In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, amidst the swaying banyan trees and the rustling leaves, exists a remarkable story of human determination and environmental stewardship – the story of Saalumarada Thimmakka. With unwavering dedication, Saalumarada Thimmakka, often affectionately referred to as Aala Marada Thimmakka, has transformed a barren landscape into a lush green haven, earning global recognition for her incredible work in afforestation.
A Life Rooted in Simplicity
Saalumarada Thimmakka's journey is a testament to the power of human resolve and the capacity for individuals to make a difference. Born in Gubbi Taluk of the Kingdom of Mysore, in what is now Tumakuru district of Karnataka, her early life was far from privileged. She had no access to formal education and worked as a casual labourer in a nearby quarry. However, her life took a remarkable turn when she married Chikkaiah, a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Ramanagara district.
Despite their humble beginnings and the absence of children, Saalumarada Thimmakka and Chikkaiah embarked on a journey to leave a different kind of legacy for future generations. As the couple could not have children, it is said that they began planting banyan trees as a way to give back to the earth. The name "Saalumarada," which means a row of trees in Kannada, was bestowed upon her in recognition of her remarkable work. To this day, Thimmakka's legacy thrives in the form of an impressive row of 385 banyan trees planted over a 45-kilometer stretch of highway between Hulikal and Kudur.
Planting Seeds of Transformation
What started as a humble act of planting saplings grew into an inspiring journey of environmental conservation. Thimmakka and her husband began grafting saplings from local Ficus (banyan) trees, nurturing ten saplings in the first year and planting them along a 5-kilometre stretch near the neighbouring village of Kudur. In the second year, they planted 15 saplings, followed by 20 more in the third year.
Their extraordinary dedication was evident as the couple transported four pails of water over a four-kilometre distance to ensure the young saplings thrived. To protect the saplings from grazing cattle, they created fences using thorny shrubs.
Planting primarily during the monsoon season allowed the saplings to benefit from ample rainwater for growth. By the time the next monsoon season arrived, the saplings had firmly established themselves. A total of 385 banyan trees have been planted and nurtured by Saalumarada Thimmakka, with an estimated asset value of approximately 1.5 million rupees. The management of these trees is now under the responsibility of the Government of Karnataka.
Awards and Recognition
Saalumarada Thimmakka's selfless dedication and extraordinary efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has been honoured with several awards and accolades, including the prestigious Padma Shri in 2019, which recognises her outstanding contributions to society and the environment. Her work was also recognised with the National Citizen's Award of India.
Thimmakka's impact extends beyond national borders. In 2016, she was listed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as one of the most influential and inspirational women in the world. Her contributions to environmental conservation and afforestation serve as a source of inspiration for people worldwide.
Preserving a Green Legacy
In 2019, the 385 banyan trees, lovingly planted and nurtured by Saalumarada Thimmakka, faced the threat of being chopped down 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 was heard, leading the government to explore alternative solutions to preserve these magnificent trees, highlighting the significance of her efforts.
Though she lost her husband in 1991, Saalumarada Thimmakka continues to be actively involved in afforestation programs and social initiatives. Her dream of constructing a hospital in her village as a tribute to her late husband remains an ongoing endeavour, with a trust established for this purpose.
In 1999, a documentary titled "Thimmakka Mathu 284 Makkalu" was created, showcasing her remarkable work and was featured in the 2000 International Film Festival of India. Her legacy of afforestation continues to be an inspiration for generations to come.
The Legal Battle and Extortion Allegations
In recent years, Saalumarada Thimmakka has faced legal disputes and allegations of name misuse. Comedian Vasu Ritu Primlani was accused of misusing Thimmakka's name in connection with a non-profit organisation. A legal battle ensued, leading to Ms. Primlani's acquittal in 2014, where the High Court of Karnataka ruled that the charges against her, even if true, did not constitute a crime.
This controversy has added to Saalumarada Thimmakka's challenges, given her modest pension of Rs. 400 and ongoing health issues. The legal proceedings have created a financial burden on her, reflecting the need to protect the legacy and reputation of an environmental icon.
Saalumarada Thimmakka's story is a powerful testament to the impact of individual actions and environmental stewardship. Her journey, characterised by simplicity and unwavering dedication, serves as an 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.