet Jhambheshwar preferred a proactive philosophy of agricultural development to a passive approach to the environment.

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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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