TODAY, the so-called highly developed countries are focussing
their attention on traditional knowledge. On one hand, we are
thinking of inhabiting the moon and on the other hand, there
is a growing emphasis on the conservation of natural resources
and cultures, on natural farming, traditional forest management, cropping, ecotourism and biodiversity. 'Eco-friendly'
has become a buzzword. Recently, there was a seminar on
"Sustainable Mountain Development" in Garhwal University,
Srinagar, in Uttar Pradesh (up). The seminar revealed that 95
per cent of the modern knowledge about the local flora and
fauna which forms the basis of scientific experiments conducted
in developed countries, has been provided by local villagers.
It seems that the developed countries have understood the
disastrous consequences of uncontrolled progress. But ironically, these very nations are developing atomic power and also
patenting the knowledge acquired from indigenous peoples.
Hence, destruction of traditional, cultural and natural
resources continues unabated. The Valley of Flowers in up is
losing its beauty because weeds and bushes are taking over.
Traditionally, shepherds graze their sheep in the valley
for three to four months. As a result of sufficient manure,
the flowers dazzle in full bloom. But some years ago, there
was a government' directive to stop grazing on scientists'
recommendation, causing land degradation.
About 60 per cent of the world's flora and fauna are
reportedly found in the Himalaya. This rich biodiversity has
been preserved mainly by indigenous wisdom over decades.
The Himalayan villages were self-sufficient before the '50s.
Then came the onslaught of Western consumerist values,
adversely affecting the region. Forests disappeared alarmingly,
community feelings began to dwindle and natural calamities
became frequent. It is only now that the developed countries
are coming up with all kinds of fashionable concepts to save
the Himalaya and mouthing the concepts of eco-friendliness,
eco-management, village eco-development and eco-tourism.
Hariyali Devi is a densely forested area in Chamoli district of
the Garhwal Himalaya. This forest has not emerged as a result
of afforestation or any movement against tree felling. The
temple of goddess Hariyali Devi stands at about 10,000 ft
above the sea level surrounded by a thick forest of Banz (oak),
Burans (rhododendron), Kharsu, Moru, Kafal and dozens of
different local shrubs and bushes@ Pilgrims remove their shoes
200 m away from the temple and are required to visit it wearing clothes of sober hue, as very @bright coloured clothes are
prohibited; and one has to maintain total silence while visiting
the forest. Bright clothes, whistles or shouts have been known
to frighten wild animals.
Fetching fodder or fuel from this forest is disallowed; people firmly believe that if someone hurts the trees, whistles or
shouts, the forest fairies (acharies) will be angered. The forest
- a part of the temple - is cx)nsidered holy. All these traditions and myths, which have a ve6 logical basis, were born out
of the local indigenous wisdom to conserve biodiversity. For
instance, the doli (palanquin) of the deity Chalda Mahasu, is
accompanied by high-breed rams which are fed and protected
by the villagers. Probably the reason is to improve their breed.
In some sacred places, killing of deer seen in a pair, is forbidden. Worshipping water sources, small canals (gule) and trees
is fairly common in the mountains. Mixed cropping in the
mountains is another wise tradition. Usually, the edges of
paddy fields are lined with finger millet. Barley and wheat are
sometimes grown in the wet corners of the same field, as the
corners are conducive for their growth. These traditions
control crop diseases and ensure effective fertilisation.
Although researchers are now flocking to the Himalaya
looking for traditional wisdom and indigenous support
systems, the lopsided developmental policies of developing
countries are destroying local knowledge. it is high time that a
choice was made between Western development patterns and
traditional knowledge. The latter definitely ensures environment-friendly economy. Before it is too late, we must join
hands to work together to realise this goal.
Jay Prakash Panwar is a researcher with the Shri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram atAnjanisain, Tehri Garhwal