The Bishnoi community has been called the original tree huggers as they have been working to protect trees and wildlife even before the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 came into being.
The word ‘Bishnoi’ comes from two words- ‘Bish’ and ‘Noi’ which means 20 and 9 respectively. The community adheres to 29 commandments set by the originator of the sect- Guru Jambheshwar. These rules include boycotting deforestation and saving wildlife.
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Legend has it, in 1730, in the remote village of Khejarli in western Rajasthan, 363 Bishnoi men, women, and children sacrificed their lives trying to protect hundreds of trees.
Villagers hugged the trees when the king’s men had come to cut down the trees to fuel the cement lime kilns for the king’s palace. They opted to die instead of watching trees being chopped.
The Indian government constituted Amrita Devi Bishnoi Wildlife Protection Award in 2001 in remembrance of Amrita Devi Bishnoi, who was killed in 1730 while trying to protect trees.
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