Saalumarada Thimmakka: Karnataka’s Eco-Warrior
In the verdant landscapes of Karnataka, amidst the gentle sway of banyan trees, unfolds the remarkable narrative of human determination and ecological guardianship – the saga of Saalumarada Thimmakka. With unyielding commitment, Saalumarada Thimmakka, fondly known as Aala Marada Thimmakka, has metamorphosed a desolate terrain into a flourishing green sanctuary, earning global acclaim for her extraordinary afforestation endeavours.
A Life Grounded in Humility
Saalumarada Thimmakka’s odyssey is a living testament to the potency of human resolve and the capacity of individuals to effect change. Born in Gubbi Taluk, part of the Kingdom of Mysore, in what is now the Tumakuru district of Karnataka, her early life was devoid of privilege. Lacking access to formal education, she toiled as a casual labourer in a nearby quarry. However, her life took an extraordinary turn upon marrying Chikkaiah, a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Ramanagara district.
Despite modest beginnings and a childless union, Saalumarada Thimmakka and Chikkaiah embarked on a journey to forge a distinct legacy for future generations. Unable to have children, they initiated the planting of banyan trees as a way to give back to the earth. The moniker “Saalumarada,” translating to a row of trees in Kannada, was bestowed upon her in acknowledgement of her remarkable work. To this day, Thimmakka’s legacy thrives, manifesting as an impressive row of 385 banyan trees stretching over a 45-kilometer expanse of highway between Hulikal and Kudur.
Sowing Seeds of Transformation
What commenced as a modest act of planting saplings burgeoned into an inspirational expedition of environmental conservation. Thimmakka and her husband began grafting saplings from local Ficus (banyan) trees, nurturing ten saplings in the inaugural year and situating them along a 5-kilometre stretch near the neighbouring village of Kudur. The following year saw the planting of 15 saplings, succeeded by 20 more in the third year.
Their exceptional dedication was palpable as the couple transported four pails of water across a four-kilometre distance to ensure the flourishing of the fledgling saplings. To shield the saplings from grazing cattle, they erected fences using thorny shrubs. Planting predominantly during the monsoon season allowed the saplings to benefit from copious rainwater for robust growth. By the onset of the subsequent monsoon season, the saplings had firmly established themselves. A grand total of 385 banyan trees have been planted and nurtured by Saalumarada Thimmakka, boasting an estimated asset value of around 1.5 million rupees. The custodianship of these trees is now entrusted to the Government of Karnataka.
Awards and Commendations
Saalumarada Thimmakka’s altruistic dedication and extraordinary initiatives have garnered due recognition. She has been lauded with numerous awards and accolades, including the esteemed Padma Shri in 2019, acknowledging her outstanding contributions to society and the environment. Her endeavours were also acknowledged with the National Citizen’s Award of India.
Thimmakka’s impact transcends national boundaries. In 2016, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) listed her among the most influential and inspirational women globally. Her contributions to environmental conservation and afforestation stand as a wellspring of inspiration for people across the world.
Preserving a Verdant Legacy
In 2019, the 385 banyan trees, lovingly planted and nurtured by Saalumarada Thimmakka, faced the peril of being felled to widen the Bagepalli-Halaguru road. Thimmakka, the guardian of these 70-year-old trees, appealed to Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara to reconsider the project. Her plea resonated, prompting the government to explore alternative solutions to safeguard these majestic trees, underscoring the significance of her efforts.
Despite losing her husband in 1991, Saalumarada Thimmakka remains actively engaged in afforestation programs and social initiatives. Her aspiration to construct a hospital in her village as a tribute to her late husband persists as an ongoing endeavour, with a trust established for this purpose.
In 1999, a documentary titled “Thimmakka Mathu 284 Makkalu” was crafted, showcasing her remarkable work and featured in the 2000 International Film Festival of India. Her legacy of afforestation remains an enduring inspiration for generations to come.
Legal Challenges and Allegations
In recent times, Saalumarada Thimmakka has encountered legal disputes and allegations of name misuse. Comedian Vasu Ritu Primlani faced accusations of misusing Thimmakka’s name in connection with a non-profit organisation. A legal tussle ensued, culminating in Ms Primlani’s acquittal in 2014, with the High Court of Karnataka ruling that the charges against her, even if true, did not constitute a crime.
This controversy has compounded Saalumarada Thimmakka’s challenges, given her modest pension of Rs. 400 and ongoing health issues. The legal proceedings have imposed a financial burden on her, underscoring the imperative to shield the legacy and reputation of an environmental icon.
Saalumarada Thimmakka’s narrative is a poignant testament to the potency of individual actions and environmental stewardship. Her journey, characterised by simplicity and unwavering dedication, serves as a wellspring of inspiration for people worldwide. Despite challenges and controversies, she remains a symbol of the positive change one person can bring to the world through their passion and commitment to environmental preservation.