For Buddha and Krishna, Indians Are Saving Trees
Siliguri, a city located on the Himalayan foothills in northern India, was once celebrated for the dense forests of Baikunthapur that surrounded it. When the Raikat family ruled the area, they chose Siliguri as their capital between 1523 and 1771 because its impenetrable forests offered protection. And Siliguri houses the biggest Krishna Center in the Northeast because it is believed that Lord Krishna went into hiding in the forests of Baikunthapur with queen Rukminiat.
But now the city would hardly be recognizable to the Raikat, and Lord Krishna may find it more difficult to hide. The Baikunthapur forests have shrunk considerably causing ecological imbalances, drought, and unseasonable conditions in the area.
Siliguri is still a very religious place, however, and the residents are drawing from the teachings of Buddha and Hindu beliefs to find ways to protect the trees and reforest their beloved city.
Buddhists Plant Thousands of Trees
To celebrate the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on July 6, members of the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association along with students and local residents of Siliguri planted 2,000 saplings near a forest area over just one weekend. The drive to plant trees will last five days and aims at protecting the ecosystem in Siliguri and making the area greener.
“We will plant almost 10,000 trees,” said Sonam Lama, the secretary of the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association. “For this, we spoke to the forst department who gave us six hectares of land for planting trees.”
Planting trees is becoming a popular call to action among Buddhists. After Nepal experienced a deadly earthquake and mudslides earlier this year, Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order and “Guardian of the Himalayas,” said that much of the loss could have been avoided had there been more trees.
“In the last few decades, so many of our so-called ‘natural disasters’ have actually been a result of the damage that we, as humans, have done. It has really been like a nightmare for many of us who live in these areas affected by the disasters,” said the Drukpa. “If we understand this, we also realize that we have a genuine opportunity here to reverse some of these disasters before they happen again. If we all work together proactively, and with wisdom and compassion, there are so many things we can do as humans to honor our Earth.”
The Drukpa has led many successful drives to plant trees. After a cloudburst over the Leh district triggered torrential rains, mudslides, and flash floods, he organized his followers and managed to plant 50,033 willow saplings in 33 minutes and 25 seconds near the famed Hemis Monastery. Two years later, he led 9,814 people in planting 99,033 trees in less than one hour.
The Buddhist monks of Siliguri should be commended for planting 10,000 trees over five days. But perhaps the Guardian of the Himalayas should help the people of Siliguri reclaim their forests a bit faster.
Hindus Perform Tree Wedding Ceremonies
In 2013, Siliguri residents came together to say, “I do,” to saving mother nature. Bengali Hindu devotees performed marriage rituals on a pair of intertwined trees adorned with traditional attires of saree and dhoti, representing man and woman. Organizers of the ceremony said the wedding was a bid to steop deforestation in teh area.
“I have arranged the tree marriage as trees are being cut down, and to take forward its progeny,” said Juma Sengupta, organizing secretary of the event. “With the help of my neighbors in the locality, I have got the tree married.”
“We want to give the message that do not cut trees, do not injure them,” said Vikey Saha.
Personifying nature and celebrating interconnectedness is a common theme in Hinduism. In the Hindu universe, all created forms emerge from the womb of the cosmic mother, thus the natural world is a direct expression of the divine. Anyone who has experienced the calming and solacing effect of communion with nature has likely felt the connection with motherly love.
The deep connection between Hindus and nature is often touted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At a conference in Berlin in April, he noted that “Indians treat nature as God.”
While it is certainly helpful that Buddhists and Hindus are coming together to save the trees, more needs to be done before valuable resources are lost. Let’s hope Modi practices what he preaches and his government encourages people to restore and protect the sacred forests surrounding Siliguri.
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