You might be surprised to learn that the original ‘Tree Huggers’ were not hippies from the 1970’s trying to stop the clear-cutting of old growth forests, but the women and men of the Bishnois sect of Hinduism in western Rajasthan, India. This sect started in 1485 AD, and was founded on the principle of living in harmony with nature.
During a severe drought in their desert homeland, the Bishnois were able to plant and sustain a lush forest, and collect drinkable water, when surrounding areas were not. As part of their religion, they did not cut any live trees; and only used dead trees for heating and cooking – after carefully removing all insects. Even at times when food was scarce, they would not allow any animals or birds to go thirsty or hungry.
Their peaceful tradition was challenged in 1730 when minions of the King of Jodhpur were sent to a Bishnois village to collect lumber for a new palace. Obviously this did not set well with the villagers, who had created an oasis amidst their sacred trees. But the royal soldiers were not deterred. And neither were the villagers – especially one woman who clutched and hugged a tree declaring: “A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree.”
After the soldiers decapitated her and her three daughters, other villagers from the surrounding area gave their heads for their sacred trees – a total of 363 heads to match the 363 trees felled.
But their self-sacrifice did not stop there. In 1973 it inspired the ‘Chipko Movement’, a non-violent protest against the rampant deforestation happening all around the world. The word ‘Chipko’ comes from the Hindi word meaning: ’to stick to’, or ‘to hug’. The Chipko Movement has facilitated the protection of forests world-wide, and has successfully encouraged the preservation of soil, water, habitat, animal life, and human life and continues to this day.