It happened sometime in the seventeenth century. The king of Jodhpur wanted to build a palace. His men went into the forest to get the wood. As they were about to start cutting down the trees on the outskirts of the village of the Khejadali the people of village came to stop them.
The people were Bishnois, Which means twenty-niners. They believed in the 29 tenets of the unique religion of conservation founded by Guru Jambaji almost 300 years earlier in 1941. Guru Jambaji said that it was wrong to cut down trees or to kill birds and animals. He was one of the world’s earliest conservationists, who believed that the environment had to be protected in our interests.
The king’s refused to heed the pleas of the Bishnois and went on cutting the trees.
In desperation a woman, Amritdevi, hugged a tree to protect it, following her example the other Bishnois each hugged a tree. But the soldiers slew them and went on with their work. Bishnois from the surrounding village came and they too clasped the trees and died. By the end of the day 363 corpses lay on the floor of the forest.
When the king heard of the massacre he was appalled. He ordered his men back. He gave strict instructions that the wishes of the Bishnois should be respected and he granted their religion state sanction.
The Bishnois are still with us. Their villages are oases of greenery in the deserts of Rajasthan and every year they congregate at the village of Khejadali to honour the memory of the 363 men and women who died for their beliefs.