Guru Nanak’s Sacred Forest in Jammu

Kanwal Singh

The respect and importance of environment is fundamental to Sikhism. As Guru Nanak Dev Ji illustrates in Japji Sahib-
“Pawan Guru, Paani Pita, Maata Dharth Mahath”
“Air is our Teacher, Water is our Father and the great Sacred Earth is our Mother”
Guru Nanak Dev Ji proclaimed ecological awareness with a poets fascination and propounded a very important message i.e. the undying bond between humans and nature. If there is something common between humans of different class, caste and religion then that is our Mother Nature.
What could be the better way of realising the true message of Guru Nanak and celebrating his 550th birth anniversary, than by planting ten million native saplings in his name called the “Guru Nanak Sacred Forest”. Ecology & Spirituality are fundamentally connected because deep ecological awareness, ultimately is spiritual awareness.
The US based organisation; Ecosikhs decided to convert degradable patches of lands across India into Guru Nanak Sacred Forests. Since the occasion was the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak, so around 550 native saplings were planted on every empty patch of land using the layered plantation method of “Miyawaki”. Akira Miyawaki is a Japanese Botanist and expert in plant ecology. He aims at protecting Native forests and has spent years on restoration of natural vegetation on degradable lands. After years of research he developed and refined a method of ecological engineering to store native forests from seeds of native trees. This method was called as Miawaki Technique.
The Sacred Forest project which started in March/June 2019 has till now successfully planted 75,900 native saplings in 138 Guru Nanak Sacred Forests across North India including states like Punjab, Haryana, U. P, Rajasthan, Delhi. One of the Guru Nanaks Sacred Forest is in J&K. The Sacred Guru Nanak forest includes native trees of thirty different species like Peepal, Sheesham, Mango, Jamun, Kikar, Bargad, Babul etc. It’s located in Panchayat, Chatha, Jammu. On 23rd June, the volunteers from Ecoriders in collaboration with EcoSikhs and various other organizations like Khalsa Aid planted 550 saplings of native plant species. Since the plantation, the native species have not only shown tremendous growth but have helped in absorbing CO2. The native plants have started reviving the local ecological system whereby many native birds which were thought to be extinct or have left the place can now be seen flocking on the branches and even knitting nests. Every plant has a role and is a important component of ecology. Since, the trees are native, the birds finds it familiar. This has been proven by ecological studies that birds usually chose their habitat based on potential natural vegetation evolved over thousand of years. eg The plant of Kikar has often been neglected by planters and foresters as its a tree with thorns and needles but scientifically the plant is a very important component of the larger ecosystem. The Weaver/Tailored bird naturally chooses kikar to built the nest and use it as its natural habitat. The reduction in Kikar tree disturbed the ecological composition of Tailored Bird. When forests are cut or when foresters bring plants from other natural vegetation then it creates a imbalance and disturbs the natural ecosystem.
Human intervention has damaged Mother Nature. The viability of many plants and animals species are at stake. In Sikhism, the ecological awareness has a holistic approach. As per Guru Nanak everything is a manifestation of God.
“You Yourself Created the Universe. You, Yourself The Bumblebee, Flower, Fruit & The Tree”.
The “Guru Nanaks Sacred Forest” in Jammu was a collaborative effort with support from Local Panchayat and with participation of over one hundred volunteers. The volunteers went under training in last week of March 2019 at Bangalore. The training was under Dr Subindho Sharma, founder and director of the Bangalore based Corporate, Afforestt. It’s a service provider for creating natural, wild, maintanence free beautiful native forests. The learning process involved identifying old trees dating back to thousands of years and learning the process of layered plantation method of “Miyawaaki”. The process includes use of water retention material(toorhi), perforated material(rice husk), paddy stubble, cow dung manure, bamboo sticks and other natural materials. A total of 550 native plant saplings of thirty different species were planted in the area of 160 square metre. Local Panchayat of Bhour Camp alloted the required land and even locals participated in the project. The word “Sacred” symbolises that forests are eternal and it’s our collective responsibility to protect it from getting exploited.
In the last six months, the native plants of the Guru Nanak Sacred Forests in Jammu have shown exponential growth where the saplings are now full grown trees. The degraded patch of land which was once a abandoned place has now been turned into a full grown forest. It has a running stream of canal and the locals have been monitoring the growth and health of the native trees.
Guru Nanak Dev Jis message was not confined to one community but his teachings belongs to the entire world. You’ll often find Guru Nanaks teachings resonating in Nature. Just like trees don’t differentiate while providing shade, a river quenches every thirst, Guru Nanak Dev Jis message of syncretic, plural and equal society binds everyone with love for true lord. You’ll find a tree in every Gurdwara Sahib. Even in the Sikhs holiest shrines, Harmandir Sahib, you’ll find sacred trees with spiritual, eternal, historical and ecological significance.Our Society also often reflects the ecological setup of nature. Just like in a joint family, the members support each other, similarly in nature one tree supports another. That’s the reason trees planted close to each other show better growth.
Nature is so elementary to human life but the increased anthropological activities has destroyed and damaged the flora and fauna. The Amazon fire and the recent Australian bushfire is an outcome of that. The fire has devastated the most beautiful ecosystem in the world. Millions of animals have died. It has burned down 8.4 million hectares of forest land.
Where the world is so sensitive on issues revolving around global geopolitics, we also need to draw our attention to issues related to environment, climate change and global warming. The drug of emotional attachment to material things has destroyed us as it has destroyed the world.
Guru Nanaks Sacred Forests is a reminder to everyone that ‘Mother Nature’ has spiritual significance and we have no right to destroy it. It’s a reminder that we can still make a change and make a beginning. It’s a reminder that we should start respecting Mother Nature. The world belongs to everyone not just to one human race. The lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more important than the most luxurious rug.
Taking forward the vision and message of Guru Nanak, Ravneet Singh, South Asian manager of Eco Sikh, said, that under the mission to plant a million saplings in the name of Guru Nanak, atleast 1400 more such Guru Sacred Forests are in pipeline.