Sunday, March 23, 2014

The description of the Bishnoi community in a century old document

The Hisar district gazetteer, 1915 published during the British regime by Mr. P.J. Fagan, the I.C.S. member of the Punjab Legislative Council is one of the first English language document on the description of the Bishnoi community. Fortunately I have been successful in retrieval of this precious document.

"The Bishnoi religion

One of the important developments of Hinduism in this district is the Bishnoi seet, which is of Bagri or Marwari origin. The name Bishnoi is evidently derived from the rominence they give in their creed and worship to the god Vishnu, though they themselves say it is derived from the 29 (Bis-nau) articles of their creed as prescribed by the founder of the sect. It is said that any member of the higher Hindu castes can become a Bishnoi, but in this district at least they are almost all Jat or khati by tribe, and retain the language, dress and other characteristics of the Bagris; they try, however, to sink their tribe in their religion and give their caste as Bishnoi merely. The account they give of the founder of their sect is as follows :-At Pinpasar, a village south of Bikaner in the Jodhpur territory, there lived a Rajput Pamvar, named Laut, who had attained the age of 60 years and had no son. One day a neighbour going out to sow his, field met laut, and, deeming it a bad omen to meet a childless man, turned back from his purpose. This cntlaut to the quick, and he went out to the jungle and bewailed his childlessness until evening, when afakir appeared to him and told him that in nine months he should have a son, and, alter showing his, miraculous, power by drawing milk from a calf, vanished from his sight. At the time named a child miraculously appeared in Laut's house, and was miraculously suckled by his wife Hansa. This happened in Sammat 1508 (A. D. 1451). For seven years the boy. Who was an incarnation (autar) of Vishnu, played with his fellows, and then for 27 years he tended cattle, but an this time he spoke no word. His miraculous powers were shown in various ways, such as producing Sweets from nothing for the delectation of his companions, and he became known as
Achambha (the wonder), whence his name of Jhamba by which he is generally known. After 34 years a Brahman was sent for to get him to speak, and on his Confessing his failure Jhambaji again showed his power by lighting a lamp by simply snapping his fingers, and uttered his first word. He then adopted the life of a teacher and went to reside on a sandhill some 30 miles south of Bikaner, where after 51 years he died and was buried instead of being burnt like an ordinary Hindu. He did not marry but devoted himself to the life of an ascetic teacher. His sayings (sabd) (to the number of 120) were written down by his disciples, and have been handed down in "' boof, (pathi) which is Written in the Nagri character, and in a Hindu dialect similar to Bagri, seemingly a Marwari dialect. The "twenty-nine" precepts given by him for, the guidance of his followers are as follows :-

Tis din sutak-panch roz ratwanti nari
Sera karo shanan-sil-santokh-suchh Pyari
Pani-buni-idhni_itna ijyo chhan
Daya-dharm hirde dharo-garu batai jan
Chori-nindya-jhuth-barjya bad na kariyo koe
Amal-tamakll-bhang-lil dur hi tyago
Mad-mas se e' e dur hi bhago
Amar rakhao that-bail tani na baho
Amashya barat-runkh lilo na ghao
Hom jap samadh pujli-bash ha, ikunthi pao
Untis dharm ki akhri garu batai soe
Pahal deo par chavya jisko nam Bishnoi hoe

