A Tradition of Nature Conservation

The history of forests goes a long way back in time; a while after our planet itself was formed. The earth originated as a fiery large ball of gases and dust. It slowly cooled down and evolved to form water bodies and land. The moss on water led to the growth of plants which eventually spread across the planet to form dense forests.
These forests provided food, water and shelter to all living beings such as birds, insects and animals and facilitated their formation and growth. Humans were the last to originate and lived in harmony with nature, behaving and surviving like animals. They would hunt or eat roots or tubers and drink directly from water bodies. Gradually humans shifted from being hunter gatherers to permanent settlers near sources of water. When the tubers in the region began to diminish due to constant consumption, farming was initiated as a source of food.
The practice of worshipping god evolved along with the evolution of man. A location such as a tree or rock within the forest would be marked and worshipped. Owing to the sanctity of the region, the forest all around would be protected with utmost piety which led to the formation of a strong ecosystem of nature. Animals, insects and other living beings settled in these forests which fulfilled all their needs. These forests came to be known as sacred groves or devrai. Thousands of years have passed since this practice but devrais only began to be identified on a large scale after their naming.
The forests in devrais have been surviving since many years. They are found across India and are known by various names. Similarly many other countries like Japan, America and Vietnam have sacred groves with their native names. In Ethiopia, they are known as church forests.
All was well until man lived in harmony with nature. But with the development and growth of humankind, the forest cover around the world began dwindling from 80-90% down to 10-15%. Only sacred groves or devrais with pious ‘temples’ were spared due to the fear of god. Taking India’s example, with the growing population a major chunk of forests was cut down to make way for farms to meet human needs. Western Maharashtra’s forests were replaced by sugarcane farms, Kokan’s forests for rice cultivation, Marathwada’s for sorghum (jwari-bhakri) and Southern India’s vegetation was replaced by tea estates. In the natural ecosystem, insects eat other insects, controlling the spread of diseases. The removal of significant forest cover led to the destruction of the habitat of many such species, causing ecological imbalance and ultimately leading to droughts and the spread of diseases.
Countries around the world came together to help each other. When India needed financial aid, the World Bank agreed on the condition that more trees were planted across the country. Everyone around the world was recognising the importance of saving the environment since its outcomes affected the entire planet.
Developed countries had reached that state of development by cutting down forests but the undeveloped and developing countries still had open land to plant trees. Such countries were assured financial assistance if they agreed to increase the forest cover but they were not informed which trees to plant. Due to this, foreign plants like Gliricidia, Nilgiri, Australian Acacia and subbhul were planted in large numbers. Landscape architects in cities planted fast-growing trees such as Gulmohar, Raintree, Kesiya 200 on roadsides and in gardens, often replanting saplings in previously dug holes. Due to this, the actual environmental problem wasn’t effectively addressed.
The importance of trees has been stated since centuries. According to the Vedas, one tree is equivalent to ten righteous men. Despite this, it didn’t make sense why environmental conservation was not taken seriously. So I decided to find the root of the problem. Why does this happen? Why are the wrong saplings planted? Why don’t the saplings survive? My research highlighted the following challenges.

  1. People don’t have knowledge about trees.
  2. The difference between native and foreign trees is not known.
  3. A sapling needs water and protection until it grows into a tree. This is known to very few people. Saplings are planted in the monsoon and then left without watering or protection facilities. Due to this, saplings don’t survive and new ones are planted in the same dug holes each year.
  4. People aren’t aware or sensitive towards the importance of trees.
  5. ‘What is the benefit/use for me?’ Due to this mentality, the planted saplings are not taken care of.

While searching for solutions to these challenges over the years, I realized that devrais were an answer to all. This is when I thought of making manmade devrais and a plan for the same was formulated.

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