The barefoot worder woman, encyclopedia of the forest, barefoot ecologist & tree goddess, etc. are a few of the names given to the humble and timid 72-year-old Tulasi Gowda. An illiterate tribal woman from Karnataka, India, Tulasi was honoured with the Padma Shri Award, the country’s fourth-largest civilian award in the year 2020 for her immense contributions towards preserving the environment. Her deep knowledge of trees surpassed all the formal education of the world, which she gained while working with her mother since the age of 12. Having lost her father when she was just 2 years old, Tulasi could not receive formal education and had to start earning at a young age.
Belonging to the Halakki indigenous tribe in Karnataka known for their knowledge of medicinal plants which they mostly utilize to prevent disease than for cure, Tulasi can identify more than 300 medicinal plants. She is also renowned for her ability to identify the mother tree of every species of tree in the forest no matter its location.
Tulasi has planted more than 30,000 saplings and worked as a daily wager with the forest department for 35 years before she was offered a permanent job looking at her dedication and hard work.
Barefoot and dressed in traditional attire, she received India’s fourth-highest civilian award from President Ram Nath Kovind. Her simplicity and modesty touched everybody’s heart and the social media was abuzz with her praise. Gowda, however, said that she is very happy that she got the Padma Shri, but she “values the forests and trees more”.
Today, even after her retirement, she continues to nurture plants and share her vast knowledge with the younger generation about the importance of the forest as well as how to find and care for seeds.