Pune: When Shivaji Amruta Kunjir died on December 8 at the age of 60 due to age-related ailments, his nephew convinced his cousin, the son of the deceased, who had come to Kunjirwadi village for the funeral not to immerse the ashes in the Mula Mutha river as was the tradition. The ashes would pollute the river, he reasoned; instead, why not bury the ashes and plant a sapling over the spot? It would be clean and green and the tree would be a living memory of the departed.
The cousin agreed, and the family, after the funeral, chose a spot, dug a pit, scattered the ashes there and planted a coconut sapling. As a sapling grows into a tree, Shivaji Amruta Kunjir's presence will endure.
This eco-friendly movement has flourished with the neighbouring villages like Alandi Mahotaba, Phurshungi, Naigaon, and Loni quickly adopting the practice, and from the ashes of some 300 departed, mango, coconut, supari, betel nut, kadam vruksh and even banyan are growing. Some have planted more than one sapling, with the result roughly a thousand saplings are growing into trees. Residents are finding solace in the idea that their departed loved ones contribute to the environment's well-being through the growth of new trees.
Sense of environmental responsibility
This initiative not only honours the memory of the departed but also fosters a sense of environmental responsibility within the community. The movement reflects a growing awareness of the impact of traditional practices on the environment and a willingness to embrace sustainable alternatives.
Vishal Waikar a resident of the area told Free Press Journal, that many years ago because of the absence of a crematorium people conducted last rites on open land and the ashes were then thrown in water bodies in and around farmlands and in the river. He said, “This movement started in 2017-18 when a 16-year-old resident, Amar Kadam, fell ill and died. Village people decided not to immerse ashes in the river. Instead we dug a pit, placed the ashes there and planted a sapling.” It caught on.
Chetan Nigade, another local, says, “Amar Kadam's unfortunate passing inspired us to rethink our traditions and take steps to protect our rivers for the sake of our community."
Adds Satish Lanjiwade, "We formed the environmental committee, and we decided to save the river. Despite religious practices encouraging many people to immerse ashes in the river, our movement aims to make people aware.”
Relatives of between 200 to 300 people took route of planting saplings
This year he estimates, the relatives of between 200 to 300 people took the route of planting saplings over the ashes of their loved ones. And there is a committee that spreads the message. Comprising of 24 people, both women and men, they work to emphasise various aspects of environment in the village.
Initially there was opposition when there was talk about possible ill effects of not following the tradition of immersing the ashes in the river. People thought that it may attract negativity and the families that broke with tradition would be cursed. “After repeated attempts we have managed make them aware about river pollution and future problems we would face from the water. We also got the backing of the elderly which helped us,” says Waikar.
Sandeep Kunjir says with feeling, "Joining this movement has made me realize the importance of individual actions in safeguarding our environment. By refraining from ash immersion, we contribute to the beauty and purity of our surroundings." He is from Kunjirwadi, Loni Kalbhor area around 25 km from the centre of Pune.