Call of the Forests – Seeking Joy and Peace

BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, ENVIRONMENT, 2 May 2016

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Ravi P BhatiaWhen we are near a forest we may feel its gentle call. The forest invites us and seems to be callings us to enjoy its various charms. When we enter a forest we find not only trees shrubs and various plants but also a wide variety of birds and animals. If we listen to their call we find that various birds and animals calling out in their own particular sounds.

Some sounds are pleasant but some, of a peacock for instance, are shrill and somewhat irritating. Animals like lions or wolves will growl in different ways depending upon the condition they are in and who is approaching them. They may growl seeing a stranger or hide behind a leafy refuge. If they are hungry they will growl in one way but after feeding themselves their sounds become different. This is not unlike a baby who will cry in different ways depending upon whether it is hungry or well fed.

Some forests have a large variety of birds and small animals but there are also other forests which are home to lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos and wolves etc. Some of these forests have become national parks or safaris where tourists come and enjoy the sights and sounds of these ferocious animals.

Forests are symbols of life. If we did not have forests on the planet Earth it would be difficult to visualise what type of life could be present. But life as we know it would not exist. How is this so?

When human or animal life breathes Oxygen (O2) is inhaled and carbon dioxide (CO2) is exhaled. Forests are able to transform CO2 again into O2. If forests were not present this transformation would not be possible.

But forests have much more utility for life on earth. Life consists not only of human beings but also of the ecosystem – animal, fish and flora. The ecosystem is interdependent on each other in different complex ways. Without one part the other parts would not easily survive. And forests provide the ideal natural habitat for the ecosystem to flourish.

Forests are full of life – animals, birds, plants, fish and other creatures that make us feel joyful and tranquil. Forests provide fruit, fresh air, and firewood for cooking, medicinal plants and of course timber for building homes or furniture or bridges. In addition, forests have been helping the tribal communities in many parts of the world to survive and even flourish for centuries.

Tribes and indigenous peoples are found all over the world – in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Australia, New Zealand and countless other regions. In India there are a large number of tribal communities living in different regions especially in the Andaman and Nicobar islands far away from mainland India. For these tribal people (Adivasis), forests are and have been their habitats for centuries. They are happy to live in the so called primitive conditions of the forests which provide them food, water, fishing and hunting opportunities. But due to various development activities taking place the tribal lands are being encroached upon and the local people are being forced to move out.

Forests are one part of the environment that consists of air, mountains and hills, oceans, rivers, lakes, glaciers among others. If the environment is clean and unpolluted we have a sense of amity, peace and joy.

When we seek peace in our environment, what do we mean? Here peace implies wellbeing, harmony and being one with nature. If the environment is clean – if the birds sing and rivers flow and butterflies hop around we feel peaceful and happy. A clean forest with healthy trees that bloom and give us fruit and timber are signs of this healthy environment.  Trees also give us oxygen that cleans the air. They have symbolized life, shelter and rest for man. According to the Indian religious and philosophical texts Vedas, the tree kalpvriksha has wonderful properties. A person sitting beneath this tree in a contemplative stance gains knowledge and spiritual strength. For Buddha, it conferred enlightenment.

Romila Thapar, the internationally acclaimed historian has highlighted the significance of forests and trees from the earliest times in the Indus Valley civilization, the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts. She talks of the veneration of trees and their worship by Buddhists and Jains.

Due to our life styles and several development processes going on in the world the world is witnessing climate change and other adverse effects such as increasing global temperatures, rising levels of oceans, loss of agriculture and erratic weather conditions among others.

Another undesirable outcome of development is the issue of deforestation. When a dam or power plant or any infra project such as a road or bridge is to be set up, trees are cut on a large scale. In the 1970s and 1980s of the last century massive cutting of trees was going on in the northern part of India. This was ruinous for the local people especially because there was a timber mafia which was felling trees for commercial profit.  To salvage their life the people started the chipko andolan (movement to hug the trees) under the leadership of two wonderful men — Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. Most women also supported this moment and ultimately due to their combined efforts the rampant cutting of trees was stopped.

If the earlier call of a forest was to invite all forms of life to partake its abundance, today the forests are calling for help so that trees can survive and in turn help modern life to exist. Will we heed this call?

The world celebrates Earth Day on 22nd April. It would be wonderful if we also started celebrating World Forest Day.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia – Educationist and Peace Researcher. Retired Professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 May 2016.

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