Harihara SudhanThe fate of the Banyan!

There is a traditional reference in Tamil Nadu for a death of any person of substance who has provided much love and care for all those who lived around him. It loosely translates as “The Banyan is gone!”

The Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) is a much-loved tree in India. It’s been worshipped as a holy tree by almost all indigenous peoples of India. So much so that it has been deemed as the National Tree of India. The entire community of a large town can sit under a single Banyan.

In the City that I reside in, Chennai, there is a Banyan that is over 450 years old and is in the gardens of the Theosophical Society. I have had several ‘blissfully empty’ moments under that tree. There are many more notable Banyans in Anantpur, Calcutta, Madurai and so on and so forth which go into the thousands of square metres.

To be inside a Banyan grove is truly a spectacular thing for its vibrations will move you closer to your Self. The Banyan is a symbol of ‘Vasudaiva Kuttumbakkam’ the most ancient principle of “The whole world is your Family”.

As we move rapidly across this current era of the Internet we are now realising how connected we have become. This connection is however only in the form of sharing physical data. It’s already getting overloaded with selfies!

We however have another connection that is more sublime in nature and that is the Cosmic Connection. In our physical world it is manifested as the majestic Banyan whose mere silence is enough for one to feel this connection.

My grandfather, who turns 97 in January says to me that our generation has rapidly lost this cosmic connection. He says that like all connections, the connection is only strong if used continuously.

If we don’t use this connection it slowly starts to fade away, not that it is lost forever. This connection is a substratum on which we add various other connections. Now if your primal connections is lost it really doesn’t matter how many other connections have been made. They are all rendered useless.

There was a time in India when a Banyan and a Peepul (Ficus religiosa) tree will never be cut down. In case this must be done (safety of a building etc.) then there is a ‘Puja’ (formal ritual worship) conducted and only then is the tree felled.

Today we see many Banyans cut down without even a blink of an eye. Why has this shift has happened can never be explained. It is easier to say “It’s the times” rather than pin point it on “Loss of awareness”.

A good point in example would be the story of the Banyan of Serayampalayam, Bhavani. In June, there was an attempt to cut down this magnificent tree which was dwelling in its own grace. The reason being that high-tension cables were to be put up and this tree was obstructing the path of these transmission towers. No matter how many other options were given to the Officials (The least expensive and most feasible plan was a slight change in alignment of the towers), they refused to listen to the Villagers. The villagers were deemed “Anti-development agitators” and even “Uneducated people who are against the interest of the Nation”. They conveniently forgot that the Banyan is the “National Tree of India” and felling it is against national interests. Eventually the Officials had to heed to the persistent demand of the Villagers.

Banyan tree protesters, Serayampalayam

Banyan tree protesters, Serayampalayam

 

Not that these officials were born in Mars. They are native but have lost their nativity. This can be directly attributed to the reason that they have lost their connectivity.

As goes the Banyan, so goes our connectivity.

In our current times, it is even more important than before to kindle this Banyan within us and reach out to others by providing love and nurturing growth. In this way, we enrichen our own lives and this Banyan will grow inside of us not to strangulate ourselves but to reach out to others with a positive exchange of energy.

This drive of development and growth has been the opposite in most cases. I therefore would think several times before I destroy a Banyan which is an entire ecosystem in itself. If it is going to cost a little more to protect a tree it is surely worth the expense. Why harp on these most vital expenditures when we as a collective spend more than US $1.6 trillion in annual defence expenses. These times will change or we will be left with a barren land which will lead to more fighting for resources and then surely the fate of the Banyan is sealed.

In the Matsya Purana there is a wise reference to trees;

Ten wells equal one step-well,
Ten step-wells equal one lake,
Ten lakes equal one Son,
Ten Sons equal one Tree!

I will go one step further and add:

Ten Trees equal one Banyan!

 

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Harihara Sudhan

About Harihara Sudhan

Harihara Sudhan is a Landscape Designer and Horticulturist based in Chennai, India. He considers himself very fortunate indeed that despite pursuing a formal education in Computer engineering he has been able to shift his occupation to working with the land. He runs a Garden center called KAIVALYA Garden Center in Chennai and is the Head of a Landscape Design and Build firm PERIKALI. His values include harmony, sustainability, connectivity and reflection. He enjoys travelling for its own sake but now spends most of his time travelling inward.

8 thoughts on “The fate of the Banyan!

  1. What a delightful post. An absolute pleasure to read, watch and listen to.
    And the point of the discussion – the Banyan; surely such a magnificent tree is worthy of protection throughout India. I also am besotted with trees, in particular Australia’s gum tree.
    This is a rich, beautifully composed post Harihara. Thank you.
    Alison

    • Dear Alison, I am glad you enjoyed the article. I have seen a few giant gum trees in Ooty that were planted about a 125 years ago here in the Botanical gardens during the British Raj. They have now become giants that lend an air of regality to the whole garden. I will send some pictures of those trees if you are interested.
      Bon Chance!

  2. Peter Whitehead on said:

    Dear Harihara
    What an interesting and thought provoking article on the Banyan tree – one such tree springs to mind – in Ramthambore National Park – one drives through a ‘cathedral’ of tree ‘legs.’
    Good luck in your endeavours to highlight the plight of these impressive and culturally important trees.
    Peter Whitehead – an avid Sub Continent fan!

    • Dear Peter,
      Many thanks for your kind words of encouragement. I am sure the experience in Ranthambore will never leave your mind.
      I wish you good luck and I hope you visit India again.

  3. Kate Wall on said:

    I agree wholeheartedly – we need more connectivity, hence I believe we need more gardeners so we can increase instead of decrease our connectedness to nature and our appreciation of not just how wonderful nature is, but how we are only 1 part in a complex ecosystem. wonderful story, thank you.

    • Dear Kate,
      Good day!
      Thank you for taking the time to read the article. The world will change for the better when the connectivity increases. I wish you good luck from one gardener to another.

  4. Helen on said:

    Loved your post, and the great videos that help appreciate the enormity of these magnificent trees. Your thoughts about the importance of connections, as beautifully symbolised by the banyans, will surely touch a chord with many readers. It’s also wonderful to hear from professionals in your part of the world. I hope to read more from you in the future!

    • Dear Helen,
      thank you for reading the article. I will surely post more on whats happening this side of the World.
      We have just been hit by a massive cyclone and we have lost 100,000 trees. That’s about a quarter of all trees. The city looks terrible. Almost all mature trees have been uprooted.
      I have to do a lot of planting this year.
      I wish you well and invite you to come and visit us any time.

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