BISHNOI MOVEMENT, 1730
Published by: Aakansha Singh
The Bishnoi movement is not only one of the most important movements in India but also a forerunner of all environmental movements such as Chipko Adolan. The movement is called Bishnoi movement because around 363 Bishnois died in the movement while saving trees. They are regarded as the first environmentalist in India who initiated the legacy of environmental protection. They were the first ones who sacrificed their lives to save trees when the world was not even aware of climate change almost 300 years ago. Is not it very surprising that what inspired them to die for trees? Who were they and why are they popular? What is their legacy? In this article, I will be discussing in detail about Bishnois and Bishnoi movement.
The Bishnoi is a sect of Hinduism founded by Guru Maharaj Jambeshwar (Jambhoji), Rajput chieftain of Marwar, in western Rajasthan in 1485AD after witnessing a drought. He had given 29 principles to the Bishnois to follow during their lifetime. And because of these 29 principles, their name is Bishnoi as bish means 20 and noi means 9. They are also called “Vishnoi” as they worship lord Vishnu. The principles are contained in a document known as “Shabadwani” written in the Nagri script, consisting of 120 words. Six of these principles are dedicated to the protection of environment and compassion for all living creatures including wild animals. Cutting of trees and killing of animals is strictly prohibited to the Bishnois. They are directed to give shelter to abandoned animals. They are expert in maintaining the local ecosystem. They not only protect trees but also cultivate lush vegetation even in the arid desert regions. They are also an animal lover and known for animal husbandry.
The Bishnoi Movement
The movement took place almost 300 years ago when the Maharaja of Jodhpur Abhay Singh wanted to build a new palace and for which he needed some wood. Therefore, he sent soldiers to collect wood of khejri (acacia) trees from the forest region near the village of Khejrali on 12 September 1730. Bishnois were living near the place but when they saw that the soldiers began to cut the trees, a lady named Amrita Devi Bishnoi, started hugging trees to save them. Soon after her, her daughter, family, and other local people also adopted the same strategy in an attempt to stop souldiers from cutting trees. But the soldiers did not stop and started beheading the Bishnois. When the maharaja heard the news, he immediately ordered to stop the massacre and apologized for the act. Total 363 were martyred till then in the massacre. Amrita devi told the soldiers that “a chopped head is better than a felled tree.” And I am ready to die for trees. It was perhaps the first-ever martyrdom for the environment in history.
All martyred Bishnoi were buried in the same village and later, graves were also erected. In memory of all 363 Bishnois, Khejri trees were planted around the area which is still rich in flora and fauna, and every year, the Bishnois assemble there to remember the sacrifice made by their people in September on Shukla Dashmi of Bhadrapad.
Other Movements by Bishnoi
Undoubtedly, the Chipko Adolan was inspired by the Bishnoi Movement as the concept of tree-hugging was unknown to the world. It was Sundarlal Bahuguna who learned from Bishnoi and hugged trees to save them from deforestation in 1973. Further, it was Bishnoi who fought for the killings of blackbuck and Chinkara for 20 years and got justice in Salman Khan blackbuck poaching case. They fearlessly fight for the conservation of trees and wild animals. They are born nature-lover and considered as a true environmentalist.
It is said that History is the true teacher, we must learn from it but as well said by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel that “History teaches us that man learns nothing from history” is also true and if it is not true, we need to learn from the Bishnois that environment is more important than our lives. We cannot exist without nature. Protection and conservation of the environment must be our primary purpose in life. We even must be ready to die for nature and this how we can save our planet. They showed us the real path. They are our heros.