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As India’s southern Kerala state looks at the task of rebuilding in the aftermath of devastating floods that swept away homes, inundated farmland and destroyed infrastructure, environmentalists have raised the question: Could the damage have been reduced if more attention had been paid to sustainable development?
The floods were triggered by the most intense rains in nearly a century that lashed a picturesque state whose coastal plains and low-lying mountains beckon tens of thousands of tourists each year. Gates of overflowing dams had to be opened following heavy downpours starting August 8, sending water rushing across much of the state.
Environmental experts say a construction boom that saw houses, buildings and tourist resorts mushroom in areas that traditionally soaked up rainwater worsened the impact of the monsoon.
“There is a huge wave of construction, firstly on wetlands, which would have otherwise earlier stored water, no longer do so and encroachments on rivers,” said ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who in 2011 prepared a report for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on protecting the highlands known as Western Ghats.
Gadgil said the massive construction prompted indiscriminate sand mining and quarrying in the mountains.
“A large number of landslides have occurred because of these stone quarries. Rubble from them has blocked streams and rivers,” he said. Some of the 400 victims of the recent flooding included people buried under landslides.
The rapid development in Kerala in recent decades was partly fueled by money from tourists as well as from a diaspora from the state that lives and works in Middle East countries.
G.M. Pillai, the head of the World Institute of Sustainable Energy in Pune, claims the recent flooding was more devastating because of the disappearance of traditional paddy fields.
“About 80 per cent of the paddy fields in Kerala have been levelled or converted to other activities, either construction or rubber plantations. That is a huge environmental neglect,” he said. “Paddy fields are kind of wetlands in Kerala’s topography capturing water from the surrounding hills.”
Pillai, who grew up in a village in Kerala, said traditional drains have been blocked there, too.
He said the international airport, in the state’s main city, Kochi, was built close to the Periyar River and had to be closed after runways were damaged and floodwaters entered the airport. It is scheduled to reopen later this month.
This is not the first time that experts have drawn attention to environmental degradation as India caters to the ever-growing needs for more power, roads and homes for its 1.3 billion people. After heavy rains in 2013 triggered devastating floods and landslides in the northern state of Uttarakhand, an environmental panel said the buildup of sediment in rivers, caused by hydroelectric plants, had aggravated the flooding.
In 2014, as floods swept Kashmir, encroachments were blamed for diminishing the holding capacity of lakes and other water bodies, aggravating the impact of the heavy rains.
But others point out that the push for development cannot be ignored, Kerala, for example, has one of the highest population densities in the country, putting pressure on the land.
“A lot of people from the villages are coming to cities for work. So, naturally, development is necessary,” said John Samuel of the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital.
But Samuel calls for a halt to construction along riverbanks and strict observance of environmental laws.
“They have lots of houses coming, flats coming on the banks of the river. That can cause more havoc,” he said.
Some senior officials in the state have said that Kerala will have to seek sustainable development as it rebuilds damaged homes and thousands of kilometres of eroded roadways. But others worry that the mammoth task of reconstruction will only put more pressure on resources.
“The immediate requirement is constructing infrastructure which has been lost,” Pillai said. “But along with that you should also do what I call construction of environmental infrastructure, you have to restore a lot of those paddy fields, for example, which have been lost.” (VOA)
Diwali is arguably one of the most auspicious and celebrated holidays in South Asia. It is celebrated over the span of five days, where the third is considered most important and known as Diwali. During Diwali people come together to light, lamps, and diyas, savour sweet delicacies and pray to the lord. The day has various origin stories with the main them being the victory of good over evil. While the North celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Devi Sita to Ayodhya, the South rejoices in the victory of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama over evil Narakasura.
Narakasura- The great mythical demon King
Naraka or Narakasur was the son of Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) and fathered either by the Varaha incarnation of Vishnu or Hiranyaksha. He grew to be a powerful demon king and became the legendary progenitor of all three dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa, and the founding ruler of the legendary Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha.
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Narakasura was created, grew up to be strong and powerful but he was not satisfied with it, so he decided that he would worship Lord Brahma. He performed severe penance and was driven by the power of his penance; Lord Brahma appeared before him. Narakasura knew his mother loved him dearly so he asked Lord Brahma to grant him a boon that he would only die by the hands of his mother, Bhumidevi. Lord Brahma smile and ultimately granted him the boon.
Narakasura burst out laughing as Lord Brahma vanished. He thought no mother would kill their child so Lord Brahma had made him immortal. Drunk and maddened by his own power Narakasura brought all the kingdoms under his control and targeted Swargalok (Heaven). Even Indra (King of Gods) and demi-gods had to retreat in front of Narakasura. He kidnapped and took 16,000 women from the palaces as prisoners. Troubled by Naraksura's deeds the gods rushed to Lord Vishnu for a solution.
