Pilgrimage to Nature

Chandamama, Mar 2005

Mira was only five years old when she first identified a bird correctly. The bright yellow body and the black streak through its eye. She had heard her father name it several times –  a golden oriole. “Birds are like us,” thought Mira, “constantly on the move, traveling far and wide.” Mira’s father was a forest officer and had moved from one forest to another. At ten, Mira had already lived in three forests.
Mira loved the forests. She made friends with the trees, played hide and seek with the squirrels and responded to bird calls with great delight. Her mother would often take her to watch the sunset and as they watched, she would softly sing a farewell to it in the form of a bhajan. Mira’s mother was deeply religious. Although life in the forest was difficult, Mira’s mother enjoyed it tremendously. Usually most ancient forests had temples in them and Mira’s mother would spend the early hours of the morning at the temple to welcome each day. At ten, Mira’s life was beautiful.
Source: Chandamama

Except on some occasions. A few times in the year thousands of pilgrims would descend upon the forest to pay their annual respects to the deity in the temple, but they behaved more like a hunt party, greedy for blessings! On these occasions, Mira would either lock herself in the house trying to drown out the loud raucous music played by the pilgrims, or she would escape away to the highest point of the mountain. “How little they know about the forest,” she would think.

People would come speeding in jeeps, vans and buses, honking impatiently, only to end up waiting in a long queue outside the temple. A number of small kiosks sprang up to ‘serve’ the pilgrims and their needs. She had heard her father say that in some forests several  hundred trees were cut to make parking space for the pilgrims and to construct buildings that would provide accommodation. Here too people had begun to ask for wider roads. Mother said the olden days when there were no vehicles  people would walk long distances  taking the time to enjoy the beauty of the forest life.
Mira also wondered about the offerings that people made to the Gods: flowers, coconuts, sweets and gifts of all kinds. Mother had told her that the only thing the Lord really wanted was the love of your heart. And this meant love for all his creation. But the pilgrims believed that He  preferred their offerings. Then, because they had to stand in line for so long, and felt tired, the pilgrims wanted plastic bags for their offerings, and drinks to quench their thirst.  While the flowers and coconuts were respectfully placed in the temple – the plastic bags and styrofoam cups were just thrown in the forest. Just last week, Mira had watched a hungry young fawn choke on a plastic bag and die. “Don’t they have any idea of the mess they are making?” Mira thought.
Last year, there was a huge forest fire during the festive season. Somebody had wanted to offer incense to the deity and threw a burning match in the forest. The dry leaves on the forest floor immediately caught fire and in seconds the flames reached the tallest trees.  Everyone had made a big fuss about the dangers to the pilgrims in the forest but why didn’t anyone speak of the dangers to the forest from the pilgrims? Her heart sank as she watched a young boy throw stones at a chameleon which struggled hard to get away as it can only move slowly . Mira couldn’t watch anymore.
On one such festival night, Mira had a dream. In her dream she was walking in the forest, which was illumined by a beautiful deep glow. Mira heard a voice but it seemed to be coming from inside her. She knew it was the voice of the light.
It said, “Mira, my dear, I am the deity of the forest, the one they worship in the temple. I live in the earth of this sacred mountain. You have seen me in the play of the sunlight as it filters through the canopy of the trees, and heard my voice in the melodious songs of the birds you love so much. I am the sense of peace you feel when you sit by the stream. When human beings first came to the mountain they could see me too. They adored the harmony of this beautiful forest and in gratitude for all that the forest gave them, they built this temple . Now they have forgotten that I actually exist in the very forest that they are destroying. Won’t you help them remember me?”
The next morning Mira awoke with determination. She had to remind the pilgrims that the darshan they were seeking was actually given to them by the forest. But how was she going to do this, she wondered. Suddenly, in a flash she knew. She would invite them to the temple of Nature. This temple had no walls but a thousand pillars – the trees. It had no roof but the Lord poured down his love in the form of sunlight and rain. The squirrels and birds were the pujaris and the birds sang the arati! And wonder of wonders, the deity was everywhere! All people had to do was to sit quietly, close their eyes and in the peace and joy that they felt, find  his light within! The only gift they needed to offer him was their attention and  remembrance! Mira ran to the forest to tell her friends of her idea and danced in delight all day at the mission she had set for herself!!
Would you like to visit Mira’s temple? The next time you go to a forest, find a quiet place and think of her. Sit quietly and watch the colours and listen to the sounds. Close your eyes and wait and watch… Do you see him – the Lord of Life – in the peace that you find within?

During festivals, about 50,000 persons visit Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka. Two lakh persons visit Kanheri caves and Gomukh temple within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Maharashtra. And, a whopping 10 to 20 million visit the Ayappa shrine at Sabarimalai within the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. If you must undertake a pilgrimage to any  ecologically valuable habitat like a forest, a river or lake you could:

  1. Talk to your family about Mira’s concerns.
  2. Park your car outside the forest and walk the remaining way to the temple.
  3. Take care not to make loud noises or  play music in the forest.
  4. Buy your offerings in the city – this way there will not be any need for shops in the forests.
  5. Avoid carrying any plastic bags into the forest and make sure you bring back all your garbage to the city instead of throwing it in the forest.
  6. Offer your love to all the residents of the forest – watch them from a safe distance and do not harass them in any way.
  7. Find a quiet spot in the forest and take some time to silently offer your prayers to the deity, the trees and all the living beings in the forest.
  8. Ask your parents to speak to the trustees of the temple and tell them about the need to protect the forest.

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