Bishnois

Infobox caste
caste_name=Bishnois
classification=Sect
subdivisions=-
populated_states=Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi
languages=Rajasthani, Hindi, Gujarati and Punjabi
religions=Hinduism

The Bishnois are a community of nature worshippers in the state of Rajasthan, India. They also have a sizeable presence in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat,Haryana, Punjab and Delhi.

Origin of the Bishnois

The sect was founded by Guru Jambheshwar (b. 1451) after a drought in the Marwar region of India. He had laid down 29 principles to be followed by the sect. Bish means 20 and noi means 9; thus, "Bishnoi" translates as "Twenty-niners" [ [http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/traditions/bishnoi.html Bhisnoi] ] . Further, the Guru directed the worship of lord Vishnu (Bishnu), thus the sect is called Vishnoi or Bishnoi. Killing animals and the felling of trees were banned. One of his 29 principles states "JEEV DAYA PALNI, RUNKH LIL0 NAHI GHAVE" which means to protect trees and animals, thus trees and animals are considered to be sacred by the Bishnois.

Lovers of animals and plant life

Bishnois are strong lovers of wild animals. It is because of their protection that in Bishnoi-dominated areas, deer and antelope (such as blue bulls, black bucks, chinkaras and chowsinghas) are seen grazing peacefully in their fields despite the fact that the State of Rajasthan where the Bishnois mainly live, faces severe water shortages.

In recent years, the Bishnoi community has launched strong protests against the killing of black bucks by Salman Khan, a Bollywood film star and Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi, a former Indian cricketer. Noted chartered accountant and social activist Mangilal Bishnoi led the demonstration against actor Salman Khan in Mumbai. In New Delhi, Mr. Sharvan Bishnoi(sharan) given the notice to Menaka Gandhi, Salman Khan was convicted on the evidence of Bishnoi witnesses. Fact|date=November 2007

Amrita Devi and the Khejarli Massacre

On a Tuesday (the 10th day of the month of Bhadrapad, according to the Indian lunar calendar, in 1730 AD, Amrita Devi, a Bishnoi woman was at her home with her three daughters, Asu, Ratni and Bhagu bai, when she learned that a number of people had descended on their otherwise sleepy village of Khejarli, named after "Khejri" (Prosopis cineraria) trees, found in abundance in the village. The people were a party of men sent by Maharaja Abhay Singh, the ruler of the kingdom of Jodhpur, in the Marwar region; their mission was to fell green Khejri trees to burn lime for the construction of the Maharaja's new palace and there was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the middle of the Thar Desert.

The martyrdom of Amrita Devi

Amrita Devi protested against the Maharaja's men who were attempting to cut green trees as it was prohibited according to Bishnoi principles. The malevolent feudal party told her that if she wanted the trees to be spared, she would have to give them money as a bribe. She refused to acknowledge this demand and told them that she would consider it an act of insult to her religious faith and would rather give her life to save the green trees. At that point she spoke these words:

"Sar santey rookh rahe to bhi sasto jaan"
(If a tree is saved even at the cost of one's head, it's worth it)

Having said these words she offered her head. The axes, which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head. The three young girls Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted, and offered their heads too.

The Khejarli Massacre

The news spread like wildfire. The Bishnois of Khejarli gathered and sent summons to their counterparts in eighty-three Bishnoi villages in the vicinity to come and decide on the next course of action. Since the supreme sacrifice by Amrita Devi and her daughters had not satisfied the royal party, and the felling of green trees was continued, it was decided that for every green tree to be cut, one Bishnoi volunteer would sacrifice his/her life. In the beginning, old people voluntarily started holding the trees to be cut in an embrace (as in the 20th century Chipko Movement).

Despite many valiant old persons sacrificing themselves, the "Hakim" (the royal party's leader), Girdhar Das Bhandari, taunted the Bishnois that they were offering unwanted old persons. Soon, young men and women (including the recently married) and children were sacrificing themselves in a similar manner.

There was pandemonium. The tree-felling party was badly shaken. With their mission unfulfilled, they left for Jodhpur to relay these events to the Maharaja. As soon as he learned about it, he ordered the felling of trees to be stopped.

By that time, three hundred and sixty three (363) Bishnois, young and old, men and women, married and unmarried, rich and poor had already become martyrs.

Khejarli Massacre aftermath

Honouring the courage of the Bishnoi community, Maharaja Abhay Singh apologised for the mistake committed by his officials and issued a royal decree, engraved on a copper plate ordering the following:

*All cutting of green trees and hunting of animals within the revenue boundaries of Bishnoi villages was strictly prohibited.
*It was also ordered that if by mistake any individual violated this order, he would be prosecuted by the state and a severe penalty imposed.
*Even members of the ruling family would not shoot animals in or near Bishnoi villages.

Trivia

*Bishnois are known to be very violent and aggressive in protecting trees and wildlife. It is said that if you are a hunter, then the worst thing that could happen to you is to be caught hunting by a Bishnoi.
*Unlike most Hindu communities, Bishnois bury their dead instead of cremating them. This is because of the strict prohibition on the felling of trees, the wood of which is required for cremation.
*In October, 1996, Nihal Chand Bishnoi sacrificed his life for protecting wild animals. A film, "Willing to Sacrifice", based on his story won the award for the "Best Environment Film" at the 5th International Festival of Films, TV and Video Programmes held at Bratislava, Slovakia.

Notable Bhisnois

* Kuldeep Bishnoi, a member of 14th Lok Sabha, from Bhiwani, President of Bishnoi communtiy
* Jaswant Singh Bishnoi, a member of 14th Lok Sabha, from Jodhpur.
* Bhavya Bishnoi, played cricket for Delhi state under 15 in 2007.

References

Bishnoism An Eco Dharma www.bishnoism.com
*Dudi, Dharmpal Singh, "Adhunik Jat Itihas"
*Report in the "Times of India" dated June 18, 2005: "Bishnois put trees, animals before self."Bhavya Bishnoi

ee also

* Burdak
* Beniwal
* Dudi

External links

* [http://www.bishnoism.com The Bishnoi Faith]
* [http://www.bishnoi.org The Bishnoi Organisation]
* [http://www.nativeplanet.org/indigenous/cultures/india/bishnoi/bishnoi.shtml Native Planet]


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