Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sacrifice for conservation

undefinedIn the desert, the philosophy of protection of flora and fauna became popular. People started patronising the wildlife as Black Buck (Antelope cervicapra), and Indian Gazelle (Gazella gazella) roamed all around their villages. They started feeding bajra (millet) to them daily. Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) was, as it is even now, common vegetation of the arid zone, producing the most nutritive food for people as well as cattle. Hence, its protection became the cardinal principle of Bishnois. These people objected to such green trees being felled. They would catch those found cutting trees around their villages. It did generate conflicts. These people would not mind having fights which often led to ‘human sacrifice’ to defend trees!
1st Sacrifice: The first self-sacrifice occurred in 1604 AD at village Ramsari in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. The two Bishnoi ladies, Karma and Gora chopped off their heads at the village cross-road as a protest against felling of Khejri trees. It is considered as the first ‘saka’ (self immolation) in the Indian history for the sake of a tree. Not many details are available about the culprits who felled trees around this tiny village, Ramsari which survives to this date. But the Bishnoi folk lore has profuse mention of the heroic deeds of Karma and Gora who became the sources of inspiration to other Bishnois.

2nd sacrifice: The second ‘saka’ occurred in 1643 AD at Pilwas near Merta in Nagaur district in Rajasthan. The people had felled trees to propitiate the ‘Holi’ goddess for that Indian festival of colors. A Bishnoi man, Buchoji gave away his life in its protest. Thus was added another name in the history of those sacrificing their lives for protecting green trees.

3rd and a record sacrifice: The year 1730 AD witnessed a sacrifice which stood out as unparallel in the world. It happened at village Khejreli in Jodhpur district. The then Maharaja Abhay Singh of Jodhpur had planned a new fort to be built. Fuel-wood was needed to burn limestone, which was locally available. People of Bishnoi sect objected to felling of green trees. The administrators demanded cash compensation if trees were not to be felled. This was not acceptable to them and they gave a call among ‘some 84 villages all around.’ What happened next? Men, women and children hugged trees as axes fell on their bodies. Andoit, Virco, Vanial, Chaboji, Udhoji, Kanhoji, Kishnoji, Dayarayaji led this self-sacrifice-movement. Dami, Cheema and many women joined in. Maharaja Abhay Singh came to know of it and himself reached on the spot to bring an end to the sacrifice. But by that time, 363 Bishnois had given away their lives.

4th sacrifice: The fourth ‘saka’ took place at Tilwasani village near Jodhpur. To oppose Kripa Bhati’s action to cut Khejri trees, Khivji, Mota and Netu gave away their lives. Poet Vilhoji mentioned it in ‘Tilwasni-sakhi’ – its year of the sacrifice is unknown. The Bishnoi people live mostly in the desert region of Rajasthan and parts of Haryana. They are proud of their heritage and carry out Nature Conservation to this day, which serves as a good lesson to the world. Indian Gazelle (Gazella gazelle), Blackbuck (Antelope cervicapra) and other wildlife survives the best around villages of Bishnois. They feed animals and birds daily and thousands of quintals of ‘bajra’ (millet) is donated by these people annually to let this practice continue. Samrathal Dhora (sand dune) is one such example – a tiny Bishnoi temple created amidst villages and Gazelles roam around – unique site to know about Nature Conservation, as led by the Bishnoi Community.
(By Harsh Vardhan &

The Sacrifice Place of Khejarli
Khejarli Massacre in 1730 in which 363 men, women and children of Bishnoi community laid down their lives to protect trees from cutting.
Khejarli is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India 26 km south east of the city of Jodhpur. The name of the town is derived from Khejri (Prosopis Cineraria) trees, which were abundance in the village.
In this 363 Bishnois, with Amrita Devi Bishnoi sacrificed their lives in 1730 AD, while protecting green khejri trees considered sacred by the community, by hugging to them, this incident is then first event of Chipko Movement in the history. Even sunder lal bahuguna agreed to the fact that he had been inspired by bishnoi community sacrifice. It was a party of Giridhar Bhandari, a minister with Maharaja Abhay Singh, ruler of Marwar (Jodhpur) state who wanted to cut the sacred green Khejri trees to burn lime for the construction of his new palace. Since there was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the Thar Desert, the king ordered his men to get the woods from Khejri trees.
Amrita Devi (Beniwal), A Bishnoi woman, protested against King's men attempting to cut trees as it was prohibited in Bishnoi religion. The malevolent feudal party told her that if she wanted the trees to be spared, she should give them money as bribe. She refused to acknowledge this demand and told them that she would consider it as an act of ignominy and insult to her religious faith. She said that she would rather give away her life to save the green trees. It is at this stage she spoke the words: "Sar santey rukh rahe to bhi sasto jaan", if a tree is saved even at the cost of one's head, its worth it. Saying these words, she offered her head. The axes which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head from the body. Her three daughters Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted and offered their heads as well and met the same end. Soon old persons, young men, women including newly married ones and children were sacrificing themselves in a similar way. There was intense pandemonium. As soon as Maharaja learnt it, he ordered stopped of felling trees. By that time 363 Bishnois had already become martyrs.
Honoring the courage of the Bishnoi community, Maharaja Abhay Singh, apologised for the mistake committed by his officials and issued a royal decree engraved on copper plate.
Most of the martyrs were the person's who scarified their breathes for religious principle and faith. To remember their greatness, the tree was given a new name after the village’s name and called Khejri. In Marwari Khejri is also called Janty(जांटी) to honour the courage and scarifies of great Bishnoi's who didn’t even care for their lives to save Khejri tree . Janty(जांटी) is considered the most divine and pious tree in Rajasthan which shows locals respect to the great lady. In Rajasthan it is considered a sin to cut a green Janty tree and it is considered a god-tree. In desert or semi desert, most of the lord Balaji temples are built under divine shadow of male Janty tree that is popularly known as जांट. Marwari word जांट refers to greatness and contribution of Jat people in Bisnoi sect. Khejri or Janty is also state tree of Rajasthan.
The anniversary of the massacre is observed each year at village, which has now become an important tourist destination.

Lover of wild animals

Bishnois lived with trees and wild animals in the Thar Desert with complete harmony for centuries and have been fiercely protecting the trees & wild life in their areas to follow the teachings of their Guru Jambheshwar Ji.
This was not an easy task especially in the desert where water was a luxury commodity and trees could fetch same extra revenue but for Bishnois protection of wild life was a Dharma (religion).
Bishnois appealed to rulers/kings to make rules for banning tree cutting and hunting in their areas and fought cases in the courts to ensure the rules are followed by all.
But in the arid desert facing continuous droughts, the trees and wild animals were always temptations of others.
Time to time their faith was tested by rulers, poachers and others but Bishnois always protected the wild life even at the cost of their lives by braving the bullets.
Scores of Bishnois have sacrificed their lives for protecting wild life in Rajasthan.
Bishnois are extremely aggressive about their pacifism. Foremost in the community's pantheon of heroes are men and women who gave up their lives trying to save trees and animals.
On 03.10.1996, Nihal Chand Bishnoi (30 Yr) sacrificed his life while chasing poaches to save life of black bucks.
A film named, "Willing to Sacrifice" was shown in 5th International Festivals of Films, TV & Video Programs ENVIRON 99 held at Bratislava, Slovakia and won the award for Best Environmental Film. ' ALSO SEE -: Article on Bishnoi published in GEO magazine (French edition) in March 2009


Amrita Devi BIshnoi Award is given every year by Environment ministry of government of India to a person who contribute towards protection of nature and wildlife.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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


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