In the year 1451 AD during the reign of Rao Jodhaji, one of the bravest of the Rathore kings, an extraordinary child was born in the
When Jambaji twenty-five years old, a great disaster overtook the whole region. The small quantity of rain that used to come regularly ceased altogether. The worst sufferers were the cattle. In the first year of drought, they could eat the bajra straw scored in the houses. The second year was very bad. There was not a blade of grass left standing any where. People hacked at any trees they could find and fed the animals on the leaves, but even so there was not enough browse for all the hungry animals. And the drought continued for eight consecutive years.
The people had hacked and hacked the last bit of foliage from all the trees, which finally began to dry up. When the stored grain was exhausted people ate khejdi pods and the flour of dried ber seeds. When this too was exhausted, they tore the bark off the sangri trees and powdered and cooked it. They hunted every one of the starving blackbucks, and finally they abandoned all hope and migrated in masses. Tens of thousands of cattle perished on the way. By now the whole country was barren. There was not a tree in sight for miles together, nor a single cow, or a blackbuck. The only people to hold on were big landlords like Jambaji’s father with huge stores of bajra that somehow lasted through the difficult times.
Jambaji was much affected by this drought. Many were the nights he spent in wakefulness because of the suffering he saw around him. The dying cattle, the starving children : they haunted him day and night. And finally, at the age of thirty-four, he had a vision. He saw man intoxicated with his own power, destroying the world around him. And he decided to change it all. If life was to flourish again in this desolate land, Jambaji saw that man would have to live in a different way, and according to different tenets and beliefs. Jambaji wanted the earth to be covered once again by an abundance of khejdi, ber, ker and sangria trees, he wanted herds of blackbuck to frolic again, and he wanted men to work for this. Jambaji knew the way to achieve this, and he began to broadcast his message in the year 1485.
His message included twenty nine basic tenets. Its two major commandments were a prohibition against the cutting down of any green tree or the killing of the animal, Jambaji’s message of humanity and respect for all living things was eagerly accepted. His teachings prompted the inhabitants of hundreds of hundreds of villages to reclothe the earth with its green cover.
Jambaji’s followers were called Bishnois or twenty-niners (bis= twenty, nou= nine) because they adhered to Jambaji’s twenty-nine precepts. They preserved the trees around their villages and protected blackbuck, chinkaras, peafowl and all other birds and animals. Gradually their territory became covered by trees, their cattle had abundant browse, their land recovered its fertility and the Bishnois became a prosperous people.
But out side their territory, all continue as before. The land was still being stripped of its green cover and the desert was spreading. The ninth descendant of Jambaji’s contemporary Rao Jodhaji now occupied the throne of
Two and a half centuries have passed since this episode. Bishnois have now been guarding the trees, giving succour to the wild animals of Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh for nearly five centuries. Everywhere else, green cover of the Indian subcontinent has been ravaged and continues to be destroyed at an ever accelerating pace. The thousands upon thousands of blackbuck that coce roamed the Indian plains have all vanished without a trace. But near the few Bishnoi village the greenery not only persist, but also is ever on the increase and around their villages the blackbuck roam as freely as in Kalidasa’s time near the ashram of sage Kanva. Akbar was so amazed to see these herds of fearless blackbuck near Bishnoi temples that he personally recorded his wonder at witnessing a scene from satyayuga, the age of truth, in this kaliyuga, the corrupt present.
The sight is even more astonishing for us today than it was for the emperor Akbar four centuries ago, for the Bishnois continue to hold on to their magnificent obsession to this day.
Researched by Dinesh Tiwari, 8th class