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Guru Jambheshwar also known Jambhaji, is the spiritual leader of Bishnoi sect.
The word Bishnoi is derived from bis (twenty) and nai (nine) i.e. followers of 29 principles given by Guru Jambheshwar. Guru Jambheshwar gave the message to protect trees and wildlife around 540 years ago, prophesying that harming the environment means harming yourself. He formulated twenty nine tenets. The tenets were not only tailored to conserve bio-diversity of the area but also ensured a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community.
Out of the 29 tenets, 10 are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven for healthy social behaviour, and five tenets to worship God. Eight tenets have been prescribed to preserve bio-diversity and encourage good animal husbandry. These include a ban on killing animals and felling green trees, and providing protection to all life forms. The community is also directed to see that the firewood they use is devoid of small insects. Wearing blue cloths is prohibited because the dye for colouring them is obtained by cutting a large quantity of shrubs.
In 1730, 363 Bishnoi men, women and children gave their lives to protect trees from cutting by the king's men. This incident happened in Khejarli which is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India 26 km south-east of the city of Jodhpur. The Bishnois sacrificed their lives while protecting trees by hugging to them.
In various census of India, Bishnois are found in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Bishnois were founded by Guru Jambheshwar of Bikaner, who was born in 1451, and is buried in Talwa/Mukam in Bikaner. His spiritual name was Jambhaji. He left his followers a scripture in the Nagri character called Shabdwani which consists of 120 SHABDS. The adherents of the sect are the descendants of immigrants from Bikaner, parts of Haryana and Punjab and are exclusively Jats or some Rajputs by caste, though they often abandon the caste name and describe themselves simple as Bishnoi. They do not allow inter-caste marriage. Beside this there were followers from many other castes like Vaishyas, Agarwals and Guptas which are found mainly in Uttar Pradesh. Once their main occupation was business, but today Bishnois have drastically grown in the fields of IT, engineering, government work, defence services, diplomacy or social workers.
Places of pilgrimage
The most prominent places of pilgrimage of the Bishnois is situated at village called Mukam in Nokha Tehsil, Bikaner District, Rajasthan. Other important pilgrimage places belonging to the Bishnois are Samrathal Dhora (situated 3 km from Mukam), Pipasar, Jangloo, Lohawat, Lodipur, Bhur Tiba and Prachin Vishnoi Mandir Kanth District, Moradabad, Sameliya, Rotu, Lalasar and Jambolav.
Protection of flora and fauna
Bishnois are strong lovers of wild animals. It is because of their protection that in Bishnoi-dominated areas, deer and antelope (such as blue bulls, black bucks, chinkaras and chowsinghas) are seen grazing in their fields despite the fact that the state of Rajasthan where the Bishnois mainly live, faces severe water shortages.
The Khejarli Massacre
The Bisnois narrate the story of Amrita Devi, a Bishnoi woman who, along with more than 363 other Bishnois, died saving the Khejarli trees. Nearly two centuries back, Maharajah Abhay Singh of Jodhpur required wood for the construction of his new palace. So the king sent his soldiers to cut trees in the nearby region of Khejarli, where the village is filled with the large number of trees. But when Amrita Devi and local villagers came to know about it, they opposed the king's men. The malevolent feudal party told her that if she wanted the trees to be spared, she would have to give them money as a bribe. She refused to acknowledge this demand and told them that she would consider it as an act of insult to her religious faith and would rather give away her life to save the green trees. This is still remembered as the great Khejarli sacrifice. Some Bishnois who were killed protecting the trees were buried in Khejerli village near Jodhpur, where a simple grave with four pillars had been erected. Every year, in September, the Bishnois assemble there to commemorate the extreme sacrifice made by their people to preserve their faith and religion.
The lifestyle of Bishnois
The Bishnois are presently spread over the western parts of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh. They are teetotalers and normally they wear a white shirt, dhoti and turban. This dress pattern is ideal for the hot dry desert climate. They pay special attention to cleanliness in their houses. Only one crop of pearl millet (bajra) is grown during the monsoon season. The bushes, which grow in the fields, protect the loose sand from wind erosion and provide the much-needed fodder for animals during a famine. Bisnois often live in little hamlets called Dhani and villages, with just a few round huts with intricate thatched roofs. The mud floors are plastered with cow dung to keep vermin away. The interiors are airy and clean. There is a granary to guard their rations and a sump for stored water. Bishnois in Haryana and Punjab are much wealthier then other castes.
29 Rules in English
- Observe 30 days state of untouchability after child's birth
- Observe 5 days segregation while a woman is in her menses
- Bath early morning
- Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty
- Obey the ideal rules of life: Patience or satisfactions
- Obey the ideal rules of life: Purifications
- Perform Sandhya two times a day
- Eulogise God, The Lord Vishnu in evening hours (Aarti)
- Perform Yajna (Havan) every morning
- Filter the water, milk and firewood
- Speak pure words in all sincerity
- Adopt the rule of forgiveness and pity
- Do not steal
- Do not condemn or criticize
- Do not lie
- Do not waste the time on argument
- Fast on Amavashya and offer prayers to Lord Vishnu
- Have pity on all living beings and love them
- Do not cut the green trees, save environment
- Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment
- Accept food and water from our purified people only
- To provide a common shelter for male goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs
- Don't sterilise the ox
- Don't use opium
- Don't smoke and use tobacco
- Don't take bhang or hemp
- Don't take wine or any type of liquor
- Don't eat meat, remain always pure vegetarian
- Never use blue clothes
- "The Desert Dwellers of Rajasthan – Bishnoi and Bhil people". 2004. Retrieved 19 Mar 2013.
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