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When young children in Lucknow, India recently tied a 7-foot wide decorative "Rakhi" around a Neem tree, a tree-family that has been celebrated for its medicinal value for centuries, they were engaging in a form of "Environmental Rakhi" and reinforcing a folk tradition of eco-friendly treatment of environment and natural resources. The word "rakhi" literally means protection in Punjabi language. "Rakhi" is also a reference to colorful and ornamental wristbands that sisters in India tie on their brothers during the festival of Rakhsha Bandhan as a symbolic promise that brothers will always protect their sisters from any harm or danger. The children in Lucknow were extending that love and making an example and a pledge to respect and safeguard the environment.

Last year, Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize and accolades with her tree-planting and re-foresting campaign in Kenya and for spotlighting the protection and enhancement of environment for human health, well-being, and peace. India, with its annual Vano Maha Utsav (festival of planting new trees) campaign has recognized the life-sustaining benefits of a safer and healthy environment and has encouraged communities to replenish trees for shade, shelter, and other benefits as a national investment. Other nations are engaged in their own creative and innovative programs and long-range plans in this vital area of human interest and survival.

In the sixties, the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, championed the Highway Beautification Program and the opportunity to create a pleasant environment along the network of America's superhighways. Her efforts and legacy continue to transform many of the America's major transportation corridors into colorful "linear Rakhis" of flowering plants, trees, and imaginative landscaping along their transcontinental stretch.

Major thoroughfares in Chandigarh, an internationally-acclaimed city in North India, are often identified by the people by the special flowering trees that adorn their lengths rather than by their street names. The annual Global Earth Day celebrations, and other advocacy groups with similar missions, highlight the need and urgency to protect the environment and assure the survival of our planet and its precious natural resources for the benefit of all living beings. Imagine a giant "global Rakhi" for the entire planet Earth threaded by a common commitment that "embraces all inhabitants in peace."

Landscaping as an art has been transforming and embellishing civic and sacred architecture, public squares and vistas, and private and natural settings into breathtaking attractions and major destinations since the earliest dawn of human civilization.

Man has recognized the importance of environment and nature's boundless gifts and instinctively understood nature's place in our lives and our place within the realms, wonder, and beauty of nature. Man has found lessons, inspirations, strength, and limitless gifts in nature; intriguing cultural textures and rhythms that enthrall and mystify human spirit and stir our soul. We has associated the Divine with nature; celebrated life with plants, flowers, and other offerings from nature's bounty; and worshipped natural elements (air, water, fire, sunlight, and earth) essential for life and living. The Sikh scriptures proclaim "Nature as the resting place and Crown of the Creator." Sacred texts of all faiths advocate respect for our environment as a life-sustaining and nurturing force and magnificent gift of the Creator.

Nature also has its own mind governed by forces beyond our control; unimagined fury and outbursts that shape and reshape our landscape and environment from time to time.
Our growing interest and major efforts in conservation, restoration, and enhancement of the environment are testimony and recognition of our fascination, awe, and unmistakable interdependence and intertwined destiny with nature.

Unfortunately, the world's environmental concerns and resources have been increasingly under strain due to exploding populations and their survival needs, national priorities and competing interests, shortsighted policies and unscrupulous violations, and devastating natural disasters that have been lately visiting us with unusual frequency. Scientists argue that some disasters may be linked to the continuing human neglect, infringement, and reckless outrage against our fragile eco-systems and vital environmental interests.

The headline: "World's biggest 'Rakhi' hugs Neem tree" in an ethnic paper warmed my heart and gave me reason for optimism. The children had tied the world's "biggest environmental Rakhi" around a Neem tree in the zoological gardens in Lucknow (a city known for the arts and its historic past) to create awareness, and as a reminder to treat the environment as a living entity and friend. It was a joyful and symbolic expression of solidarity with nature. I imagined other children around the world leading this common cause and inspiring and awakening adults to take responsible and timely measures.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf States, countries and people affected by the catastrophic Asian Tsunami, and victims of 9/11 and other major disasters certainly could use the concept and spirit of "Rakhi" as they struggle to restore order to their lives and devastated "emotional and cultural landscape." Every September, may be Americans and others should plant trees as a prayer and symbolic "band of solidarity" with those who bore the brunt of Tsunami, Katrina, and 9/11 tragedy. The Indian tradition of "Rakhi" itself may go universal someday. After all, it is about placing a "circle of love" and support around others.

Kanwal Prakash "KP" Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA

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The Thread of Love

The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. 'Raksha Bandhan' or 'Rakhi' is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the ‘Rakhi’. It means 'a bond of protection', and Raksha Bandhan signifies that the strong must protect the weak from all that’s evil.