Amrita Devi
Bishnoi Hero in 1730

The Bishnoi Legend of Amrita Devi

Amrita Devi is a different kind of hero, forged when the Bishnoi fought a different kind of battle ...

Back in the time when maharajas ruled over Rajasthan and brave warriors rushed headlong into battle, strong swords gripped in strong hands, there lived the Bishnoi, a people who walked gently on the face of the Thar Desert. They did not lord themselves over the plants and animals that sustained them, but lived at peace with them.

Fierce in their guardianship of animals and nature, there was no killing in that place. There are stories of the women breastfeeding animals who had been orphaned. The animals even knew to go to their homes for protection when hunters came, for the Bishnoi would let no hunter — commoner or khan — kill the creatures who were as brothers to them.

Shade in the Land of Death

Because of this, trees grew and matured, making shade and soil for crops in Marwar, the harsh “Land of Death.” But soon this peace would require a price ... and a maharaja will do what he do.

Not far away from the Bishnoi village of Khejarli, there overlooking the blue city of Jodhpur stands Mehrangarh Fort, the bodies of the sacrificed lying beneath its walls. It is said that when the fort needed repairs, there were no trees of suitable size to be had — except those protected by the Bishnoi.

Amrita Devi Bishnoi: A Model of Self-Sacrifice

So in 1730, Maharaja Ajit Singh’s men came to them with their axes. One by one, the precious khejri trees were felled ... and one by one, the Bishnoi gave their own lives for the lives of the trees. That day, 363 men, women, and children died, beginning with Amrita Devi and her daughters. Their lives were given to save that which was precious to them and would help give life to the land and the people for generations to come.

When the maharaja heard of this, he was horrified. He vowed that ever after, neither trees nor animals would be harmed in the Bishnoi villages.

These brave and gentle people gave their lives for the land and for the good of the future. Even now, their villages boast more trees and wildlife than appears in the rugged desert surrounding them, parched and saline.

Beyond the Legend: Seeds of God for Modern Times

Without knowing it, they lived in harmony with the Christian teaching: As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And although Amrita Devi's sacrifice would seem extreme to most of us, they were good stewards of God’s creation and would not be swayed by the powers of government.

Surely God has planted seeds of Himself in every place, just as this spirit of self-sacrifice carries within it the seed of God. Yet the sacrifice of Amrita Devi and the women could not save others — or even themselves — from their sins. More was required to bring them into the ultimate freedom of salvation ... of moksha ...

It isn’t only “bad people” who sin. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” For God is holy, and our wrong actions and even thoughts distance us from Him. Every day, we all say and do and think things that do not “love the Lord with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds,” nor do we “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Tough Questions

Think about it. Even if you’ve never murdered someone or done one of the “big” sins ...

  • Have you ever lied or stolen something ... even something small? That would make you a liar or a thief.
  • Have you ever hated someone ... even someone who’s been unkind to you? The Bible describes this as “murdering” someone in your heart.
  • Have you ever had sexual thoughts about someone who’s not your husband or wife? Jesus put this on a level with adultery.

Sound harsh and impossible to live up to? Most of us would have to answer 'Yes' to these questions, many times over; I know I would.

God's Self-Sacrifice

So what can we do about it? “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”

God, the Supreme Creator and Refuge of the Universe, sent His Son Jesus (Isa) to earth to save us from our own rebellious choices. Come to know God the Father through His Son.

God has planted seeds of Himself in India and throughout the world ... that we all may come to Him and know the release from sin that we cannot provide for ourselves. God's self-sacrifice is a sacrifice for all, that we may come before Him pure and holy in His sight and dance in the joy of His endless Light and Grace.

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