Friday, April 19, 2013

Honoring the Banyan Tree: A Befitting World Heritage Day at Aranmula

It was a solemn occasion where the Saints and people assembled offered floral tributes to an ages old Banyan tree. It was also 18 April, the World Heritage Day declared by the UNESCO. This is a grandfather tree, fondly called Puthariyal, that has stood witness to a bygone era of agrarian glory, environmental sanity. At the premises of the Lord Krishna temple at Aranmula, Kerala, the saffron clad Sages from various Ashrams also put a garland to the tree.  Poet and activist Sugathakumari gave a pledge that everyone repeated, that each one shall pay any price to protect the heritage and nature of the land. Together they lighted the lamp for a new beginning where the symbiotic culture is trying to have a comeback.

 It is a tree where the first harvest of paddy, Puthari,  was bought by farmers and offered to the Lord. A share of the harvested paddy was also deposited at the temple which routinely fed the ascetics, poor and needy. It came handy also in times of crisis. The
temple centred rice culture was linked for every agricultural operation, from planting to harvesting and the deity was also the owner, the farmers just the custodians. This concept of Kerala, most of India, changed later during the colonial phase when land became private property. And through time agricultural land has come to be real estate, just meant for trading. The food self dependent social order slowly vanished in Kerala with the drift in beliefs, values and land ownership. At Aranmula the old paradigm is staging a comeback, the trigger came from an insane idea of an international airport which was to displace the people and erase the famous heritage village.  Started initially by a Pentecost Church supported group, Mt. Zion, the metamorphosis of the project saw many milestones, where the international church links, political clout and the huge capital that it holds were freely used. Later a Company came on the scene. But the people withstood the pressure and the celebration was also part of the agitation, that the saner people of the world comes together.

Once with vast expanse of paddy fields, locally called Puncha, the agrarian ecosystem has since then faced ruin. And so did the value system and the ritual was an effort to say it loud, that the symbiotic cultures are crucial, in the mad rush to ‘develop’ people forgot what they were losing. This till Nature reacted, with drinking water shortages, unbearable heat and warming, loss of food base and general morbidity. Aranmula region once with an abundance of water is now facing hardships for drinking water, the perennial river Pampa, very crucial to the region and held in great esteem, is also a tragic scene now. With damming in the upper reaches, sand mining, deforestation and quarrying the river is an apology for its old self. It was when the whole ecosystem was on a precipice that the profit driven lobby came forward to fill all the wetlands and river tributaries of the area, pushing the survival systems to a break down.

The three day Upavasa Nama Sankeerthanam started with house to house visits by the Saints in the region, later organizing family get togethers and culminating on 18 April, which was also the World Heritage Day, in a prayer and day long fasting program at the temple premises. The day long fasting and prayers, Upavasa Nama Japam, was to kindle the spirit of eco-conservation and a pleading for honoring the eco-friendly native culture. It has been a historic phase in the immediate past of condemning the native beliefs and rituals that are intricately linked to ecological balance in the region after the colonial phase. The paradigm had components like preservation of wilderness in human habitations, called Sacred Groves, honoring important tree species, showing respect to life giving river and water bodies, honoring animals and plants. What has laed to enormous damage to the ecosystem and people.

Swami Prajnananda Theerthapadar, present Paramacharya of the Theerthapada Parampara and Head of the Theerthapadasramam, Vazhoor,  inaugurated the event with the lighting of the lamp. Dharma cannot be defeated by money power, organizational power or political power, said the Swami. Mother Nature in Aranmula is facing an onslaught of illegal attacks, it is the vulpine lobbies of consumerism that are reaching out to the last oasis of health and that must not be permitted, said Poet Sugathakumari. The icon of nature lovers in Kerala Sugathakumari  gave the Nature and Heritage Conservation Pledge. Swami Golokanandaji Maharaj, Head of the Sri Ramanandasram, Thiruvalla,  chaired the meet. State Chief of the Chinmaya Mission Swami Viviktananda Saraswathi together with the other Saints and people garlanded the
Puthariyal, Banyan tree, and highlighted the rich elements of the heritage. Swami Sukruthananda of the Sivagiri Muth, did the Arti of the tree.  Around hundred Saints from various Ashrams and Sampradayams from across Kerala and Tamilnadu participated. The Saints were welcomed with the Vanchipattu, a boat song tradition of chorus here of the riverine culture, and Vaykkurava, a native tradition, by the women folk.  Kummanam Rajasekharan, Patron of the Paithruka Grama Samithy gave a brief description of the scenario evolving and the Saints regretted that the great traditions of communal amity and tolerance that the native culture showed are being misused.

More than a hundred senior Saints including Swami Brahmapadananda (Chenkottukonam), Swami
Viswaroopananda (Kozhikkode), Swami Satchidananda (Thodupuzha), Swami Gangesananda (Panmana), Swami Ranganathananda (Nedumangad), Swami Satswaroopananda (Erumeli), Swami Krishnananda Giri (Aluva), Swami Atmananda Giri (Nandiyode), Swami Balananda (Vadakkancherry), Mathaji Ananda Meera, Swami Sankarananda, Swami Abhayananda Theerthapadar, Swami Kailasanathananda, and others participated in the programs.  Eminent environmentalists and other leaders also participated in the three day long programs. K Krishnan Kutty, State Coordinator of the movement, V K Viswanathan of Dharma Jagaran, Janardanaan Nair, of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, K Haridas, President of the Paithruka Samithy, P Induchoodan, of the Palliyoda Samithy, and environmentalists like Sreerenganathan, Pradeep Ayroor, leaders of the Paithruka Karma Samithy P R Shaji, S. Hari, K G Suresh, N K Nandakumar, Kurunthar Uthaman and others participated in the event together with large number of local people.      

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