Meet The Bishnois Of Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Early humans worshipped the forces of Nature—Mother Earth, the Sun God, the Gods of rain, were prime deities, because they sustained life. The centuries slid by, and religions with specific names emerged. Today, we worship Gods and gurus, but there exist tribes that still pay obeisance to Nature herself. One such fascinating tribe is the Bishnois of Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Who Are The Bishnois of Jodhpur?
- The Bishnoi tribe is over 500 years old and they follow a religion that is based on the principle of conserving nature and wildlife.
- They live in the Western Thar desert and in some parts of Gujrat, Haryana and Punjab. They are mostly Jats and Rajputs, but usually take up the ‘Bishnoi’ surname.
- The Bishnois are widely recognised as the first environmentalists in India, with over 1 million followers.
- ‘Bish’ means 20 and ‘Noi’ means 9, hence Bishnoi means the ‘Twenty Niners’, after the 29 principles that the tribe follows.
- Killing of animals and felling trees is totally banned by them.
Origin Of The Bishnois of Jodhpur
The Bishnoi sect or Bishnoism was founded in the 15th century by Guru Jambheshwar of Bikaner, also known as Jambhaji, a resident of Jodhpur. One night, Jambhaji dreamt that his village was hit by a massive drought because people were neglecting Nature.
The dream was an epiphany that inspired him to reliquish the material world and become a holy man. Soon, he grew popular as Guru Jambeshwar and founded the Bishnoi sect, laying down 29 tenets for the protection of nature and wildlife.
Before his death, he is said to have told his followers to protect the Black Buck as it was his manifestation. Among trees, the Khejri tree, found in the desert, is scared to the Bishnois. This medium-sized tree has medicinal properties, and provides fodder for their camels. Wearing the colour blue is frowned on in the Bishnoi tribe because the dye is processed after the destruction of a large number of shrubs.
The 29 Tenets Of The Bishnois
The Bishnois follow 29 tenets set down by Guru Jambeshwar. These tenets preach conservation of nature and wildlife and include a strict ban on felling of trees and killing animals.
Out of the 29 tenets, 10 are dedicated to personal hygiene and basic health, 7 to social behaviour and 8, to the worship of God.
Among Bishnois, only dry twigs and branches can be used as fuel. Though they are considered Hindu, the Bishnois bury their dead, since cremating a body requires cutting down trees for fuel. They practice vegetarianism; not only eating but trading in animal meat is prohibited.
Legend Of Amrita Devi Bishnoi – The Khejarli Massacre
The tree hugging, Chipko Movement came from the Bishnoi community as it was inspired by the story of Amrita Devi Bishnoi.
In 1730 AD, Maharaja Abhay Singh, the then King of Jodhpur wanted to build a new palace for which he ordered his men to cut down Khejri trees to get wood for construction. But when the king’s men came to the village, Amrita Devi, her three daughters and the villagers opposed the felling of trees.
Amrita Devi said it was against her religious faith and would rather lose her life than the trees. She, along with her daughters hugged the trees. Unfazed, the king’s men severed their heads. News of the great sacrifice spread to the other villages. Bishnois from all over came to hug the trees and had their heads severed. A total of 363 Bishnoi men, women, young and old sacrificed their lives and became martyrs for the cause. Finally, the king had to relent, and ordered a ban on cutting of trees and hunting within the boundary of the Bishnoi villages. This has come to be known as the Khejrali massacre.
To this day, every September, the Bishnois gather in Khejrali village to pay their respect to all the martyrs who laid down their lives and were buried there.
As a tribe, the Bishnois are gentle and peace-loving, but when it comes to the protection of wildlife and trees, they are fierce! An inspiring tribe, their philosophy of wildlife preservation, brotherhood, protection of nature, peace and penance is more relevant today than ever before.
Published on: Jan 13, 2017
Come meet the Bishnois of Jodhpur, Rajasthan on a journey aboard the Deccan Odyssey.