“When I leave for England, memories of the village will be in my heart”

Prince Charles on Tuesday witnessed both the rich water conservation traditions and the colourful culture of Rajasthan's Marwar region as he forayed into the sun-baked villages of Jodhpur district on a re-visit to the area. Tolesar Charnan village was buzzing with energy and the whole population, dressed in its festival best, turned up to welcome the Prince of Wales on a sunny morning.

The atmosphere was further enlivened as the Prince joined the local dancers, who moved in gay abandon to the beat of the Chang, holding aloft colourful umbrellas. When it was all over, the Prince obviously moved by the hospitality of the desert people, said, “When I leave for England, the memories of the people and the village will be with me in my heart.”

He had visited Jodhpur in 2006 to witness water conservation work carried out by the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), an NGO headed by the former ruler Gaj Singh. This time in Jodhpur, Prince Charles also visited the Water Resource Centre, of the JBF, located at the historical Bijolai Palace. Country Director of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Caitilin Wiesen and Ugo Astuto from the Italian embassy were present.

Prince Charles was welcomed by thousands of village community members from Tolesar and areas around. Tolesar showcased its Khandia Talab or rainwater-harvesting structure, which is the lifeline of the village, and five others in the neighbourhood. The village communities had revived this pond with the support of the JBF, the Italian Development Cooperation and the UNDP. The water users association, Jal Sabha, explained how the pond was developed with 30 per cent contribution from the beneficiary communities and now they harvest water for 12 months.

The village communities showcased the rich traditions of life around water and also demonstrated to the Prince how precious water is to the people in the Thar Desert. With the sound of the traditional drums, the villagers mesmerised the Prince with the festivities of Holi.

The Prince also had a glimpse of the festivities of Dev Jhulni Gyaras which marks the celebration of taking the deity on a palanquin from the village temple to the pond for bathing. The women and the menfolk dance, throw dry colours and take the procession to the pond, where the head priest bathes the deity in the water. The ritual symbolises the sanctity of the pond as the gods are always bathed in clean water.

The villagers also highlighted the unique relationship between water and people for the benefit of the visiting royalty with the celebration of Samudra Hillono, which marks the love, care and affection of a brother for his sister. This ritual is celebrated in the year when the rain has been in abundance and the sister invites her brother to show off the abundant water available in her husband's villages.

On this occasion, the villagers also illustrated the ritual of Shagun Vichaar, which indicates whether it will be a drought or a good monsoon year ahead. It is conducted by the village folk on the banks of the pond, where two young boys are made to stand with sticks tied on their wrist.