Planted Journal

In the brief moments of their encounter, the men, my ancestors and forests would have exchanged energy. With trees inhaling what my ancestors have exhaled over the years and vice versa, the exchange of energy through breath could have been inevitable. Through touch and contact of human sole on the same soil that nurtures the forests, the trees must have transferred their humility to the humans.

Monisha Raman

The Sacred Mountains | Monisha Raman

The Nilgiri mountain range in South India is an expansive terrain, part of the Western Ghats covering the geographic borders of three states. Though the landscape has been exposed to drastic changes in the recent past, in some regions, the virginity of the mountains remains intact. Much credit is given to the government policies for protecting parts of the fragile ecosystem. What is not acknowledged widely is the harmonious co-existence of the several indigenous communities and the huge role they play in conservation. 

Many practices and rituals of the communities living in the mountains are aimed at preserving the greenery.  Grooves and pastures considered sacred by the natives are some examples. Sometimes the entire stretch of a hill is held in reverence. The boundaries of these holy places are not crossed, except for the annual rituals. The Badugas, among the largest indigenous communities living in the Nilgiris, consider certain natural pockets as holy beings, including certain hills.  Spread across the district, in proximity to the Baduga villages, these revered hills hold vegetation that has been left undisturbed for centuries. The hills hold tropical montane forests and grasslands. 

Every summer, for hundreds of years, men of the Baduga community mount these sacred hills barefoot for their annual rituals at the peak. For centuries, the trees in the groove of these hills have been witness to the stories of the men who passed through the forests. In the Baduga community, trees are considered living beings. Having witnessed this annual walk three summers ago, I pondered the invisible channels that connect men (my ancestors) to the trees they pass by every year. 

After navigating a tricky rocky terrain close to the foothills, we reached the forests that covered the entire hill. Deep in the grove, among the tall trees, Henry David Thoreau’s words sans-terre- having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere struck my mind. At that moment, I was home amid the Shola trees, and I speculate it is a feeling that has transcended time among the men who walked the path before me for centuries.

In the brief moments of their encounter, the men, my ancestors and forests would have exchanged energy. With trees inhaling what my ancestors have exhaled over the years and vice versa, the exchange of energy through breath could have been inevitable. Through touch and contact of human sole on the same soil that nurtures the forests, the trees must have transferred their humility to the humans.

With modern research proving that trees are conscious and intelligent beings, it is inevitable to contemplate what the grove perceived from the humans who pass them every year and the gifts humans received from the forests. Year after year and one generation after the other, the forests have imparted its bounteous qualities to the close-knitted community.

Like my ancestors who worship those who have walked before them, the trees on the hill are dependent on the mother tree, the source tree. For both humans and trees, the source is holy. 

The resilient trees have battled the extreme weather conditions and withstood ferocious winds, and have passed on the same resilience to the people in the community who have grown in number despite the odds.

Like most other native communities across the world, the Badugas believe in kinship and every person, irrespective of his contour, is embraced with the warmth of the community. A quality perhaps bequeathed by the trees. For centuries the trees on the hill have held onto survivance, the consciousness of what is required to change, grow and survive. To multiply and develop within demanding circumstances is remarkable, and humans may have adopted that trait from the trees. 

Could all of these attributes result from the exchange of inter-species energy?

This is a ritual that has transcended the order of time and development. This transaction of inter-species energy too cuts across time. Strengthened by this reception of energy, the people in the community have gained the most significant victories of conservation, have held on to their belief system and practices and continue to do so. 

On that summer morning, after crossing pristine grasslands at a higher altitude of the hill, we reached the peak, where the rituals were done. There were a handful of men around me. A few decades ago, more men walked the trail, I am told. With the rampant migration of native communities, the numbers are dwindling. Over time, the hills are likely to lose their sanctity. What does the future hold for these sacred ecosystems? In the age of increasing climatic disasters, can this centuries-old connection be a covert message to the modern world?

In his insightful essay, Walking, Henry David Thoreau says there is something about the mountain air that feeds the spirits and inspires. Will not a man grow to greater perfection intellectually as well as physically under these influences?

For the comprehensive understanding of the ecosystems, for a highly perceptive state of consciousness that led to a deeper understanding of the demands of the mountains, my ancestors perhaps have the trees, the hills and the highland wind to thank.

While looking at the grand view of the valley from the peak, I think of the communities around the world that believe men and forests are connected by spirits.

Whatever the future has in store for these keepers of the forests, it will adversely affect the ecosystems.

Written by: Monisha Raman @monisharaman

Image by anonymous contributor 

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