The Khejarli Movement: Wildlife Conservation
Khejarli Mela (Fair)
It is the only tree fair in the world which is held every year on Shukla Dashami of Bhadrapada (Hindu month) in memory of Amrita Devi Bishnoi and 362 martyrs of Bishnoi community who sacrificed their lives to save trees in 1730, by saying ‘सिर साठे रूंख रहे तो भी सस्तो जाण’ means ‘even if our head gets chopped off to save a tree from being cut, it is a small sacrifice for us’.
The place is situated in the khejarli village of Jodhpur district, Rajasthan, where people from different states came to pay tribute.
Bishnoi is a community found mainly in the western Thar desert region and other northern regions of India. The community was founded by Jambhoji, a saint in 1485 AD to protect the ecology and wildlife, as he realized that the 8 years long drought in the marwar region was caused by people’s interference with nature’s environment. He gave 29 ( the word Bishnoi derived from hindi word 20+9) principles. These are:-
1.तीस दिन सूतक (To observe segregation of the mother and newborn for 30 days after delivery (to prevent infection to the mother and the baby during a stage when both are highly susceptible to outside infections),
2. जीव दया पालणी (Be compassionate to all living beings),
3. रूंख लीला नहिं घावै ( Do not cut green trees),
4. पांच ऋतुवन्ती न्यारो ( To keep women away from all activities for 5 days during her menstrual periods to provide compulsory rest to the woman,
5. सेरा करो स्नान ( To take an early morning bath every day ),
6. शील, सन्तोष शुची प्यारो ( maintain both external and internal cleanliness and keep good intentions, humble behaviour, good character, etc.),
7. द्विकाल संध्या करो ( meditate twice a day at dawn and dusk ),
8. सांझ आरती गुण गावो ( sing the Lord’s glory and recite his virtues every evening ),
9. होम हित चित प्रीत सूं होय, वास बैकुंठे पावो (To offer daily oblation to the holy fire with a heart filled with feelings of welfare, love and devotion),
10. पाणी, बांणी, ईन्धणी दूध इतना लीजै छाण (Use filtered water, milk and carefully cleaned fuel/ firewood to pre- vent killing or burning of insects),
11. क्षमा दया हिरदै धरो ( be compassionate and forgiving in nature ),
12. चोरी नहीं करनी (Do not steal),
13. निंदा नहीं करनी ( Do not condemn or criticise ),
14. झूठ बरजियों (Do not lie) ,
15. वाद न करणो ( Don’t indulge in any unnecessary debates),
16. अमावस्या व्रत राखणो ( fast and meditate on a new moon night ),
17. भजन विष्णु बतायो जोय (To recite the holy name of Lord Vishnu),
18. अजर जरैं, जीवत मरै, वे वास बैकुण्ठा पावै (crush lust, anger, greed and attachment),
19. करें रसोई हाथ सूं, आन सूं पला न लावै ( only take food cooked by one’s self, or by a religious / pure person),
20. अमर रखावै थाट (provide a common shelter for goats /sheep to avoid them being slaughtered),
21. बैल बधिया न करावें (Don’t sterilize bulls),
22. अमल से दूर ही रहें ( Don’t use opium ),
23. तंबाकू से दूर रहें ( Don’t use tobacco ),
24. भांग का सेवन ना करें ( Don’t smoke and cultivate cannabis),
25. मदिरा का सेवन ना करें ( Don’t drink alcohol ),
26. मद-मांस सूं दूर ही भागे ( Don’t eat meat or non-vegetarian food),
27. लील न लावै अंग ( Don’t use blue coloured clothes as it is used to be obtained from indigo trees ),
28. वाणी का प्रयोग सोच समझ कर करें ( Think before you speak ),
29. जीवों की रक्षा करें ( feed and protect wildlife ).
Apart from this, this religion is open to everyone , it can be proved by a sentence i.e. ‘ he/she who honestly follows the 29 perspects of Jambheshwar Ji can bear the name of Bishnoi.
Bishnois are considered as one of the first environmentalists in the world and they embraced the strategy of hugging and embracing trees to protect them.
The movement arose when in 1730, King Abhay Singh of Jodhpur ordered the cutting down the Khejri tree from the Khejri village to build his palace. Since the tree had cultural and economic importance in the area, Amrita Devi Bishnoi with her three daughters hugged the tree in order to protect them and then the soldiers beheaded all four of them. This enraged the Bishnoi community and soon, they started a rebellion that resulted in the loss of 363 lives.
As a result of this huge sacrifice an inscription got written by the then king in the Khejarli village where he promised that no one can cut green trees in the Bishnoi villages.
Efforts for Conservation of Wildlife
It is right said about the Bishnoi community that for them conservation of wildlife is a religion. Though there are 29 tenets in this belief system, the most important of them is ‘Praan daya’ or compassion for all living things and to abide by it every Bishnoi has lived and even died for this spirit of compassion. In Bishnoi villages one can witness several examples of an unique human- aniaml bonding, some of these are:-
1. Animals like blackbucks, chinkara, and birds like vultures, partridges, peacocks and even the endangered great Indian Bustard, find the Bishnoi Village a ‘safe haven’ because not only they protect them from poachers but also actively participate in helping them lead a life of plenty, by allowing them to gaze freely in their farmlands, by keeping stone vessels near their home that are always filled with water; and even hanging water-filled pots from the branches of trees for the birds to drink from.
2. Some Bishnoi temples also double up as rescue shelters, like the one of the most famous is Guru Jambheshwar Mandir in Jajiwal Dhora. Here the priest takes care of the injured blackbucks, chinkaras, and interestingly some of them go back into the wild, while the others prefer to stay in the temple compound, roaming free.
3. Bishnoi women take maternal care of the rescued deers, black bucks and sometimes they breastfeed them if they are newly born. When they are able to walk and fend for themselves, they are released back into the forest.
The movement has left an indelible mark on the memories and a long-lasting effect on the psyche of the people which is still working as a guiding principle for many nature lovers.
This movement and sacrifice not only inspired the Chipko Movement in the 20th Century but also the Government of India in the form of the “Amrita Devi Bishnoi Wildlife Protection Award” and Government of Rajasthan in the form of “Amrita Devi Bishnoi Smrithi Paryavaran Award” for contributing to the protection of wildlife and environment conservation.
About the Author
Name – Ranjana Vishnoi,
She is from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Currently she is pursuing B A honours Political Science from Hindu College, University of Delhi and working as an intern at NDNS.