Bishnoi (also known as Vishnoi) is a religious group found in the Western Thar Desert and northern states of India. They follow a set of 29 principles given by Guru Jambheshwar. Jambheshwar, who lived in the 15th century, said that trees and wildlife should be protected, prophesying that harming the environment means harming oneself.
Bishnoism was founded by Guru Jambheshwar who was born in 1451, and is buried in Talwa/Mukam in Bikaner. He announced a set of 29 tenets.The name Bishnoi was derived from “Vishnu”. His spiritual name was Jambhaji. These were contained in a document written in the Nagri script called Shabdwani, which consists of 120 shabds. Of his 29 tenets, ten are directed towards personal hygiene and maintaining good basic health, seven for healthy social behaviour, and four tenets to the worship of 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 clothes is prohibited because the dye for colouring them is obtained by cutting a large quantity of shrubs.
The Bishnoi 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 ago, 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 a large number of trees. But when Amrita Devi and local villagers came to know about it, they opposed the king’s men. The 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 of the 363 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 29 tenets of Bishnoism state:
1. Observe 30 days’ state of ritual impurity after child’s birth and keep mother and child away from household activities.
2. Observe 5 days’ segregation while a woman is in her menses.
3. Take bath daily in the morning.
4. Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty.
5. Patience or satisfactions, cleanliness.
6. Pray two times everyday (morning and evening).
7. Eulogise God, Vishnu, in evening hours (Aarti)
8. Perform Yajna (Havan) with the feelings of welfare devotion and love.
9. Use filtered water, milk and cleaned firewood.
10. Speak pure words in all sincerity.
11. Practice forgiveness from heart.
12. Be merciful by heart.
13. Don’t steal or keep any intention to do it.
14. Do not condemn or criticize.
15. Don’t lie.
16. Don’t indulge in dispute/debate.
17. Fast on Amavashya.
18. Worship and recite Lord Vishnu in adoration
19. Have merciful on all living beings and love them.
20. Do not cut green trees, save the environment. 21. Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment. 22. Cook your food by yourself.
23. Provide shelters for abandoned animals to avoid them from being slaughtered in abattoirs.
24. Don’t sterilise bull.
25. Don’t use or trade opium.
26. Don’t smoke or use tobacco or its products.
27. Don’t take bhang or hemp.
28. Don’t drink alcohol/liquor.
29. Don’t eat meat, always remain pure vegetarian.