Saplings served as prasad here

A file picture of women telling stories to children

Changing climatic conditions adversely affecting the lives of the people have made some organisations to work seriously before it gets late. Many places in Gujarat are battered by heavy rains and some are haunted by perennial drought. This, most feel, is due to development-chopping trees to pave way for infrastructure development.
Worried over such a development, an organisation has hit upon the idea of creating awareness on the need to improve greenery in the state. It has decided to follow the time-tested concept of story-telling to put across the idea.

It's a religious discourse, which is anything but religious. But the message socially relevant and powerful. It is called the Green Katha - a novel way for promoting green cover. In the North Gujarat district of Banaskantha, district administration officials in association with trustee of the famous Ambaji temples have embarked on a unique model to encourage tree plantation. The “Green Katha” is an
initiative to generate awareness about the consequences of deforestation
and the need for protecting trees and increasing the green cover. But
officials realised that when it comes to conveying the same message to
villagers it has to be done in the most non-technical language and they
decided on narrating stories with a moral.

The people are given booklets containing short stories relating to their daily life so that they are able to understand the consequences of felling trees.

“One such story narrates a farmer waiting for rain and expecting rich
harvest. However, the rain that year is less and the farmer has no earnings left for his family. At that time, a school teacher of the village goes on to explain the scanty rainfall in that village was due to the reducing number of trees,'' said Rasik Suthar, an organiser with the Ambaji Trust.

In association with the district officials, the trust has already conducted the katha in several villages. “If we just keep on saying the same things in an official manner, no villager will understand and if the same things are narrated in the form of a story it does make a difference,'' said R J Patel, Collector of Banaskantha district.

Patel said they have also prepared the English and Hindi versions of the Katha so that it could be used by people outside the state.

In about a dozen such kathas, which have been held in the district, the
organisers have already distributed around 3,000 saplings and they hope that several thousand more will be distributed in the days to come. “It is
just a beginning but we hope it will increase the frequency of such kathas,” said Suthar.

The Vrukshnarayan ni Katha, as it is popularly called, is a tale of the Tree God and takes an hour or two to complete and is performed with the recitation of shlokas and mantras and singing of bhajans, hymns with music. The katha consists of seven parts, each part telling a story about the Tree God.

The first part tells the story about a tribal man, Bhemo Kathiyaro who has been cutting trees indiscriminately to become a rich man. However, one day he is attacked by a swarm of bees and is stung so badly that he finds himself battling for life.  The story goes on to narrate that how a saint miraculously saved him. The saint arrives at his home and tells him that he is serious because he has committed the sin of cutting trees.

The saint tells him that he would recover if he could plant the twice number of trees he had cut. Bhemo agrees to do so and he recovers and lives happily. In other parts of the katha, stories deal with the consequences of cutting trees located on mountains and of burning wood and how famines are caused by absence of trees.

This katha too like other religious katha ends with the praise of the Tree God and arti done in the praise of the Tree God. 

 “The unique part of this katha is, however, the prasad. Unlike other places, the prasad here is a sapling,”said Patel. He said while in other religious gatherings, devotees receive sweets, after the katha, the devotees get saplings and they have to plant them near their homes and take care of them. He said they had covered all the villages of this district and the trust would request other district officials to participate and generate awareness in their areas as well.

The organisers don't want it to be a one-time attempt. In fact, the focus is also on the follow-ups to see that the saplings are protected and nurtured well. “Our role doesn't end with just talking about the importance of planting trees and we have also ensured that our teams do monitor whether the saplings are planted properly and are being taken care of. For this, teams of volunteers are also formed,” said an organiser.

The trust doesn't want to restrict itself to one particular district but aims at fanning to other places as well. “Given the global concerns it is a very serious issue and since religion has a good appeal and this form can attract more and more people towards this noble cause,” said Suthar.

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