An extra ordinary and inspiring ecological story from the Bishnoi people
Bishnoi tribal people : Ecological Stewards of India
The Massacre of Khejarli
During 1730, Jodhpur Maharaja needed wood for the construction of new fortress. Since the Bishnois (community of nature worshippers in Rajasthan and its surroundings) neither obeyed the demand for the delivery of timber nor received any payments. The ruler sent his soldiers out into the villages with the order to chop down Khejri trees (Prosposis cineraria –தமிழ் வன்னி மரம்). When one of the villagers, Amrita Devi, heard of the imminent danger, she hurried, followed by her relatives and neighbours, to the place of the tragedy, named Khejarli, which was a place where the Khejri tree grows. They tried to prevent the soldiers from what they had come to do. Howerver, when all reasoning failed, she hugged the first tree to be cut in order to protect it. The soldiers beheaded the woman whose last words would become history, “If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, its worth it.
The incident above led to what has later become known as the masscare of Khejarli (1730 A.D). Albeit the soldiers had warned that anyone intending to stay in their way would share destiny of Amrita, her three daughters followed her path and were also killed.
The terrible message spread like wild fire, so that people from eighty-three different surrounding villages rushed in, ready for the extreme sacrifice to lay down their lives for the trees. When the Maharaja heard the cries of the witnesses of the massacre who had run to his court, he himself went to Khejarli and stopped the tragedy.
However by then it had already cost the lives of 363 Bishnois. The ruler was moved so deeply and was so impressed by the dramatic non-violent protest that he promised to honour the conviction of the Bishnois in future. He forbade hunting and woodcutting in their area by means of a law that is still valid today.
The quiet village Khejarli still exists and is situated about 30 km south of Jodhpur. A tarred road leads into the place, which consists of an accumulation of scattered huts and a pond.
A small structure – which they call a temple – reminds of the 363 Bishnoi martyrs who saved the Khejri trees, and whose demonstration of altruism stills seems to inspire the India of today…..
Rakesh Bhatt. Bishnois: Ecological Stewards of India. Wild Forests. Making sense with people. 2008