which is thus interpreted:-“For thirty days after child “ birth and five days after a menstrual discharge a woman “must not cook food. Bathe in the morning. Commit not “adultery. Be content. Be abstemious and pure. Strain “your drinking-water. Be careful of your speech. Examine “your fuel in case any living creature be burnt with it. Show “pity to living creatures. Keep duty present to your mind “as the Teacher bade. Do not steal. Do not speak evil of “others. Do not tell lies. Never quarrel. A void opium, “tobacco, bhang and blue clothing. Flee from spirits and "flesh. See that your goats are kept alive (not sold to Musal “mans who will kill them for food). Do not plough with “bullocks. Keep a fast on the day before the new moon. “Do not cut green trees. Sacrifice with fire. Say prayers. “Meditate. Perform worship and attain heaven. And the “last of the twenty-nine duties prescribed by the Teacher—“Baptize your children, if you would be called a true Bishnoi.”
Some of these precepts are not strictly obeyed ; for instance,
although ordinarily they allow no blue in their clothing, yet a Bishnoi, if he is a servant of the British Government, is allowed to wear a blue qniform; and Bishnois do use bullocks, though most of their farming is done with camels. They also are unusually quarrelsome and given to use bad languages. But they abstain from tobacco, deugs, and spirits, and are noted for their regard for animal life which is such that not oly will they not themselves kill any living crea.ture, but they do their utmost to prevent others from doing so. Consequently their villages are generally swarming with antelope and other animals, aud they forbid their Musalman neighbours to kill them and try to dissuade European sportsmen from interfering with them. It is regrettable that they do not
equally abstain from taking human life: murders and riots resulting in murders are not uncommon in Bishnoi-villages
They consider it a good deed to scatter grain (chiefly bajra and moth) to pigeons and other birds, and often have a large number of half-tame birds about their villages. The day before the new moon they observe as a Sabbath and fast-day, doing no work in the fields or in the house. They bathe q,nd pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and in the evening, saying" Bishno Bishno," instead of the ordinary Hindu" Ram Ram." Their clothing is the same as that of other Bagris, except that their women do not allow the waist to be seen, and are fond of wearing black
woollen clothing. They are more particular about ceremonial purity than ordinary Hindus are, and it is a common saying that if a Bishnoi's food is on the first of string of 20 camels and a man of another caste touches the last camel of the string, the Bishnoi wiIl consider his food defiled and throw it away. The ceremony of initiation (pallal) is as follows:-
A number of representatives Bishnoi is assemble and before them a Sadh or Bishnoi priest, after lighting a sacrificial fire (hom), instructs the novice in the duties of the faith. He then takes some water in a new earthen vessel, over which he prays in a set form (Bishnogayatri) stirring it the while with his string of beads (mala), and after asking the consent of the assembled Bishnois, he pours the water three times into the hands of the novice who drinks it off. The novice's scalp-lock (choti) is then cut off and his head
shaved, for the Bishnois shave the whole head and do not leave a scalplock like the Hindus; but they allow the beard to grow, only shaving the chin on the father's death. Infant aptism is also practised, and 30 days after birth the child, whether boy or girl, is baptised by the priest (sadh) in much the same way as an adult; only the set form of prayer is different and the priest pours a few drops of water into the child's mouth, and gives the child's relatives each three handfuls of the consecrated water to drink; at the same time the barber clips off the child's hair. This baptismal ceremony also has the effect of purifying the house which has been made
impure by the birth (sutak). The Bishnois intermarry among themselves only, and by a ceremony of their own, in which the circumambulation of the sacred fire, which is the binding ceremony among the Hindus generally, is omitted. They do not , revere Brahmans, but have priests (sadh) of their own chosen from among the laity. They do not burn their dead, but bury them below the cattle-stall or in a place frequented by cattle, such as a cattle-pen. Bishnois gob on pilgrimage to the place where Jhambaji is buried south of Bikaner, where there is a tomb (mat) over his remains: and a temple (mandir) with regular attendants (pujaris). A festival takes place here every six months in Asauj and Phagan, when .the pilgrims go to the sandhill on which. Jhambaji lived and there light scarificial fires (hom) of jandi wood in vessels of stone and offer a burnt-offering of barley, til, ghi and sugar, at the same time muttering set prayers.
They also make presents to the attendants of the temple' and
distribute moth and other grain for the peacocks and pigeons which
live there in numbers. Should anyone have committed an offence,
such as having killed an animal, or sold a cow or goat to a
Musalman, or allowed an animal to be killed when he could have
prevented it, he is fined by the assembled Bishnois for the good of
the temple. Another place of pilgrimage is a tomb called Chambola
in the Jodhpur country, where a festival is held once a year in Chait. There the pilgrims bathe in the tank and help to deepen it, and . sing and play musical instruments and scatter grain to peacocks and pigeons."
P.J. Fagan (The pre-independence Indian Civil Services)

Santosh Punia

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