Far from the royal cities of the state, the villages of Rural Rajasthan hold their own distinct charm. Though they usually lack any attraction in form of forts, palaces, gardens and wildlife sanctuaries, yet they are worth visiting for the simple reason that they present the life of Rajasthan at its most basic. The rural life of Rajasthan reflects the determination of the people to survive in even most difficult of circumstances. For a tourists visiting Rajasthan for the first time, it is actually difficult to find a village in the vast stretches of barren land. It is only when a herd of cattle is seen around that the tourist gets an inkling of a village in close by area. Many a times, interestingly, even these signs are not seen and the tourists acknowledges the existence of a village only upon entering it. Once in the village, tourists realize that they have reached a place that is most simple and has perhaps remained static over last many years. The state of Rajasthan is populated with deserts. In spite of the challenges that these deserts offers, people have settled all over the Thar Desert and have innovated in their own small ways to make the arid sands habitable.
The landscape of Rajasthan is scattered with villages and hamlets, telltale signs of tree groves and populations of cattle being the only indication that there is such a settlement in close proximity. The most beautiful villages are situated in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Water plays an important part in deciding the location of villages in Rajasthan. Water is literally like nectar or amrut (ambrosia) in Rajasthan. People and animals in Rajasthan can manage without water for a considerable period. The women also manage their chores with a minimum of water. For cleaning vessels, they use a piece of cloth and fine sand, which is available in plenty. Brass and copper vessels, plates and tumblers acquire a shiny look after they are cleaned with sand. Then, they are washed with very little water and are ready for use. Bikaner, a western district in Rajasthan was named so as water (ner) was sold (Bika) there. In Jodhpur water was delivered through the railway. In Jobnair also, water was sold like any other commodity. Small tanks and wells were guarded by watchmen. A village well is the hub of activity in the morning. People who cannot afford to purchase water draw water from the well in earthen pitchers by themselves. In villages, the villager can offer a glass of buttermilk to his guests.
But he cannot offer as much water, which the women-folk carry from a great distance, which is about one to two miles. The water in earthen pots becomes ice-cold in the summers. A baby is also bathed in a thali or dinner plate with a piece of cloth for a sponge and very little water. Camels are integral part of the many households in Rajasthan, and are used for transportation, travel and amusement. Camel load-lifting competitions and camel races take place on festive occasions. Each house has a huge gate for camel and only a very small door for people.
The hamlets, the most basic form of civilization, that has probably remained unchanged since centuries, consist of a collection of huts that are circular and have thatched roofs. The houses of villages are fully ornamented with paintings on the walls and the walls of the village are also painted. The walls and houses are ornamented by creating a texture in the plaster, or by using simple lime colours to create exciting patterns at the entrance and outside the kitchen. These are prepared from a combination of sun baked clay bricks which are enclosed with plaster of lime. The floors are constructed from a mixture of limestone stones, water and pounded lime. The villages have agricultural and idyllic settlements, sanctuaries and temples. There are also temples which are devoted to, Shiva, Krishna, and Ram. These shrines are situated a little outside the village and are enclosed by trees that are cultivated by the villagers. The wells of the village are often richly ornamented and have tall pillars that would demonstrate their presence for travelers on long journeys through the desert.
Every house in Rajasthan will also have a small room where people would fold their hands and pray to the god. To seek sympathy from the gods people pray to the goddess Kali to protect them from the evil spirits and the illness of mankind. Some of the images of the local deities like the Sagasji and Bhairuji are outside the houses of the people and the images of deities are also in the villages kept in the roots of peepal tree. When one lives so close to the elements, it is natural to want to bow before them: a little obeisance can mean so much in the struggle for existence. Mina tribes in Chittorgarh practice an another form of medicine known as extra sensory perception (ESP). In this treatment, a Bhopa or priest enter into a trance and use a form of trapped energy to cure the illnesss of pains and other disorders. In case of injuries ash is used as an antiseptic. The kitchen in a village house is at its centre since this is where storage and cooking go hand in hand. Families rise early, with women beginning the day's tasks with the milking of cattle.
Many families maintain dairies, and carry the milk to urban areas for selling. Peasants who work on their farms leave for work after a glass of piping hot tea, carrying their spartan lunch with them. It is in the evenings that families tend to get together to dine. Generally, the male members eat first, the women next. In winter, people dine in the kitchen itself, sitting in front of the hearth. Clay pots are placed for cooking over this stove. Mostly the meals are vegetarian. Dinner is an important meal of the family, in the dinner. One of the important meal of the family is the dinner where oats and baked bread is served with a karhi, fresh vegetables and dried beans. For most of the families, the breakfast consist of a full glass of hot tea and bread, and lunch consists of an unleavened bread eaten with a spicy chutney of chillies and garlic. Non vegetarian dishes are restricted to only special occasions and festivals.
In the villages the different castes of the village create a structure of dependence based on the nature of their work and each village is a multi-community settlement. At the head of village settlement resides the Rajputs. The village life rotates around Rajputs. In fact, the cattle density in Rajasthan is very high and milk from desert settlements is supplied to the large cities close to the state, including Delhi. Rajputs also appoint bards and ministers who sang their praises in song and poetry; the tradesmen who supplied them, and the others in the community, with the goods required for their daily lives and also also there were cloth dyers, printers, carpenters, potters and ornament makers. The priests of the Brahmin families cast horoscopes, performed the elaborate rituals of their festive ceremonies, and served at the temples. The Pathwari looked after those setting out on journeys and pilgrimages. And there were various folk heroes and gods who provide immunity from everything from snake bites to cattle diseases.
The births, betrothals, marriages, and deaths were the certain occasions where the entire village would come together, and participate in each other’s good and bad times. People assemble in very large number at some places of the villages. These places are wells, shops, shrines and village square which is peepal tree with a large platform built around it for people to sit on. For the wedding the cooking was done in a large scale. Whole village dresses up properly to greet the wedding procession and the Dholis and other people of the singing caste lead the party to the house where the wedding is celebrated. Such celebrations are organized for some days and became the social event of the season. Womens come out of the villages only during the occassions of fairs and festivals. These womens are always dressed in skirts or ghagras with a blanket on their face and lot of jewellery on their face and forehead. In the same way as women decorate themselves and decorate
their houses, the men also wear rings in their ears and slip their feet into embellished shoes, they also create special jewellery for their camels, or cut their coats in elaborative designs. The camel is the beast of burden ideally suited for the desert. Its ability to store enough water in its stomach to last it for a few days makes it ideal for long distance travel along routes where even wells may be a rarity. No wonder there is such close amity between the long-legged beast and its owner. From transport to ploughing in the fields to pulling carts, the camel even provides milk though its sweet, thick consistency is not pleasing for everybody. In death, its hide finds use for converting into leather for saddles, bags and shoes.
Now, some changes have been made in the structure, and ceilings are made on land holdings. Most of the rural villages of Rajasthan now have various facilities like telephones, electricity, televisions and a network of roads from where people can travel more easily between villages and to the nearby areas. Life in the desert is in a stage of change but the traditions still remain the same which were not just essential in the earlier times but also gave life its unique merge of flavours.
For a tourist, the ideal way to visit a village is on the back of a camel. The most interesting sights that grabs the attention of tourists are the women around the community well or a group of people discussing important issues related to their village or general topics like politics or children either studying in an open air school or running around with complete freedom. The tourists can get a better insight into the life of rural Rajasthan by interacting with these people.