Gods in Flames

Radhika Bhagat, in this post, writes from the perspective of a tree: one of many gods in flames, narrating the burning of forests to feed the greed of humans!

Image Courtesy- Christian Roberts-Olsen-Shutterstock

Deep in the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, there is a valley, not unlike many other valleys but this is the one where the Kali River snakes languidly as it flows through the mountains. This is where you will find me as I stand among thousands like me – worshipped as the gods themselves. Great trees of the mountains, with our arms outstretched skywards and our roots purposefully intertwined, we are the Deodars.

The ancient wisdom of our ancestors which was passed on through generations has taught me that forests are cooperative systems. We have learnt that the way to not just survive, but prosper is to honour our interconnectedness.

As a tree, I have seen the world around me change over the last few hundred years. The valley once echoed with the sound of the river, the songs of winter birds, while tiny flower beds bloomed on the forest floor and leopards stealthily walked among our shadows.

Young girls would hang swings on our branches and sing songs of spring and longing. Pregnant does would hide between foliage and birth young fawn, bringing new life to the valley. Somewhere, deep inside the forest two lovers lie buried side by side.  A little family of robins would sometimes perch on their gravestones, chirping with abandon about such boundless beauty of nature, that their little hearts could barely contain. The cycle of birth and death continues.

Every year on special days, families from nearby settlements would gather at the old Shiva temple inside the forest and people would pray to Lord Shiva and the Deodars surrounding the temple. Men, women, children of all ages and even the aged, all made their way through the little foot trails like little ants, carrying flowers, fruits, leaves and milk as offerings. Thanks were offered as thousands of wishes and prayers echoed within the thick stone walls of the temple.

Sometimes outsiders would wander in and get lost in the wilderness; the river always guided them towards a human settlement. The occasional broken hearted or weary souls would seek our silences and solitude, looking over the valley for hours, for answers to their troubles. Those who really listened, strained hard for our secrets whispered in the winds, heard us speak. Those became the wanderers, the mystics and the seekers.

Seasons changed and the years went by. The once deeply intertwined lives of the people with the forest now lie separated by a million distractions and false pursuits for happiness. No one listens to the robins outside the window or to the roaring of the river. No more secret conversations take place between man and nature. I hear that danger lurks close as men with greed in their hearts look at the forest with dark intentions. 

Thousands of hectares of forests burn across Uttarakhand to feed the greed of humans with small minds and even smaller hearts. Everyone watches a forest burning but none without dread in their hearts for their own future. What humans are doing to the forests of the world is what they are doing to themselves and to one another. What is that pull all humans feel towards nature? Introspection may reveal that this is a longing, a call to return to the source, to mother earth. 

We were born as trees and have lived as pines and deodars must, with patience, wisdom and selflessness. We struggle with all the force to experience our full expansion and expression as trees. In a murdered tree you can see its entire life narrated in the rings of its years. You can see all of the struggle, the good years, the sickness and strength.

There are people here now who have a lust for the land we have protected and given life to.  We know they bring with them death and destruction. A single spark set off among the dry pine needles by guilty hands and they watched with anticipation as the flames grow in their hunger. Licking at our roots, trunks and branches. Burning through everything sacred and magical. We are the gods in flames.

This article was originally published on Different Truths on 18 February 2019. You can read the original article here.

Radhika Bhagat
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