Udaipur : Holi, the vibrant festival of colours has turned a traditional fatal axe for the medicinal Semal tree , known as ‘King of the forest’ for its large size and beautiful scarlet red flowers. For its fire resistant quality, Semal trees are cut down in hundreds of quantity every year for Holika Dahan, as a symbol of mythological character ‘Prahlad’. This has led to serious attention in Udaipur as the particular tradition has led to severe decline of Semal population in the entire division. Society for Microvita Research and Integrated Medicine (SMRIM), Udaipur in association with the forest department has initiated a ‘Semal Conservation Mission’ to save this medicinal tree from extinction. Nature lovers are advocating a novel concept of burning iron-pole instead of Semal tree in Holika-dahan .This eco-friendly concept is being appreciated and adopted by many societies and colonies not only in the city but the rural areas.
“ The tree was available at few places around Udaipur like Chirwa valley, Hawala, Kewara ki Naal, Phulwary ki Naal, but now these close pockets have lost this important medicinal tree due to the tradition. The trees are cut in February- March which is the time of its blooming, causing a great loss for the plant species” informed Dr Vartika Jain, secretary, SMRIM. Another trend of burning longest Holi of the city for some years has given a set back, where more than 50 ft long tree is cut and brought from jungle, erected with the help of cranes and burnt in flames with fun and fame without any consideration to its importance, Vartika said.
The increasing number of Holi burning events instead of a group Holis has also put burden on the demand. Through the Semal conservation mission that began in 2007 the society has developed saplings of Semal from seeds and planted them in around the district. The seeds are collected every year in April and are sown in favorable conditions at SMRIM’s nursery, later the saplings are transplanted elsewhere with the help of NGO’s. An intensive awareness program is also ongoing through workshops, lectures, group meetings etc. Besides these, awareness was also created time to time through short message services in mobile and a memorandum also given to the collector for banning the cutting of Semal tree for Holika-Dahan.
Iron Holis- To protect Semal trees, an innovative idea was proposed that an iron pole wrapped with dried grass and hay material instead of the wooden pole of Semal can also be used for burning Holi. The grass will be burnt to ashes while iron pole will stand unharmed, just as the Prahlad survived in the fire in the mythological story. The idea was ultimately materialized in 2011 and was successfully infused into minds of urban masses. Members of SMRIM, made Iron-Holi poles and provided it to local people as per demand. Many educated communities came forward, thereon and adopted this concept.
Forest officials also burnt an iron Holi at all their forest divisions showing the importance of Semal tree to tribal. This was a real reward came from local people in direction of Semal conservation.
Semal’s Importance- It is one of the recommended plant species for enviroscaping where it is planted around houses and office buildings to cool the surrounding environment. It possesses soil binding property and also used for reclamation of wastelands and mine spoils. The plant is very popular for its use in seminal weakness in man and genital infections and inflammation in females.
It is used for treatment of diabetes, heart disease, leucorrhoea, impotence, debility, diarrhea and dysentery in folk medicine. Recent researches worldwide have shown its hypoglycemic, hypotensive, hepato-protective, antimicrobial, anti-angiogenic and anti-inflammatory potential.
Semal tree has been included in the list of World’s economic plants for its wood and fibre. It is also used as an insulating material for refrigerators, soundproof covers and walls. Edible oil from seeds is also obtained which is used for soap making and as an illuminant. Besides spiritual, medicinal and commercial importance; this tree plays an important part in balancing ecosystem. It is recognized among plant lovers as ‘Little Bird’s Cafetaria’ and ‘Umbrella Tree’.Many birds and animals visit this tree for its beautiful nectar rich flowers and huge dense foliage. Over-exploitation of this tree for commercial purposes has led to decline in population of an endangered bird Leptoptilos dubius (Greater Adjutant Stork) in Assam and reduction of honey bee colonies in Maradvally forest area in Western Ghats which proves that loss of even one member of food chain may have a profound effect on the entire ecosystem.