Saalumarada Thimmakka has planted over 8,000 trees in 80 years. Winner of Padma Shri, part of a prestigious list of BBC’s 100 Most influential women–those are just a few of the long list of awards she has won.
The best part? She is just 106 years old.
Born in Gubbi Taluk in Ramnagar, Karnataka to a poor family, she never had the opportunity to have any kind of formal education. She started working at an early age as a quarry laborer.
In 1928, Thimakka got married to Bikkala Chikkaiah. Over the course of several years of marriage, the couple could not have any children. So, to fill the emptiness in their lives, the couple decided to plant banyan trees and raise them as their kids.
In 1948, Thimmakka and Chikkaiah made up their mind to plant trees from their village in Hulikal to Kudoor. Thimmakka and her husband thus commenced a journey of dedication, untiring, and unselfish love of planting trees and nourishing them till they bore fruit.
They planted 10 saplings of Banyan trees in the first year at a distance of 5 km near the neighbouring village of Kudur; 15 saplings in the second year, and 20 in the third year. She used her meager resources for planting trees. The couple used to carry pails of water over a distance of four kilometers to water the saplings.
They also protected the saplings from grazing cattle by fencing them with thorny shrubs. That said, the saplings were planted mostly during the monsoon season for sufficient rainwater. So, by the onset of the next monsoons, the saplings had invariably taken root.
In total, 384 trees were planted. Today, these trees are valued at around Rs 1.5 million. The management of these trees is now taken over by the Government of Karnataka.
Today, Thimmakka is called Saalumarada, meaning row of trees in the Kannada language because of her work. She also has a US environmental organisation named after her–the Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education, based in Los Angeles and Oakland, California.