In the Rig Veda we find a beautiful hymn to Aranyani, the elusive spirit of the forest, which exemplifies the symbiosis between man and nature which has been a characteristic feature of Indian thought from the earliest days of Indian civilisation. A deep love of nature is a constant feature in the religious and secular literature of ancient India and certain specific animals and trees have become a part of popular consciousness.

The Buddha is believed to have received enlightenment under a peepal tree - thus peepal trees are held to have a special, sacred quality. Similarly, the peacock, the humped bull, the monkey, are significant motifs in Indian social and religious thought. This affinity to nature is not confined to religious consciousness alone. During the reign of Ashoka in the third century BC, the State was actively involved in the planting of trees and groves and in regulating, if not banning, the slaughter of animals. Ashoka took great pride in the fact that he had substituted pilgrimages for hunting expeditions - the traditional sport of Indian kings.

During the Mughal period, there was no dilution of this sensitivity. Mughal emperors and nobility routinely surrounded their palaces and havelis (town houses) with exquisite, meticulously laid out gardens some of which survive to this day. Babar, the founder of the dynasty was a keen naturalist and his autobiography, the Babarnama, has detailed observations of the flora and fauna of India. The Mughal's love for nature, their eye for detail, even in some cases their love of the hunt, comes out most strongly in their art which is famed for its delicate animal and bird studies, especially in the court of the emperor Jahangir.

This feeling for nature persists to this day and is visible in the Indian Government's policy of protecting wildlife and enhancing the state of the environment. Numerous non-Government organisations are also actively involved in the cause of environmental protection and sponsor many programmes aimed at increasing public awareness.

India has a varied habitat giving rise to some of the richest flora in the world. The diverse ecological systems include evergreen forests, moist and dry deciduous forests, lagoons, estuaries, marshes, coniferous forests, alpine glades and deserts. The forests alone would comprise several thousand species of trees, grasses and shrubs. This is matched by a vast range of wildlife which includes over 500 species of mammals and a much larger number of birds and reptiles. Indian wildlife includes elephants, the one-horned rhinoceros, the wild buffalo and a large number of deer and cats. Antelopes, monkeys, pythons and crocodiles are but the more commonly found creatures in India. The snow leopard, the caracal, the great Indian bustard and others are more difficult to spot, posing a challenge to the many naturalists in the country who wish to record and document. It is only in India that we find the magnificent trio of wild cats - the tiger, the lion and the leopard - roaming in the same country.

There are 75 million hectares of notified forest areas in India but population pressure, unplanned commercial exploitation and environmental factors have reduced the good tree cover to only half of this. Both Governmental and non-Governmental agencies are actively involved in rectifying this situation. A systematic scheme of afforestation is underway and the Forest Conservation Act was passed in 1980 to minimise the diversion of forest land to other uses and to prevent its degradation. In the years between 1980 and 1985, over 1.3 million hectares were afforested.

The great importance of forests in the life of the people was dramatically underlined by the non-violent Chipko movement which took place in the Garhwal region at the foothills of the Himalayas. For many years, the women of the area had realised - since they were the ones who had to gather fuel-wood - that tree cutting for commercial purposes in the local forests would soon make it impossible to keep their domestic hearths burning. To bring this to the attention of the authorities they embarked on a spontaneous action by which they clung to the trees marked for cutting down. Thus the movement got its name: Chipko, meaning to cling on to.

The deeply rooted cultural, social and economic bond between people and forests was recognised by the planning agencies and programmes were designed to take this into account. Thus social forestry programmes and afforestation policies were planned in such a way that they could be implemented through village level committees. Nurseries and Tree Growers Cooperatives involved the community in the selection of species to be planted. There is even a national tree planting festival, the Van Mahotsava.

The problems of environmental pollution arising out of industrial activity are being dealt with through various Governmental agencies. The Acts for the Prevention of Water and Air Pollution are administered by a Central Board. Similarly, the Central Ganga Authority oversees the reduction and the future control of pollution in the river Ganga - the lifeline of millions and closely interwoven with Indian culture and tradition.

Some Useful Links
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Manas Tiger Reserve, Assam
Bandipur National Park, Karnataka
Nagarhole National Park, Karnataka
Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
Bharatpur National Park, Rajasthan
Corbett National Park , Uttar Pradesh
Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan
Dachigam National Park, Jammu & Kashmir
Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh
Sunderban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal
Bannerghata National Park, Karnataka
Periyar National Park, Kerala
Gir National Park and Sanctuary, Gujarat
Wildlife in Bihar
Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
Keibul Lam Jao National Park, Manipur
Wildlife in Orissa Mudumalai Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu
Wildlife in Kerala