Savina Levi Fragliasso is an Italo-Venezuelan applied ethnologist with an artistic background, currently based in Paris.
“The Bishnoi – in marwari, bish means twenty and noi nine – derive their name directly from the twenty-nine commandments of their founder Jambeshwar. They form a community originally located in Rajasthan. Today, the Bishnoi are listed as a Hindu cast. It is very likely that at first it was a sectarian phenomenon. In the West, the Bishnoi are collectively described as first ecologists.
The purpose of my fieldwork was to plunge into the complexity of the definition forged by the Westerners (eco-warriors, dharmic-ecologists) and by the Bishnoi themselves. My hypothesis is that some Bishnoi exploit this Western image in order to reposition themselves in Indian society.
A reading of the sacrificial phenomenon, in the light of Muslim influences, could better inform us about the concept of martyr in the name of Nature. The word sacrifice (balidan) in old rajasthani, is found in the very ancient bishnoi poetic sources and it is associated with a large number of stories. Even today, the political importance of these sacrifices are revitalized during various fairs.
To conclude, the Bishnois are fully skilful in co-producing and reformulating concepts from others and reintegrate them in their representation system. The knowledge circulates between the Western world and India in a continuous flow by producing return effects. The Bishnoi are an example of lucid receptivity in the capacity to exploit the image that others have of them.”