Amidst the dwindling green cover of Aarey, a family has come forward to save and expand it using a traditional method. The Athalye family has planted 360 native plants or 85 varieties at a patch of land in the Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon (East), to create devrai (sacred groves).
With the help of well-known Environmentalist Raghunath Maruti Dhole, of Devrai Foundation, Pune, and Sandhya Oak, a Mumbai based actress and environmentalist, the Athalye family created this green cover in the form of a devrai or sacred groves. The team started the work on the project in March 2021 and the plantation is now complete.
The Athalye family has been quietly planting trees in Aarey since 2000. The family's campaign was first started by Vinay Athalye, which has now been passed on to the third generation. Vinay Athalye's son Sandeep, his wife Vardayeeni, and their two children have been actively planting trees and taking care of them till they become full-grown trees.
Sandeep Athalye said, "I wanted to follow a proper system pattern while planting trees. I then started studying Miyawaki and other patterns. I came across devrai and felt this would work better. It is the perfect pattern for a place like Aarey, a place with magical biodiversity."
Devrai actually refers to a piece of natural vegetation that is protected by a certain community due to religious reasons. The area is usually dedicated to a local deity. As a result, local communities tend to take responsibility to protect and nurture the area. Athalyes say that they have dedicated this devrai to nature.
Athalye said, "Many people today plant trees. However, how many of them come back to see if those trees planted by them have survived. Even before we created this devrai, we always kept a count of our trees and kept checking on them regularly. Some plants die, some get stolen. But, as my father taught us, we try to plant double the number of plants that we lose. Only then can we maintain the balance. Already 14 of our plants were stolen. We have planted more as replacements. Once the monsoon is over, we will create a watering system."
Oak met Athalye through a friend. When she found out about the plantation, she wanted to join in. "I was in touch with Raghunath Dhole, who has created a model of a devrai in Pune using Indian or native species of plants. I advised Sandeep about this and the idea clicked. We started working on the project under the guidance of Dhole, who gave us saplings. When hundreds of trees are being sacrificed for the development projects, the creation of devrais and green patches are the best thing we can give the city. The challenge now is to maintain them and take care of it till they fully grow," Oak said.