More than 100 years old Iconic Banyan Tree, a popular hangout spot in the Arambol beach area in Goa where locals and foreigners have regular yoga sessions, was uprooted due to heavy rains on 5th August. It was later restored through mass community efforts on 21st August by the team of experts from Hyderabad. A crowdfunding initiative by environmentalists, nature lovers, and local organizations made it possible by collecting a corpus of around 2L for saving their beloved tree. This was apparently the first time when crowdfunding was used to restore a tree.
This emotive reaction from people was an obvious one since the values rooted in this soil and culture of this land is based on harmony between nature and humankind. Indians are known for their reverence and worship of both living and non-living things in nature.
Enshrined in folklore, documented in historical texts and reflected in the daily lives of people, is a multitude of evidence that supports the fact that coexistence with nature has been an integral part of Indian culture since time immemorial. Great value is attributed to vegetation since ancient times. The relationship between people and the environment in ancient India was one of harmony, coexistence, mutual care, and concern – the two supporting and complementing each other in their own way.
Trees were seen as the first forms of the divine, born out of Brahma’s hair. Ancient Indians felt a deep sense of identity with nature and were aware of the eternal ecological balance found in it. Vedic goddess Aranyani is still worshipped in villages across India. Buddha was born under an Ashoka tree and attained wisdom under the Peepal tree. Mahavira got universal wisdom under the Sal tree. In Verse 1 of Chapter 15 of Bhagwat Geeta, Shree Krishna identifies himself with Peepal tree. The banyan tree is also considered as Kalpavriksha/Kalpataru (meaning: wish-fulfilling tree) in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, which was originated from Amrit Manthan (Ocean churning).
Plants play a very significant role in Indian religious ceremonies too, where they are revered as deities and sometimes as a key offering in rituals. Worshipping of the Banyan tree on Vat Savitri, Tulsi in the month of Karthik, and several other traditions mark the continuity of nature worship from ancient times. Sandalwood has special importance during religious ceremonies in India and its paste is applied to god as well as the forehead of people.
Nine trees are worshipped corresponding to Nav-Durgas during the Navratri festival. On the festival of Dussehra, in Maharashtra, people distribute Apta leaves because they resemble gold coins and so indicate prosperity and affluence. No worship of a deity in India is complete without the use of coconut or betel leaves and areca nuts. Mango leaves are tied at the entrance symbolically to absorb negative energies from entering the home.
The medicinal value of trees in India is recognized from Vedas to modern times. Ayurveda system of medication has special importance for plants. Neem tree is popular for its medicinal uses, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal properties. Tulsi leaves are used almost in every Ayurvedic medicine.
In modern times, India witnessed various movements for the protection of trees and plants. From the Bishnoi movement of 1700 to Chipko Movement (1973) and the Appiko Movement (1983), masses poured in for protecting nature. MS Swaminathan who is known as a harbinger of the green revolution in India pushed for high-yield varieties of wheat and rice.
In his essay Tapovan, Rabindranath Tagore once wrote, Indian civilization grew from the forest and learned its principles of democracy and diversity from it. Our ecosystem is based on unique interlink between multiple stakeholders within it. Everything whether it is living or nonliving has its own significance. Vegetation has its unique significance in this ecosystem since only plants can photosynthesize sunlight and make it available to other animals on earth.
In an era of technological transformation, it is necessary not to forget our roots and our value system which are essentially meant to sustainable development and incessant progress of humanity. Human progress is not possible at the cost of vegetation. So, it is necessary to inculcate our cultural values in children as well as youth meant for balancing both humanity and nature.