Bishnois (also known as Vishnois) are those specific communities of people that follow Vaishnavism and lives majorly in the Western Thar Desert of Rajasthan and the other Northern states of India.
The Bishnois of Rajasthan is famous because of their sincere steps and religious beliefs for conserving the plants and animals to the extent of sacrificing their lives to protect the natural environment. They follow the principle of a complete ban on killing animals and cutting down the trees.
People often confuse them with a caste. But, the Bishnois are not a caste but a sect.
Bishnoi is a Hindu religious sect that strictly follows a set of 29 principles/commandments given by Guru Jambeshwar (1451-1536).
They follow Vaishnavism which is one of the major forms of modern Hinduism, characterized by the devotion of god Vishnu.
Their deity ‘Guru Jambeshwar’ is said to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
So, Why Bishnois of Rajasthan are famous?
The main primary reason why the Bishnois are famous because of their nature conversational activities.
They are the community who worship the Blackbuck Antelope (chinkara) and consider environmental conservation as their religion.
They are so famous for their nature conservation activities with sincere love, respect, and conversational faith that they literally have created a sanctuary like destination in the midst of the dry Thar Desert of Rajasthan where animals, birds, and humans live in awe-inspiring harmony.
Bishnois are whole heartedly dedicated to their sincere steps and religious beliefs for conserving the plants and animals to the extent of sacrificing their lives to protect the natural environment.
They strictly follow a set of 29 principles/commandments given by their deity. Nature protection was given the foremost importance in these principles.
The basic philosophy of the Bishnoi religion is that all living things have a right to survive and share all resources.
So, that is the reason why they follow the principle of complete ban on killing animals and cutting down the trees.
And, these nature conversational activities according to their religious sect have made them so worldly famous.
How does the Bishnoi community protect trees?
It true that the Bishnois are always the first step ahead in the protection of the environment while following the principle of going green society.
This particular community is considered as the first environmentalist of India and is highly indulged in the protection of the environment particularly in the vegetation and wildlife aspects.
They have been practicing the Eco-conservation activities for centuries as of now and are strictly dedicated to the conservation of vegetation and wildlife.
In the history of the Bishnois, there had been various movements and steps in order to protect trees.
The Bishnois community protects trees by:
- They have a strong belief system and religious faith that supports an environmental commitment and its strict conservation.
- A real Bishnoi is the one who follows the 29 rules laid down by revered Guru Jambheshwar. Out of these 29 rules, 6 rules are dedicated to the environment and conservation of trees.
- In 1600 AD, there were recorded instances of Bishnoi men and women dying for the environmental cause.
- In 1730 AD, Amrita Devi, a member of the Bishnoi sect along with 363 other Bishnois have sacrificed their lives to deaths while in the protest of the cutting down of Khejri trees.
- They believe that animals like Blackbuck, Cheetal, Nilgai have the first and foremost right to enjoy its natural habitat. So, the Bishnois allows these animals to gaze and roam freely in their farmlands.
- In the various Bishnoi villages like Jajiwal (Jodhpur), Dabla (Sri Ganganagar), and Mehrana Dhoran (Abohar) you will find various NGOs and Rescue shelters where deer calves and orphaned ones along with various other animals are taken care of.
- There have been stories of Bishnoi people sacrificing their lives in order to protect the trees and wildlife from being killed and cut down.
- Presently, you will find various instances of some silent caretakers from the Bishnoi community who are showing their exceptional commitment to building and sustaining the wildlife and environment.
How the Bishnoi sect was formed?
It was in the early 15th century when there was a very deadly situation with no food. It was the cause of drought and dry land that had hit the area.
The scarcity of food and hardship that followed was caused by people’s interference with nature.
These scenarios were visioned by Guru Jambeshwar as he had a dream about it.
It was then when the Bishnoi sect was born in the hands of Guru Jambeshwar, a Rajput chieftain of Marwar, in western Rajasthan.
Jambhoji was a resident of a village near Jodhpur. Thereafter, he became a priest and came to be known as Swami Jambeshwar Maharaj.
He had led down a set of 29 principles/commandments to his followers which also included various nature conservation activities as per the Bishnoi religion sect.
Soon after that, there had been many stories about how the Bishnois have beaten up hunters and poachers for intruding in their area.
This community had even sacrificed their lives to safeguard their environment.
The Bishnoi community began with his followers following his 29 principles. Bishnois are still present in the Western Thar Desert and northern states of India.
These people are highly commanded as per their religious faith and sect to provide shelter to the abandoned animals and prohibited the cutting down of trees.
They do follow a system of sharing resources with the wildlife around them.
The famous Bishnoi movement
In 1700 AD, there was a massive Bishnoi movement headed by Amrita Devi. This movemnet is also known as Khejarli Massacre.
It started when the Maharaja of Jodhpur wanted to build a new palace and required wood for it.
And, so he ordered his army to go to the Khejarli area around the village of Jalnadi which was lush green in the midst of the Thar Desert, to cut down the trees and bring the woods.
He had also ordered to fall green Khejri trees there in order to burn lime for the construction of the Maharaja’s new palace.
When Amrita Devi heard about this, he along with her 363 other Bishnoi people rushed there in order to safeguard the trees from being cut down.
Amrita Devi decided to literally hug the trees and encouraged
others to do so proclaiming that “A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree.”
Being highly refused by the people, the soldiers literally murdered everyone who banned the cutting down of trees with the ax in their hands.
This had resulted in the death of Amrita Devi. This voluntary martyrdom continued until 363 other Bishnoi villagers were also killed.
It is said that people and children from 49 villages sacrificed their lives, 294 of them were men and 69 were women, 36 of them were married couples as well.
This event shows how much they follow their religion and their strong belief in safeguarding our nature.
The Bishnois still narrate the story of Amrita Devi with enough pride and sadness in their eyes too.