Saalumarada Thimmakka - The Mother to More Than 8000 Trees

Meet Thimmakka, the 107-year-old Padma Shri awardee known for her environmental work

There are many women in India who have overcome various shortcomings in life to achieve a lot and leave their mark forever. One such lady is Saalumarada Thimmakka whose work was recently recognized by the government of India through a Padma Shri award.

Known as the ‘Mother of Trees’ the 106-year-old lady blessed the President of India as she received her award. True to herself, after receiving the award, she planted a sapling at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Thimmakka works for preserving the environment. Initially, she was criticized for not being able to conceive, have children. She ignored the criticism and decided to dedicate her life to nature and the environment.

She became known for planting 385 banyan trees along a four km stretch between Hulikal and Kudoor in Karnataka.


Saalumarada Thimmakka is otherwise called as Aalada Marada Thimmakka. She was born in Gubbi taluk, Tumukuru district Karnataka. Due to financial constraints, she did not get any education. To support her family she worked as a laborer in a quarry. Later she got married to a fellow casual laborer Chikkaiah of Hulikal village.

The turning point in her life

Unfortunately, Thimmakka could not have children. She was very disappointed and even attempted suicide. However, thanks to her husband’s support she changed her decision.

As time passed they had a beautiful thought of planting trees. There were plenty of banyan trees near Thimmakka’s village. Both of them collected a few saplings and planted ten saplings in the villages nearby.

The results were extremely impressive. In one year they saw ten banyan trees growing up. Next year they planted fifteen saplings and the year after that twenty. And the most interesting fact is they used the little resources that were available to them. Every day they carried buckets of water and traveled 4 km to water the banyan saplings.

They were smart enough to realize that saplings planted during the monsoon season would automatically get enough water to grow. To protect the plants from animals they even fenced the area.
They nurtured and took care of these plants just like parents do for their children. As a result of their painstaking efforts, within a couple of years, 384 big banyan trees were seen. Additionally, they planted 8,000 other trees along with the banyan trees.

The name “Saalumarada” Thimmakka

Aalada Maraud is what Thimmakka was named as a child. In the Kannada language, Saalumarada means “rows of trees”. Hence after her work was recognized, she was given the name, Saalumarada Thimmakka.

Her passion, grit, and determination

Growing 384 banyan trees was not easy. Trees need utmost care and constant observation. Both of them made sure they showered those plants with love and care. Every day after work they walked to that place and watered the trees.

Unfortunately, her husband Chikkaiah passed away in 1991. She was very sad. This did not however stop her passion for planting trees. In fact, she continued with the same passion and determination.

Nothing deterred her. During a monsoon heavy rains washed her house away. With the help of a few close people, she built a mud house for herself.

Her financial troubles

Right from her early teens, she worked as a casual laborer. The same was the case with her husband. They hardly had enough money for their daily costs. In spite of this, they managed to grow and take care of the trees.

When her husband passed away Thimmakka applied for a widow pension. She received a measly Rs 75 but managed to survive with that. Even after getting nationwide recognition for her work, she lives on a monthly pension of only Rs 500/.

Lack of financial resources never affected her and the deeper purpose of planting trees.

Righty said “Failure will never overtake you if your determination to succeed is strong enough”

Her invaluable contribution to the environment
According to botanical reports, the value of the trees was app Rs 1.75 crs. Without asking anything for herself she handed over the property to the government of Karnataka. All this whilst she continues to live with a pension of only Rs 500.
This makes one wonder, how much money does one need to survive? After all, there is no end to the amount of money one can spend to satisfy desires.
Her zeal and passion for preserving the environment continue. Saalumarada still plants trees along the sides of roads, mountains, hills, and public places.

Padma Shri Award

Her work began to get recognized slowly, first within the state and then nationally.
She received the Padma Shri from President Ram Nath Kovind recently. Interestingly she walked into the Rashtrapati Bhawan barefoot. As a measure of respect to her achievements and age (106) the President sought her blessings. He left a message that reads, “It was a touching moment for me, to give away the award to Saalumarada Thimmakka”

There is no end to hopes.

One might think that growing trees is not a big deal but one would know the reality of it only when they do it on their own. Thimmakka and her husband used to carry four pails of water for a distance of 4 km to water the saplings. They used whatever little resources they had to plant trees. In order to get sufficient water for the trees, they started to plant the trees during the monsoon. In this way, they could get sufficient rainwater for the saplings and the trees would have invariably taken root by the onset of the next monsoon. This became Thimmakka’s daily routine for many years though it did not help in her financial condition.

Although Thimmakka did not receive a formal education, her work has been honored with the National Citizen’s Award of India. She has been recognized by the Government of India and was recently conferred with the Padma Shri award in 2019, which is the highest civilian award in the Republic of India. There is also an environmental organization named after her in the U.S. called Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education. Saalumarada Thimmakka is an individual who has brought worldwide recognition to the state of Karnataka through her incredible and massive environmental services.
Recognition began to come Thimmakka’s way from the year 1995, a good 5 years after her husband, Chikkanna’s death. Chikkana too had devoted his life towards nature and had quit working to take care of his young trees. He patrolled the stretch of trees and kept the cattle away from them. Thimmakka recalls a facet of Chikkanna’s life where he used to feed the cattle that was captivated by the villagers for straying in other’s agricultural properties–a task that is often forgotten by the villagers.

This mission of preserving the environment is taken forward by Thimmakka’s foster son, Sri Umesh B.N. Umesh has been planting and tending trees along the roads, schools, public places, and on the mountain and hilltops. He is also successfully running the PRITHVI BACHAO Movement. He has his own nursery and distributes plants to the farmers who are interested in growing plants.

Age is not bigger than aspirations!

In spite of receiving hundreds of awards, SaalumaradaThimmakka remains an innocent and modest person. She is 100 plus and now and still cherishes the dream of planting more trees in the future. The lone ranger’s next mission is to bring a hospital close to her village, Kadur. She has been seeking the local panchayat’s approval for the construction of a hospital. A trust has been set up to secure land and construct a hospital in a place where no medical aid is easily available.
Thimmakka continues her fight against afforestation and her contributions are truly remarkable. Her instincts are evidently good as she has planted trees rich in biodiversity. Today, she is invited to every tree planting initiative in the state. With her achievements, Saalumarada Thimmakka has become a role model to the entire world.

Thimmakka concludes:  “Even One sapling each could make a better place for our children.”

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