When young children in Lucknow, India recently tied
a 7-foot wide decorative "Rakhi" around
a Neem tree, a tree-family that has been celebrated
for its medicinal value for centuries, they were engaging
in a form of "Environmental Rakhi" and reinforcing
a folk tradition of eco-friendly treatment of environment
and natural resources. The word "rakhi"
literally means protection in Punjabi language. "Rakhi"
is also a reference to colorful and ornamental wristbands
that sisters in India tie on their brothers during
the festival of Rakhsha Bandhan as a symbolic promise
that brothers will always protect their sisters from
any harm or danger. The children in Lucknow were extending
that love and making an example and a pledge to respect
and safeguard the environment.
Last year, Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize
and accolades with her tree-planting and re-foresting
campaign in Kenya and for spotlighting the protection
and enhancement of environment for human health, well-being,
and peace. India, with its annual Vano Maha Utsav
(festival of planting new trees) campaign has recognized
the life-sustaining benefits of a safer and healthy
environment and has encouraged communities to replenish
trees for shade, shelter, and other benefits as a
national investment. Other nations are engaged in
their own creative and innovative programs and long-range
plans in this vital area of human interest and survival.
In the sixties, the former First Lady, Lady Bird
Johnson, championed the Highway Beautification Program
and the opportunity to create a pleasant environment
along the network of America's superhighways. Her
efforts and legacy continue to transform many of the
America's major transportation corridors into colorful
"linear Rakhis" of flowering plants, trees,
and imaginative landscaping along their transcontinental
Major thoroughfares in Chandigarh, an internationally-acclaimed
city in North India, are often identified by the people
by the special flowering trees that adorn their lengths
rather than by their street names. The annual Global
Earth Day celebrations, and other advocacy groups
with similar missions, highlight the need and urgency
to protect the environment and assure the survival
of our planet and its precious natural resources for
the benefit of all living beings. Imagine a giant
"global Rakhi" for the entire planet Earth
threaded by a common commitment that "embraces
all inhabitants in peace."
Landscaping as an art has been transforming and embellishing
civic and sacred architecture, public squares and
vistas, and private and natural settings into breathtaking
attractions and major destinations since the earliest
dawn of human civilization.
Man has recognized the importance of environment and
nature's boundless gifts and instinctively understood
nature's place in our lives and our place within the
realms, wonder, and beauty of nature. Man has found
lessons, inspirations, strength, and limitless gifts
in nature; intriguing cultural textures and rhythms
that enthrall and mystify human spirit and stir our
soul. We has associated the Divine with nature; celebrated
life with plants, flowers, and other offerings from
nature's bounty; and worshipped natural elements (air,
water, fire, sunlight, and earth) essential for life
and living. The Sikh scriptures proclaim "Nature
as the resting place and Crown of the Creator."
Sacred texts of all faiths advocate respect for our
environment as a life-sustaining and nurturing force
and magnificent gift of the Creator.
Nature also has its own mind governed by forces beyond
our control; unimagined fury and outbursts that shape
and reshape our landscape and environment from time
Our growing interest and major efforts in conservation,
restoration, and enhancement of the environment are
testimony and recognition of our fascination, awe,
and unmistakable interdependence and intertwined destiny
Unfortunately, the world's environmental concerns
and resources have been increasingly under strain
due to exploding populations and their survival needs,
national priorities and competing interests, shortsighted
policies and unscrupulous violations, and devastating
natural disasters that have been lately visiting us
with unusual frequency. Scientists argue that some
disasters may be linked to the continuing human neglect,
infringement, and reckless outrage against our fragile
eco-systems and vital environmental interests.
The headline: "World's biggest 'Rakhi' hugs Neem
tree" in an ethnic paper warmed my heart and
gave me reason for optimism. The children had tied
the world's "biggest environmental Rakhi"
around a Neem tree in the zoological gardens in Lucknow
(a city known for the arts and its historic past)
to create awareness, and as a reminder to treat the
environment as a living entity and friend. It was
a joyful and symbolic expression of solidarity with
nature. I imagined other children around the world
leading this common cause and inspiring and awakening
adults to take responsible and timely measures.
Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf States, countries
and people affected by the catastrophic Asian Tsunami,
and victims of 9/11 and other major disasters certainly
could use the concept and spirit of "Rakhi"
as they struggle to restore order to their lives and
devastated "emotional and cultural landscape."
Every September, may be Americans and others should
plant trees as a prayer and symbolic "band of
solidarity" with those who bore the brunt of
Tsunami, Katrina, and 9/11 tragedy. The Indian tradition
of "Rakhi" itself may go universal someday.
After all, it is about placing a "circle of love"
and support around others.
Kanwal Prakash "KP" Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA