There is perhaps only one religion in the world that’s founded solely on the principle of conserving the Nature. This religion was founded by the Lord Jambheshwar and is the living religion of the Bishnois of Rajasthan. This religion is over 500 years old, and the followers are over One million. They reside very close to Jodhpur.
Lord Jambheshwar, as a kid was enlightened enough to know that water is the very source of all life! From the age of 8 to 34, Jambheshwar led the life of a cow-herd. Born in a warrior clan of Rajputs, instead of developing hunting skills, he developed communication skills with all living things. At the age of 34, he sat on the shifting sand dunes of a place called Samrathal, and meditated on the transient nature of life itself. When he turned inwards he realised that he has to chart a course of his own.
He then summoned his innumerable followers and told them that they need to follow a new belief system on which their entire life will be based. As their lives would be governed by these 29 principles, they would be called Bishnois; derived from the words “bees” that’s twenty, and “noi” that’s nine.
Though there are 29 tenets in this belief system, the most important of them all is ‘praan daya’ or compassion for all living things. For close to 525 years, every Bishnoi, young and old, has lived and even died for this spirit of compassion.
This community is conserving an entire eco-system. It’s a well-known fact among conservationists that the total number of blackbucks and chinkaras in the Bishnoi villages is more than their number in all the sanctuaries of Rajasthan put together. When you look into the eyes of a Bishnoi, you see a deep seated love for the forest and all that dwells in it. The paradox of this community is that there are just a handful of them occupying influential positions in the forest department.
They consider trees as sacred, but their empathy extends to every living being on earth. So they protect the entire ecosystem that exists in their villages. Animals like blackbucks and chinkaras, and birds like vultures, partridges, peacocks and even the endangered Great Indian Bustard, find the Bishnoi village a safe haven.
Bishnois not only protect these animals from poachers, they also actively participate in helping them lead a life of plenty. By allowing them to graze 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.
Today the Bishnois, actively pursue armed poachers with a mere lathi (stick) and hand them over to the forest authorities. In the last twenty years alone, around 14 Bishnois have died defending these animals. The reflection of their new found aggression is an organisation called the Tiger Force. It’s a 1000-strong brigade of young, fearless warriors of wildlife protection. Spread across hundreds of villages across Jodhpur, they are now active even in other parts of Rajasthan.
The Lord Jambheshwar had dreamt of sand dunes turning into a green paradise – where every living organism has an equal right to the land. And where man and animal exist in perfect harmony. The Bishnois of Rajasthan have been fulfilling his dream.
This compassion of the Bishnois is contagious. It’s catching on even in communities that are traditionally aggressive and consider hunting an adventurous sport: the Rajputs and the Jats. They have had a change of heart, and are now contributing in a big way towards conservation of nature and wildlife.