A Nomad's Diary - travel tales, An After Thought

Are Bishnois of Rajasthan the Ideal Sustainable Co-existing Society that the World is Looking For? Part -I

In the North-western part of Rajasthan where the vast expanse of desert stretches it arms lays the city of Jodhpur. It is the second biggest settlement in the state. The city, on one hand, is known for the opulent lifestyle of the royals furthermore it is also known for the Bishnoi community.

‘Bishnois’, the white pugdree (traditional turban) donning men & the fearless women are a community of people bound by religion. Their love, care & dedication towards nature, both plants and animals, has been seen & heard many times.  The key to everything around Bishnoi community is in their way of living. On visiting their villages one gets charmed by their simplistic, minimal and eco-friendly lifestyle.

An elderly person from Bishnoi community
An elderly person from Bishnoi clan

The community derives its name from the 29 principles given by their patron, Guru Jambheshwar. Bish or Bees and Noi meaning twenty & nine respectively in the Hindi language combine to form the name as Bishnoi. The clan truly swears by these 29 ideologies which were designed some 500 years ago.

Guru Jambeshwar – the patron guru of Bishnoi community:

Guru Jambheshwar born in the 14th century meditated on a sand dune for several days after which he gave out the 29 rules to his followers. These rules encompass the dos and don’ts to live life in an eco-friendly way. It also details out rules for all to abide on a societal level. On adherence of these rules, the guru guaranteed people struck with famine and drought then, prosperous life in future. On such ill-fated events in the past, till date, Bishnois have never faced a shortage of food, water, milk and other resources to live their lives comfortably.

The core vision behind these rules was to teach lessons of sustainability. The rules were interwoven with religious practices in a land of extreme climatic conditions and people who were mostly uneducated then. As a result, the people in these villages respect & maintain a healthy co-existence among all the living creatures of the earth.

The First Eco-warrior Movement of India – Khejrali Massacre:

The Sacred Khejri Tree - Bishnoi community
The Sacred Khejri Tree – Bishnoi community

A famous anecdote about the sacrifice of Amrita Devi shows the pledge of Bishnois as a community for nature preservation. In the 18th century, the then king of Jodhpur ordered his men to make a new palace for him. These men came to the Bishnoi village with the purpose of cutting trees for getting wood.

When Amrita Devi saw the king’s men cutting green trees she protested. She hugged to the Khejri tree and warned the soldiers to either stop cutting the trees or they would have to kill her first before they go ahead. The soldiers killed her and the tree. Seeing this bravery act of Amrita Devi, her three daughters and consequently more than 350 men, women & children gave their lives in this pursuit. When the news reached to the king, he ordered never to cut a tree from the Bishnoi areas.

Perhaps, this was a historic movement that laid the foundation of the Chipko Movement that happened much later in Uttarakhand and several other parts of India. The incident set a precedent for the years to come. Till today the locals here are known for their bravery & the extent they go to protect trees and scare off poachers.

Today a monument stands tall in Khajarali village to mark this brave act of defiance. Inside the monument, there is a patch of land where no trees grow.  Around the monument which stands on the then farms of Amrita Devi, there are several Khejri trees planted.

Here are some lifestyle practices that Bishnoi Community live on a day-to-day basis which makes them a great example of an eco-friendly society:

Blue bull (Neelgai) wandering freely in Bishnoi land: Bishnoi community
Blue bull (Neelgai) wandering freely in Bishnoi land: Bishnoi community
  • New mothers of this community breastfeed baby deers in case they struggle to cope with extreme climatic conditions.
  • Bishnoi priests are the superiors of the clan.
  • The community has its own set of fairs & festivals where they perform rituals on a community level.
  • Samrathal Dhaora (dune) is the pilgrimage site for Bishnois. It is the same spot where Guru Jambehswar meditated.
  • Bishnois are pure vegetarians and so in wedding and on festivals, they celebrate by having opium.
  • They live in beautifully decorated small mud huts with a thatched roof. Bishnois keep their huts and the surrounding areas absolutely clean.
  • Apart from agriculture, maintaining a  cattle farm is one of the Bishnois side business. In western Rajasthan, they are the main milk suppliers. A small but consistent amount of Khejri trees is the fodder for the cattle.
  • Bishnoi men and women can get fierce when it comes to protecting nature. In the past, there have been many instances where these people have picked up fights against hunters and shooed them off.

Few Rituals performed by Bishnoi Community:

Among the rituals performed by them the prominent ones are:

  1. Water drinking: As water is the source of life, it is distributed in the crowd as a ritual. People accept and drink it as an initiation to the Bishnoi way of life. This ritual is above any barrier of caste. However, now this ritual takes place at a much smaller level especially during the anointing of a newborn into the clan.
  2. A ritual of scraping out little pieces of bark from the holy Khejri tree by nails is practised by locals on visiting the pilgrimage.
  3. Also, they scrape out little soil from a specific place and carry along to the pilgrimage place.
A typical hut in Bishnoi Community
A typical hut in Bishnoi Community

Continue reading Part-II of this article where we detail about the sustainable practices followed by Bishnois and how we can adapt the same for a better co-existence with nature.

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(8) Comments

  1. Efforts of such communities need to be highlighted. Interesting and informative post about the community.

  2. […] we discussed the history and origin of this community. (In case you haven’t read the first part still, read here!) Also, we shared some of their day-to-day lifestyle practices. Continuing the […]

  3. I had read about the story of saving trees before but I couldn’t remember where this happened. A very interesting post

  4. This is really interesting. Bishnoi community isn’t very big yet they have a huge impact on the society and culture of Rajasthan. There’s a university in Hisar, Haryana that is named after Guru Jambeshwar.

  5. Though I am from Rajasthan was not aware of all the facts of the Bishnoi community. Thanks for the detailed post.

    1. Yes happens even I haven’t covered my entire home state. That is why such posts find relevance maybe..:)

  6. Haajra Fareen says:

    This is a very informative article. I never heard of this before. Their work needs to reach more people and be heard by many.

    1. Actually it is a way of living for them.

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