February 17, 2012
The world’s biggest conservationists are not found in a place where nature is in lush bloom and full of live, but in the hostile environment of the desert North India. The Bishnoi religion is not based on a higher entity (although they do believe in the God Vishnu), but solely on the conservation of all natural life. There are no statues or icons in this religion, nor worshipping rituals, but a livestyle completely in tune with nature.
The religion was developed in the early 15th century by Guru Jambheshwar, who formulated 29 (Bis= twenty, noi= nine) tenets, according to which the followers are meant to live. Of those, ten are describing maintaining good health and personal hygiene, seven regulate social behaviour, eight to preserve nature and five to worship God. Bishnois are vegetarians and teetotallers. The traditional dress is simple, white clothing for men and red saris for women. Bishnois are not allowed to wear clothing that’s dyed blue from the sap of the Indigo plant, as it involves killing a plant.
Bishnois are not allowed to kill animals or fell living trees, but instead have to protect all life, if necessary by laying down their own. It has been seen that Bishnoi mothers were also nursing young deer that had been abandoned by their mothers, so they could survive. In Bishnoi faith it is not allowed to cut down trees, so all firewood and timber comes from dead trees. The love for trees even goes so far, that in 1730, 363 Bishnois gave their lives to safe trees that were about to be felled for a new fort to be built.
Another happening that shows their devotion happened only in 1998: The popular movie start Salman Khan was staying in a Jodhpur hotel and a local invited him for a hunt. At night they drove out into the desert and started their hunt inmidst the Bishnoi farmers’ huts. The farmers awoke when they heard the first shot, aimed at a black-buck. They rushed out of their houses to protect the animals. Salman Khan and the local bolted to their jeep and drove off, but the Bishnoi had identified the car as belonging to a well-known tour operator. The next day they marched into Jodhpur, first tracked down the vehicle and then Khan in his hotel, arranging for police to register the case of illegal hunting.