Lord Krishna and Devi Satyabhama were born to kill Narakasura
Lord Vishnu was born as Lord Krishna and Narakasura's mother Bhumidevi took the avatar of Krishna's wife Satyabhama. As Satyabhama, Bhumidevi was unaware of the knowledge of Naraksura being her son. Aditi the mother of all gods approached Satyabhama crying for help with bloodied ears as Narakasura had torn off the glowing earrings from the ears of Aditi.
Satyabhama was furious on gaining the knowledge of Narakasura's atrocities she asked Krishna to fight the demon king while she fights alongside him. Krishna agreed and they attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with his wife Satyabhama.
The furious battle unleashed. Krishna defeated Narakasura's general Mura and came to be known as Murari (the killer of Mura). Narakasura used several divine weapons against Krishna, but Krishna slew all those weapons effortlessly. The demon hurled a shakti towards Krishna, which mildly hurt Krishna and he fell unconscious. Upon this sight Satyabhama was enraged, she furiously pulled out a weapon of her own and hurled it at Narakasura's chest. Anxious Satyabhama turned to her fallen Lord, Krishna got up with a smile and he was completely fine. He was only playing his part. It was Satyabhama who was an incarnation of Bhoomidevi, whose hands were destined to slay Narakasura.
ALSO READ: Choosing Environment-Friendly Diwali
Lord Krishna and Goddess Satyabhama had put an end to the Narakasura's kingdom of evil. As Narakasura lay on his deathbed he realised that Satyabhama was no one but an avatar of his own mother. He requested a boon from his mother, for no one to mourn his death. Instead, he wished for people to celebrate it with light and colours. They freed the 16,000 women who later married Lord Krishna to restore them of their honour in society, retrieved Mother goddess's earrings. This day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' popularly known as Choti Diwali - the day before Diwali as the triumph of good over evil.
Keywords: Diwali festival, goddess Laxmi, demon king, Lord Krishna, Satyabhama, the festival of light, Naraksura, Narak Chaturdashi
For all the great inventions that we have at hand, it is amazing how we keep going back to the safety pin every single time to fix everything. Be it tears in our clothes, to fix our broken things, to clean our teeth and nails when toothpicks are unavailable, to accessorize our clothes, and of course, as an integral part of the Indian saree. Safety pins are a must-have in our homes. But how did they come about at all?
The safety pin was invented at a time when brooches existed. They were used by the Greeks and Romans quite extensively. A man named Walter Hunt picked up a piece of brass and coiled it into the safety pin we know today. He did it just to pay off his debt. He even sold the patent rights of this seemingly insignificant invention just so that his debtors would leave him alone.
Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement in the 70s. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Later, he even invented the sewing needles and a couple of other important inventions but never kept any of the patent rights.
When the punk rock tradition took over in the seventies, safety pins became a fashion rage. They were used as piercings and to patch clothes together. Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement. In some cultures, the safety pins have become symbols of good luck.
Keywords: Safety-pins, Punk Rock, Brass, Accessories, Walter Hunt
In South India, Deepavali marks the end of the monsoon and heralds the start of winter. The festival is usually observed in the weeks following heavy rain, and just before the first cold spell in the peninsula. The light and laughter that comes with the almost week-long celebration are certainly warm to the bones, but there is still a tradition that the South Indians follow to ease their transition from humidity to the cold.
Just before the main festival, the family bathes in sesame oil. This tradition is called 'yellu yennai snaana' in Kannada, or 'ennai kuliyal' in Tamil, which translates to 'sesame oil bath'. The eldest member of the family applies three drops of heated oil on each member's head. They must massage this oil into their hair and body. The oil is allowed to soak in for a while, anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour. After this, they must wash with warm water before sunrise.
Women applying oil to the heads of men Photo credit: Indians in Kuwait
In some parts of the peninsula, soap is not used to wash off the oil because it nullifies its effects. Some cultures who do not like the oil to remain in any way on their skin wash it off with shikakai and herbs, which is a paste that is traditionally used as a substitute for soap. Sometimes, the oil is heated with flowers and spices as well and is less sticky than in its pure form.
The purpose of this ritual is to cleanse the body, detoxify it, and produce heat in it. Sesame is a very heaty substance and tends to heat up the body. This heat, or 'usshna' in Kannada, prepares the body to face the sudden cold that comes to the peninsula immediately after Diwali. South India has no smooth transition weather-wise from monsoon to winter. There are a few days of stable, rainless weather, and suddenly the cold winds descend.
In many ways, the celebration of Diwali is centered around preparing for winter, considering the amount of heat and light the rituals consist of – lighting lamps, bursting crackers, and consuming warm treats. Those who practice these rituals earnestly find the shift in seasons and weather quite pleasant.
Keyboards: Sesame Oil Bath, Diwali Ritual, Traditional Sesame Oil Bath