ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

It doesn’t stop at the Blackbuck: The world of the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan (India)


Chaturvedi Neekee - University of Rajasthan, History and Indian culture, Jaipur, India


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 Bishnois, followers of 29 principles of Jambho ji, are known as fierce protectors of Blackbuck. Killing of deer is unacceptable to these inhabitants of Thar desert whom they regard as their ancestors. They have been known to take cudgels against the film stars of today and maharajas of yesterday. The colonial dispensation was also compelled to order a ban on hunting in the Bishnoi areas. Even now, it is a common sight to see deer foals playing with children in Bishnoi families in an almost sibling-like manner. In Bishnoi villages, one may easily spot young men on motorbikes carrying a wounded deer for treatment as its dripping blood soils their white kurtas. To understand the roots of such devotion, the paper looks at the world of Bishnois closely through vernacular literature and ethnographic survey. The relationship of Bishnois with non-human world is both scared and mundane. The scared groves, venerating deer as ancestors, tenets of faith are not enough to explain the fearless peacocks around them or bird feeders in the temples. Beside the play of ‘kin-centric ecology’ (Enrique Salmon), we need to look at their embedded sociality with non-human world. Any attempt to disrupt it, violates not just their faith, but also disturbs the ecology of social relations and normal life as they know it. The paper presents a glimpse of the relationship of Bishnois with non-humans in their social world through history, religion, and day-to-day activities.