Aranya was inspired by experiences of alternative solutions to an array growing concerns. Rajnish and an expanding team of individuals, from many different walks of life, have come together to support sustainable, and more importantly, regenerative development, for the village of S. Thattanapalli. Over time, hopefully developing our outreach within the Krishnagiri District of Tamil Nadu.
Rajnish Kumar, many of you know him as Raja, comes from Bihar in the North-East of India. When he was a young adult, he left his university course to go to an alternative education institute in Udaipur, called Shikshantar Institute for Learning. The motivation was to find new ways of approaching education, that also allowed himself to explore topics that were typically untouched by more traditional education institutes. Raja’s curiosity for film making and photography drove the initial focus of learning, but organic agriculture and finding utility for recycled materials was also creating burgeoning questions in his mind. The founder of Shikshantar Institute knew Raja well and suggested he looked into completely sustainable living. As he studied around the topic, Raja’s world soon began to open to the great, and, largely untapped, potential of ecological and environmentally conscious living. Coming to the end of his time at Shikshantar Institute, Raja focused his efforts towards finding sustainable communities to go and learn from. He was told of a place some many miles away in the South of India that sparked with enthusiasm he knew he couldn’t miss.
After travelling for eleven months around the country, searching for these sustainable solutions, Raja found himself on the way to this unusual place he had heard so much about. This place was the ever-changing but continuously flourishing Auroville. For those who haven’t heard of this place, here’s a brief background to this unique township.
Auroville was created for all people from any walks of life to come and live as free citizens, working in collaboration and cooperation, rather than in competition. Auroville now operates as a creative township with citizens from all over the world who share a vision for, amongst other things, creative expression, holistic education and environmentally conscious living. A visit to Auroville will allow anyone to recognise the intrinsic value that environmental sustainability holds for the citizens. It is a blossoming hub for education and research in the fields of sustainable food production, natural waste water recycling, reforestation and much more.
Neighbouring to Auroville was a project set to regenerate the local forest area, helping enhance the overall forest ecosystem and improve the local water table. This project is called Sadhana Forest, a community that is widely recognised as a long-standing reforestation and water conservation project, just outside of Puducherry. Raja instantly knew Sadhana Forest was where he would spend his time. Four years soon flew by whilst he held the position of head cook and participated on their Environmental Leadership Programme.
In his spare time at Sadhana, Raja enjoyed the opportunities available to him, and it led to him meeting a man called Bernard, who ran his own organic farm. Bernard and his wife Deepika hoped to find natural solutions to the burdens faced by farmers battling the variable Indian droughts and monsoons. Experimenting with drought tolerant species, supported by innovative natural farming techniques, the couple strove to find solutions to water scarcity issues. Raja began alongside them on the farm, learning first-hand about their restorative techniques and their careful seed selecting.
As Raja progressed, he volunteered his time on many organic farms taking his education further to permaculture and then completing a Permaculture Field Course. At this point he realised farming was his true passion and he wanted a farm of his own where he could practise organic, permaculture methods and welcome others to come and spend time learning, working and enjoying a reciprocal relationship with the land. His vision was seeded.
In 2013, he created Aranya Eco Village, an organic semi-permaculture farm, created to honour and utilise the crucial wisdom of nature.
Aranya Eco Village started as a small plot of somewhat devastated and depleted land, previously used by a flower farmer. The flower farming had denuded the soil of its nutrients and compromised the overall soil structure, therefore a large amount of Raja’s work has been focused on restoring the farmland. The uptake of organic-permaculture principles and techniques has been central to the transformation of the land. Since the beginning of the transition the farm has grow in recognition, resources, wildlife and animals (we now have calves!), opportunities and most importantly, the farm conditions have enabled a wide range of fruits, vegetables and staple grains to be grown. Initially the yields were low but they have picked up exponentially during the last two years. The lovely knock-on effect is that the local ecology has too been restored, providing a healthy environment to many life forms.
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