Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (chipko means “to cling” in Hindi) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in the Himalayan hills of northern India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.
Khejarli or Khejadli is a village in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India, 26 km south-east of the city of Jodhpur. The name of the town is derived from Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees, which were in abundance in the village.
It was a Tuesday, a black Tuesday in Khejadli. 10th day of the bright fortnight of the month Bhaadra according to Indian lunar Calendar, (September) in 1730 A.D. Amrita Devi a mother of three daughters viz. Asu, Ratni and Bhagu bai was at home with her daughters. Suddenly, she came to know that many people had descended in their otherwise sleepy village. It was a party of Giridhar Bhandari, a minister with Maharaja Abhay Singh, Ruler of Marwar (Jodhpur) state who wanted to fell the sacred green Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees to burn lime for the construction of his new palace. Since there was a lot of greenery in the Bishnoi villages even in the middle of Thar Desert, the king ordered his men to get the woods from Khejri trees.
Amrita Devi protested against King’s men attempting to cut green trees as it was prohibited in Bishnoi religion. The malevolent feudal party told her that if she wanted the trees to be spared, she should give them money as bribe. She refused to acknowledge this demand and told them that she would consider it as an act of ignominy and insult to her religious faith. She said that she would rather give away her life to save the green trees. It is at that stage she spoke these words:
“Sar sāntey rūkh rahe to bhī sasto jān”
If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it’s worth it
Saying these, she offered her head. The axes, which were brought to cut the trees, severed her head from her trunk. The three young girls Asu, Ratni and Bhagu were not daunted, and offered their heads too.
The news spread like wildfire. Bishnois gathered and sent summons to 83 Bishnoi villages to come and decide on the next course of action. Since the supreme sacrifice by those four had not satisfied the royal party, and the felling of green trees was continued, it was decided that for every green tree to be cut, one Bishnoi volunteer would sacrifice his/ her life. In the beginning, old people voluntarily started holding the trees to be cut in an embrace as in the Chipko movement of 20th century in Uttar Pradesh (India).
In this way many valiant old persons gave away their lives, but it failed to have the desired impact. Moreover, the Hakim (Royal party’s leader) taunted the Bishnois that in this manner they were offering unwanted old persons. Soon, young men, women, including recently married ones and children were sacrificing themselves instead.
There was intense pandemonium. It completely shook the tree-felling party, headed by their leader Girdhar Das Bhandari (Hakim), they left for Jodhpur with their mission unfulfilled and told the Maharaja about what had happened. As soon as he learnt it, he ordered stoppage of the felling of trees.
By that time, Three Hundred and Sixty Three (363) Bishnois, young and old, men and women, married and unmarried, rich and poor had already become martyrs.
Honouring the courage of the Bishnoi community, the ruler of Jodhpur, Maharaja Abhay Singh, apologized for the mistake committed by his officials and issued a royal decree, engraved on a copper plate ordering the following:
–All cutting of green trees and hunting of animals within the revenue boundaries of Bishnoi villages was strictly prohibited.
–It was also ordered that if by mistake any individual violated this order, he would be prosecuted by state and a severe penalty imposed.
–Even the members of ruling family did not shoot animals in or even near the Bishnoi’s Village.