The Bishnoi: Eco Warriors Since the 15th Century (India)

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Since the 15th century, the Bishnois of Rajasthan, India, have been the stewards of their environment, understanding the meaning of sustainable development. They are the forefathers of our ecological revolution, if you will.

The word ‘Bishnoi’ is derived from bis (twenty) and nai (nine). In other words, they are the followers of 29 principles given by their late spiritual leader, Guru Jambheshwar, also known as Jambhoji (inset).

Centuries ago, Jambhoji formulated a series of 29 tenets for his followers to observe. The tenets were not only tailored to conserve the bio-diversity of the area but also ensured a healthy and thriving community.

Eight of these tenets have been prescribed to preserve bio-diversity and encourage a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community. These include a ban on killing (and eating) animals, felling green trees, the obligation to plant a tree a year, and to provide protection to all life forms by offering one tenth of our crops to feed wildlife (permaculturists call it ‘Fair Share’).

A lot of the techniques they have been using for centuries are major components of our permaculture practices. They, for instance, grow bushes in their fields to protect the loose sand from wind erosion while providing much-needed fodder for animals during famine. They also prefer renewable sources to meet their daily needs. For example, because tenet #19 forbids anyone from cutting green trees, they only gather dead wood or burn coconut husks.

The 800,000 strong Bishnoi community are strong lovers of wild animals and their ecosystem. Their lives are organized to work with nature. Thanks to those humane practices, you see a new form of interaction between the animal kingdom and man. Wild deer and antelopes are seen grazing their fields while the unconditional respect for mother nature is brought to levels not normally witnessed. Many of you have already seen the photograph below. This is how much love and dedication a Bishnoi has for other beings. May it inspire many of us!

The Bishnoi community has also been the precursor of ecological activism. Tree huggers of the world deserve to know that their revolutionary strategies are in fact part of an ancestral tradition. In 1730, 363 Bishnoi men, women and children gave their lives to protect trees from being lumbered to build Maharajah Abhay Singh of Jodhpur’s new palace. To prevent the king’s men from cutting down their forest, they all gathered around the trees and hugged them. This tragic event, known as the Khejarli Massacre, is also the first recorded event of the Chipko movement (hugging trees to prevent destruction, or just to love them) in history… long before the 1970s.

Today, the Bishnois are still thriving, healing the land and spreading their holy tenets. I sincerely hope that they remain an example and an inspiration of a fairer world, just like all the other permaculture-oriented centers mushrooming across the globe. May we continue to grow wiser with nature.

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3 thoughts on “The Bishnoi: Eco Warriors Since the 15th Century (India)

  1. I always have great appreciation for people who consider ‘the big picture’ – not putting short-term human interests before long term sanity. But this appreciation becomes even more pronounced when it comes from historical people who had much more ‘room to manoeuvre’ than we do. The people described in this article lived in a time when population densities were far less concentrated – i.e. a time when taking care of natural systems was done out of principle, and not yet out of absolute necessity.

  2. I find the Bishnoi tribe to very interesting. I have always admired their ways of sustainability and how much they care for the animals and trees and how they are willing to put their own lives in danger if it will save an animal or a tree.

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