Van-(Grove)-Revival

About Braj - Areas of Work - Forests of Braj-Revival Effort

Grove Revival

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In today's world, where assets are weighed in terms of material possessions, the common man places almost no value on the vital contribution of forests to the biosphere. Man's short-sightedness deprives him the true worth of these forests which act as a carbon sink through photosynthesis, as an influence on local climate and rainfall through respiration, as a medium for water storage and filtration through root structure, and as a protector of soil quality and quantity, and species biodiversity.

Conservation of old-growth forests and management of 'degraded' forests has been labelled especially crucial in developing countries like ours where local people utilise forests on a daily basis. Degraded forests too provide valuable resources to communities, retain significant amounts of biodiversity and may relieve pressure on old growth forests. To date, little attention is focused on the assessment or conservation India's human-impacted forests. These stands could represent valuable opportunities for protecting biodiversity, providing important resources and ecosystem services to local communities and, thereby relieving human pressure on old growth forests.

All over India, people have become estranged from their natural surroundings and have forgotten the time-honoured ecological values of their culture. Mythology and folklore was in the past the tools which used to teach people the values of these environmental traditions. Previously the lives of people, the economy, the finances, livelihood etc were intrinsically dependent on the environment, so this was a message which was naturally accepted, nurtured and handed from one generation to another, by the local populace.

Today, the same mythology is being brought alive to convey the message that environmental destruction cannot be allowed to continue if there is to be any hope for the future. If people today were to see their time honoured environmental traditions of cleanliness, simple living and respect for nature being brought alive just like in the past they would renew their confidence in the value of these traditions.

Forests of Braj: The Past

All references to Braj – the land of Lord Krishna – in Hindu Epics and mythology are vivid descriptions of lush forests, full of tress laden with fruits and flowers, and hovering bees, birds and bountiful nature. There are chirping birds and clear water lakes with waters that could relieve one of all fatigues. Sweet flavoured breeze blew always, refreshing the mind and body.

Braj comprises of over forty eight sacred groves mentioned in the mythology and folklore built around Lord Krishna's life and times. Each garden-grove has a Krishna related narrative attached to it. The narrative is a mythical rationale for the significance of the location and makes the abstract structure more concrete and alive and the experience more ethereal.

In fact the names of a large number of villages in Braj, for example, Belvana, Mahavana, Vrindavana, etc, carry the suffix 'vana', which in local language means forest. This indicates that in the past they must have been, or were surrounded with dense forest cover.

Vrindavan, today one of the 'popular' towns of Braj, was in those times, the forest overseen by the devi Vrinda, (which is how it gets the name). Vrinda is the Goddess or personification of nature in Braj, who extends the bounty of her beauty to accommodate and delight her Creator, Krishna. In addition to providing the most ideal landscapes and natural conditions at all times, she was the harbourer of his nightly trysts with the gopis. At select places on the banks of the Yamuna, Krishna would dance with the gopis in the privacy of the groves of Vrinda-devi, Vrindavan.

Historical accounts depict that the township of Vrindavan grew around the temples built by the first six saints who arrived here. The lanes were purposefully made narrow to keep the distances between dwellings at a minimum, as all around were forests where until only fifty years ago tigers and other wild animals roamed.

In Braj, groves are significant sites of religious and devotional practice. The city of Mathura too was designated a 'grove'. At one time the focus of pilgrimage shifted from temples as sites of ritual practice, to the natural landscape.

Forests of Braj: The Present

The Braj landscape and environment – the forests, the groves, trees, water and soil, which at one time nurtured Krishna, is even today considered holy and sacred in Hindu tradition. Besides their great ecological value the religious and spiritual importance of these forests is so intense that even today they are frequented by millions of pilgrims from all over the world.

Consequently, the fact of the disappearance and degradation of the trees and groves from this region is of fundamental importance especially since they constitute the original identity of the Braj region which is linked intrinsically to the whole awareness of Krishna, not only in the country but in the rest of the world.

Most of the sacred groves connected with events of Krishna's life have disappeared completely, and those that remain are under threat. Everywhere, where there has been deforestation, an arid, stony landscape remains and the damage to the natural environment is almost irreversible. With the disappearance of their natural habitat, the deer and other forest animals have disappeared. Even the peacocks, forever the forest companions of Krishna, are disappearing for the lack of mature old-trees in which they dwell.

The condition of the environment has been steadily deteriorating over the last thirty years. Braj, famous for its groves of sacred Kadamba, Pipal, Tamal, Amalaki and Vata is now almost bare. Only during the last fifty years, the temples of Braj have outgrown and eclipsed the natural forests that were their environs. The groves and forests in the surrounding landscape have been removed for farming. In and around major towns the few remaining trees are rapidly disappearing under the hands of unscrupulous developers.

Several ancient structures in the form of temples and tanks are still present in these groves. Traces of the old grandeur can still be seen at many places where beautiful Kadamb and Tamaal trees catch the eyes of the beholders. In other places, the picturesque settings of Kadamb khandis (groves) reinvigorate the beauty of Braj.

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The biggest threat to these groves is from the land mafia. They are always in the search of an opportunity to cut down the remaining trees and convert the land into residential colonies or commercial complexes.

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