Religion, commonly known as ‘Dharma’, is not easy to explain, despite many definitions and philosophies. In simple words, it is the divine and social practice of any person or community.
Often, religion or dharma is regarded as the principles and preaching of divine persons, who are considered to be incarnations of the supernatural power on the Earth. It was the followers of those principles who finally coined the name of any particular religion. The list is long, such as Christians follow Jesus, Muslims follow Muhammad, Buddhists follow the Buddha etc.
There is diversity of religions in the world; among them, the Bishnois or Vishnois attract me a lot. As a conservation biologist, my first observation is definitely the practice of conservation by this community. All religions express the message of love and brotherhood among human beings, the whole community of biotic and abiotic components, but the message of bishnois is compassion and environment protection. It is the common practice of providing protection to all the living beings, which one could see at any time among bishnois.
Unlike, the origin of most religions in the world, the history of this sect is not very old. It was in the 15th century, when Guru Jambheshwar laid twenty-nine principles to be followed by the people of the Marwar region, this religion came in existence. Bish/ Vish represent 20 and Noi represents 9, so together they are bishnoi, the twenty-niners.
Thus, the people who accepted the twenty-nine commandments were known as bishnoi. In local dialect, it is often said, “Untees dharma ki akhadi, hirday dhario joye, Jambheji kirpa kari, naam bishnoi hoye” which means those who will follow these twenty-nine principles by heart, Guru Jambheji will bless them and they will be a bishnoi.
Out of the twenty-nine tenets, six are dedicated to the environment. The 18th and 19th principles are directly giving the message of compassion for animals and environmental protection. It is a well known fact that the bishnois mother will save the life of an orphaned calf, by offering it to suckle her breast. The latest Salman Khan incident in the 1990’s, proved their commitment of giving protection to animals in their terrain.
The Eco Dharma of this community is referenced everywhere in the form of pioneering the Chipko Movement. It was in the early 18th century when women from the Khejarli village clung on to trees for the sake of protection. The then ruler, Abhay Singh, ordered his army men to fell the khejari trees growing at Khejarli. Amrita Devi clung on to the Prosopis, and an army person beheaded her along with the tree. This sacrifice for the trees is well stated in her own words, “Sir santhe runkh rahe, to bhi sasti jaan”. The same offer was given by her three daughters and more than 300 bishnois ladies. It was due to this great sacrifice that the ruler took back his earlier order of felling trees.
A Cenotaph was constructed in memory of this sacrifice. A fair is organized every year on Shukla Dashmi of Bhadrapad (Hindi month) at Khejarli, Jodhpur, to pay homage to the great martyrs of environment protection. The Government of India also instituted an award, the “Amrita Devi Environment Protection Award”, recognizing the sacrifice of Amrita Devi.
It was the Smaranthal Dhora, sand dune from where the message of conservation and protection was delivered by Guru Jambheji. This sand dune is not only religious site of bishnois, but greatly honored by everyone. We salute this site and commitment of the bishnois for their Guru.
Be a Compassionate Citizen and follow the two eco principles of Guru Jambheji– “Jeev daya palni” (Be compassionate to all living beings) and “Runkh leelo nahi ghave” (Do not fell green trees).
Don’t get divided by the name of religion. Follow the teachings of the divine forces of your religion. We will find that we are with Mother Nature, we are for Mother Natuer, and our existence is by Mother Nature. So make nature conservation our Religion!
Satya Prakash Mehra