Here’s a story you can tell your children as you travel to Jodhpur.
For the local Bishnoi people, it is more than a story. It is a legend.
Many years ago, in the outskirts of Jodhpur, India, lived a woman named Amrita Devi, a member of the Bishnoi community who worshipped birds, animals and trees.
One day, she heard the King’s guard making an announcement that the trees of the village were to be cut for wood to build a new Palace for the King.
Alarmed, Amrita Devi rushed out to stop the guards from cutting the trees along with her three daughters.
‘Don’t you cut these trees!’ Amrita Devi said to the guards.
They did not pay any attention to her and sharpened their axes. Realizing that her pleas were falling on deaf ears, she rushed out to the trees. Her daughters did the same.
“Sar santey rookh rahe, toh bhi sasto jaan’ (if a tree is saved at the cost of one’s head, it is still worth the while!) said Amrita Devi, throwing her arms around the trees.
But the king’s guards would have nothing of it. They hacked down the trees with Amrita Devi and her daughters.
Hundreds of villagers rushed to rescue the trees by hugging them. The guards hacked them all down!
When news about the massacre reached the King, he was livid and made a proclamation that no khejri trees would be cut down in his kingdom.
This incident is said to have happened about 300 years ago… in the year 1730.
The sacrifice of Amrita Devi led to a new type of resistance against tree cutting known as the Chipko movement. It was popularised in modern times by Sundarlal Bahuguna who urged people to hug trees to protest against their cutting for the construction of a dam.
Some interesting snippets about the Khejri Tree
- The Khejri is the state tree of Rajasthan.
- The Khejri has a special place in the culture of Rajasthan.
- Ker Sangri – a delicious Rajasthani staple that you must get your children to taste when in Rajasthan, is made from the fruit of this tree.
- In the Mahabharata, when the Pandavas are sent on an exile after they lose their kingdom in a game of dice, they hide all their weapons in a Khejri tree.
- In honour of Amrita Devi’s sacrifice, the Government of India bestows an award known as the Amrita Devi Bishnoi Wildlife Protection Award each year to a person who has displayed exemplary courage for the protection of wildlife.
- 363 people died that one day to save the Khejri trees!
We visited the village of Khejarli in the outskirts of Jodhpur and met with the villagers there who told us the legendary story with great pride.
Looking for more to do in and around Jodhpur? Click here.
Want to find more interesting Stories and Snippets about Trees? My Book on Tree Stories for Children with Karadi Tales should be out soon. Sign up to my blog to stay posted!