The 108 year old ‘Tree Woman’: The story of Saalumarada Thimmakka

Early Days
Thimmakka was born in Gubbi Taluk, Tumukuru District in Karnataka. She was married to Chikkaiah, a native of Hulikal village in the Magadi taluk of Ramanagar district in Karnataka. She received no formal education and worked as a casual laborer in a nearby quarry. The couple could not have children. It is said that Thimmakka started to plant banyan trees in lieu of children. The name word Saalumarada (row of trees in the Kannada language) is how she was referred to because of her work.

Her Journey
When she was unable to give birth to a child, Saalumarada Thimmakka started planting banyan trees.
Ficus (banyan) trees were aplenty near Thimmakka’s village. Thimakka and her husband started grafting saplings from these trees. Ten saplings were grafted in the first year and they were planted along a distance of 5 km near the neighboring village of Kudur. 15 saplings were planted in the second year and 20 in the third year.[11] She used her meager resources for planting these trees.[10] The couple used to carry four pails of water for a distance of four kilometers to water the saplings. They were also protected from grazing cattle by fencing them with thorny shrubs.
She has given 66 years of her life to planting trees. The saplings were planted mostly during monsoon season so that sufficient rainwater would be available for them to grow. By the onset of the next monsoons, the saplings had invariably taken root.[11]
She has given 66 years of her life to planting treesIn total, 384 trees were planted, and their asset value has been assessed at around 1.5 million rupees between Hulikal and Kudur in Magadi Taluk of Ramnagar district at her own expense and then took care of them as her own children. Thimmakka’s husband too walked with her to water these trees. However, he died in the year 1991. Thimmakka continued this practice even after his death.

Padma Shri Award
When President Ram Nath Kovind awarded the Padma Shri to Thimmakka, she put her palm over the President’s forehead as a gesture of blessing, an act that prompted rapturous applause from the audience watching. It was a break in the usual rigorous protocol followed while handing out the awards and a mark of the respect given to Thimmakka. The President later took to social media to touch upon the gesture. She also planted a sapling at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2019.
Thimmakka has won the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, the Nadoja Award from Hampi University and the National Citizen Award from the Government of India, among other national and international accolades. Her work has inspired many others to take up environmental causes in the country.
In 2019, intervention from Saalumarada Thimakka led to the decision by then Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy to save hundreds of trees which were at the risk of facing the axe courtesy of a road widening project near Bengaluru.

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