She’s never been to school but knows perfectly how to interpret tamarind, eucalyptus, and dozens of other plants. For over half a century, her life revolved around the saplings that she nurtured with much care and love at the Agasur nursery of the forest department. She is none other than ‘Vruksha devata’ (Tree goddess) Tulasi Gowda.
She is a recipient of the 2020 Padma Shri Awards – India’s fourth-highest civilian honour – for her invaluable environmental contribution. While delighted about the prestigious accolade, Gowda maintains that it is plants that have brought the most joy to her life.
Based in Honnalli village of Uttara Kannada district she lives a simple life. Her aim in life is to inspire the young generation to care for our forests. And she has walked the talk by contributing to this cause for her whole life!
Tulsi Gowda’s first name is directly linked with nature and is derived from the Kannada word Tulsi or Tulsi and means Holy Basil, a sacred plant within the Hindu religion.
Also known as “Encyclopedia of Forest” for her vast knowledge about various trees and plants, she has singlehandedly planted one lakh trees in Karnataka as part of their ongoing afforestation efforts in the Mastikatta range of Honnalli village in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.
Tulasi Gowda was born in a poor tribal family and lost her father when she was only two. She had to work as a daily wage labourer along with her mother to support the family and hence received no formal education. She was married off at an early age, but her husband passed away when she was quite young. Life has been pretty hard on her, but that has not stopped her from contributing to one of the noblest causes on planet earth.
Nowadays people way younger than her fail to do anything to arrest the effects of climate change, while she is still as busy as she was six decades ago.
Every year she plants and nurtures thousands of trees and goes on about her deeds like no one’s watching. She has planted more than 30,000 saplings and looks after the nurseries of the Forest Department.
In addition to her extensive tenure at the Karnataka Forestry Department, Tulsi has received numerous awards and recognition for her work in seed development and conservation. In 1986, she received the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award, also known as the IPVM award.
In 1999, Tulsi Gowda received the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, sometimes known as the Kannada Rayjotsava Award, and it is the “second highest civilian honor of the Karnataka state of India”.
On 26 January 2020, the Government of India rewarded Tulsi Gowda with the prestigious Padma Shri award, the fourth highest award given to citizens of India .
She was presented with the Padma Shri on November 8 by President Ram Nath Kovind. She is among the 61 Padma Shri awardees for the year 2020.
The 72-year-old received the award in the Rashtrapati Bhavan barefoot and received huge praise on social media for her simplicity. She walked barefoot in the historic Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan, stopped briefly to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before going to receive the award from the President.
Tulasi Gowda is one of the unsung heroes to have received the prestigious Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award presented by the Government of India.
With Gowda’s Padma Shri, the Halakki Vokkalu tribe she belongs to enjoys a rare recognition of having two Padma Shris in the community.
To the members of the Halakki Vokkalu community, she’s a “vruksha devata” (the goddess of trees).
She is a classic example of the fact that utilizing indigenous peoples’ knowledge and management skills of natural resources will go a long way in protecting biodiversity and combating climate change.