“Now have i praised the forest queen, aranyani,
Sweet scented, redolent of balm,
The mother of all sylvian things,
Who tills not, but has stores of food”
RigVeda, Book 10, Hymn 146
We have a long shared history with forests and the riches they hold. Well before our first written texts, forests were such an essential part of our folklore that there was a goddess of forests as well created by shiva and parvati themselves. Forests in our country have long been places of spiritual quests, mythical creatures and magical beings. They have inspired our traditions, our folklore, our mythology. But far beyond the stories and spirituality, forests influence our daily well being and our very lives depend on their health.
We have always appreciated the commodities that a forest provides – firewood, timber, minerals, medicines, etc but as our understanding of forests and tree systems deepens, we are beginning to realise the underlying and invisible services they provide. Forests for eg, are the best known carbon sequestering mechanism we know, far more effective and scalable than any machine known to man. Forest soils are also excellent large scale wastewater management systems, continuously filtering runoff and replenishing the underground water systems. The vast interconnected root networks (we had spoken about them previously HERE ) hold the soil together and prevent landslides and soil erosion. Take the landslides across the western ghats during the cloudburst of 2019. They were primarily caused by loose soil that resulted from years and years unregulated deforestation and construction in the hills. Forest systems lower temperatures as much as 5 degrees celsius and also regulate the weather patterns. Not just that, remember that monsoons actually last only 2-3 months in India. It is the forest soils that hold the water and release it gradually through millions of springs and many little creeks to form giant perennial river systems. We wrote more about this HERE.
As millennia passed, our appetite for the assets and commodities that a forest produces increased consistently. Along with our need for more cultivable land, and larger cities, world over, we are today left with just under 46% of forests that we had at the start of the millennium. 65% of perennial streams in the country are not perennial anymore. Huge river systems like the Krishna and Cauvery have not touched the sea in over a decade. In spite of all these visible signs, we are continuously losing 7.6 million hectares of forest every year. It is clearer now than ever that our very survival depends on the river systems, and their survival in turn depends on the forests that feed them. Let us take note of this interdependence and give Aranyaani, the forest goddess, the place she deserves.