Meet the Bishnois
An ancient religion that respects life in its entirety
There is a reason the National Geographic magazine chose to do an in-depth feature on the Bishnois and their commitment to the environment. Their now famous photo of the Bishnoi woman suckling a young deer had a tremendous impact and left the world awe struck. In an age where cutting ancient trees and uprooting forests isn’t given as much as a second thought, the philosophy, the life and the religion of the Bishnois is one that stands out. The Bishnois can be considered one of India’s and perhaps the world’s earliest environmentalists. Their 500 year old religion was founded by Guru Jambeshwar who established two clear principles . The first instructs the Bishnois not to cut down green trees and the second asks them to be kind and compassionate to all living beings.
THEIR PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE
Trees are considered extremely sacred by the Bishnois and this respect also channels out to all other living beings around them. The Bishnois provide a safe environment for plethora of flora and fauna like Blackbucks, Chinkaras, Vultures, Peacocks as well as the endangered Great Indian Bustard amongst others. For the Bishnois protecting the animals and birds doesn’t mean only saving the animals from poachers or harsh natural conditions but they also allow these animals and birds to graze freely in their farms and will make sure there are always sources of water all around the village. The Bishnois have been looking after these animals for many hundred years and the trust the animals have in them is evident if you ever make your way to a Bishnoi village.
There are several Bishnoi temples scattered around the city of Jodhpur that also end up serving the purpose of shelters. The priest of the temple will look after any injured, malnourished or orphaned animals. The community is committed to caring after these animals to the extent that Bishnoi women will suckle newly born orphaned deer that are unable to fend for themselves. When they gain some strength and don’t need help any longer, they are then released back into the wild.
THE BISHNOIS AS MODERN DAY ENVIRONMENTALISTS
Traditionally the Bishnois went about their conservation activities without engaging with the outside community but given the levels of poaching and general disrespect for wildlife these days, their efforts have become more forceful and dynamic. There have been instances where the Bishnois have actively chased poachers and seen to it that law enforcement bodies arrest them. The Bishnois never give importance to one animal over the other and to them killing a mouse would be as bad as killing a lion. To them the life itself has value and it doesn’t matter to whom that life belongs.
INTERACTING WITH THE COMMUNITY, RESPECTFULLY
If as a traveler you’re interested in seeking interesting and intelligent cultures then meeting the Bishnoi community should be high on your list. This warm and hospitable group of people is always happy to meet fellow respectful individuals but make sure you travel with a company that focuses on mutual respect and not exploitation. Needless to say always ask if you’d like to take a photo and value their gentle and simple way of life.
The world with its fast paced selfish existence could really learn a thing or two from the Bishnois and it can start with the journey of a few culturally sensitive travelers to their neck of the woods.