After a severe famine in Marwar 500 years ago, Jambeshwar Bhagwan formed a community that would live in harmony with nature to survive even in a worse famine.
The community is known as Bishnois or twentyniners' on account of 29 principles that they follow. They not only protect trees and wild animals with great dedication but follow several customs that conserve nature. Bishnois allow wild animals to forage on crops from their fields. They do not cremate dead bodies because that needs firewood; they instead bury them to give back to the elements. They even do not use blue coloured clothes because blue die has to be produced from trees. A village Khejarli' in Thar desert near Jodhpur has many Khejari trees (Prosopis cineraria) which the Bishnois consider to be very valuable. They are one of the few trees that survive in the deserts of Rajasthan.
On a fateful 10th day of Bhadrapad in 1730, Maharaja Abhaysingh of Jodhpur sent men to cut Khejari trees in Khejarli village. A lot of firewood was needed to produce lime for the new royal palace. Amritadevi, a local Bishnoi sent them back in defense of Khejari trees. They retaliated with armed soldiers but Amritadevi embraced Khejari trees and challenged the soldiers to axe her head to spare Khejari trees. The obedient soldiers not only severed Amritadevi's head but went on to kill 363 Bishnois who dared to follow the courageous lady. The news of Bishnois sacrifice for Khejari trees reached the king who then apologized to Bishnois and assured protection to trees and wild animals of that region.
Since the day of Khejari sacrifice, Amritadevi's embrace has become immortal Chipko' movement among dedicated conservationists, who gather at a monument in Khejarli every year in Bhadrapad month to salute the great Khejari sacrifice.
Khejari trees are native to the sandy deserts from Rajasthan to Afghanistan. They belong to the Mimosaceae or touch me not' family. They are large deciduous trees with black, deeply cracked bark. The roots go very deep in search of water. The slender branches are armed with small prickles. The leaves are double feathered with small dull green leaflets. Flowers are small, yellow and fragrant; they are borne in slender spikes about 10 cm long at the end of branches. Flowering season is in September. Pods of Khejari trees contain edible pulp.
Khejari tree is also known as Shami' tree from the time of Mahabharat. Pandavas had hidden their weapons in the hollows of Shami trees. Shami tree is a favourite of Lord Ganesh; Shami leaves are offered for Ganesh pooja. This is how the Shami tree is found in Pune, far away from its native Rajasthan. Gupchup Ganpati in Shaniwar Peth is an ancestral Ganesh temple belonging to Dixit family. The Shami tree at this temple is at least 100 years old. This tree is one of the heritage trees of Pune. Two young Shami trees grown from the saplings produced from the heritage tree are planted at Ganesh temples at Sahakarnagar and Ganeshkhind. Unfortunately the heritage Shami recently had to be relieved of a few branches since they got infested with white ants and became dangerous for the worshippers.