By -Smt. Kalapana Palkiwala :People of India have many festivals related to trees. One such festival is Van Mahotsav or the Forest Festival. Van Mahotsav was started in 1950 by K. M. Munshi, the then Union Minister for Agriculture and Food to create enthusiasm among masses for forest conservation and planting trees.
Van Mahotsav, a week long festival of tree planting is organised every year in the month of July, across India when millions of trees are planted. As the monsoon progresses across the Gangetic plains, Van Mahotsav is celebrated in some parts in early July, in others, in August, and still further west, even in September.
The main purpose for planting the trees during Van Mahotsav was to:
· Increase awareness about trees and love of trees amongst the people.
·Help soil conservation and arrest deterioration of soil fertility.
·Popularize the planting and tending of trees in farms, villages, municipal and public lands for their aesthetic, economic and protective needs.
· Provide fuel and thus release cow dung for use as manure.
·Increase production of fruits and add to the potential food resources of the country.
· Help creation of shelter-belts around agricultural fields to increase their productivity.
·Provide fodder leaves for cattle to relieve intensity of grazing over reserved forests.
·Provide shade and ornamental trees for the landscape.
· Provide small poles and timber for agricultural implements, house construction and fencing.
As a part of Van Mahaotsav celebrations throughout the country, afforestation drive was launched after the observations from 1950 in a bid to retain the vanishing forest covers of the country. Cutting down trees on a massive scale has greatly affected the environment around us and it has become imperative to do something about their conservation as well. In the competition of urbanisation and beautification of cities, trees were considered the greatest stumbling block. They came in the way of roads, flyovers, hoardings, pavements and all the other necessities of urban living. This resulted in the chopping of trees. The declining number of trees has also brought about changes in the climate.
Planting of trees is a symbolic gesture to celebrate our reverence for all things that grow in the forest. Late K.M. Munshi had said, “trees mean water, water helps grow wheat and bread, and it is bread that gives and sustains life. Without trees and forests Lord Indra’s clouds will not bless us. Without that water there can be no rivers and no rain-fed forests. We must all understand and recognize that the sustenance of human life on this planet cannot be arranged without trees.”
A quote from the 18th century British poet Christopher Smart who wrote of how plants and trees and flowers along with prayers can combine to make our lives beautiful and meaningful and profitable.
“Trees, plants, and flowers of virtuous root;
Gem yielding blossom, yielding fruit …………….
And with sadness of the gale enrich the thankful Sun,
The World He made,
The Glorious light the Soothing shade Dale, champaign, grow and hill,
Where Secrecy remains in bliss
And Wisdom hides her grace.”
The Vedas, teach us to seek…..
“Bless me Oh Lord with lofty hills and mountains which give birth to rivers and forests with trees that bear fruit……
May peace fill the plants and the forests.
May God’s ruling over the rivers be peaceful.
May Lord Brahma be peaceful.
May there be peace in the world.
May peace manifest itself in every form……”
But Van Mahotsav is not just about forest and tree planting. It is also about immediate surroundings. Trees are planted on railway lines, periphery of lakes, wastelands, forests and even in homes and balconies. At a time when trees are getting chopped, it is heartening to see almost everyone, from the President of India to young children huddled to plant trees. President Pratibha Patil launched 59th Van Mahotsav by planting a sapling of the Carribian Trumpet tree, commonly known as ‘Basant Rani’ in a school in Delhi. Native plants are planted which adapt easily to local regions and have a high survival rate while supporting the birds, insects and animals of the respective eco-system. State governments, city administrations, villages and panchayat bodies, schools, colleges and academic institutions, scouts and guides, defence units, resident welfare associations, Joint Forest Management Committees all join in this movement. Every year free saplings are distributed all over the country by various units of the Forest departments, farmers and state governments. Various competitions on slogan writing and poster making are also organized. Approximately 50 percent saplings die due to grazing, intense heat, pollution and neglect. Yet, Van Mahotsav is a step towards protecting the green cover and our environment.
*Deputy Director(M & C), PIB, New Delhi