Heritage trees have history in their branches

Last Updated 24 February 2012, 18:00 IST

T R Sathish Kumar chronicles the history and efforts of locals to protect a 260-year-old banyan tree on Mysore-T Narsipur road.

All natural resources, flora and fauna we enjoy today actually belong to future generations. We are mere custodians. So we have the responsibility of conserving and handing them over to future generations, according to Hindu culture. Spiritually, all natural resources and nature was worshipped in original form as per Vedic traditions. There was no idol worship.

Most of the conservation of natural resources and nature has been possible due to religious, spiritual and cultural traditions followed by human beings over generations. Where law failed in the process of conservation, traditions succeeded – be it the so called civilized or tribal.

A banyan tree at Chikkahalli, off Mysore-Tirumakudlu Narsipur road, is over 260 years old and is being protected by villagers religiously. To augment their efforts, the Paramparika Vruksha Rakshana Samiti, a local organisation that comprises 30 plus environment enthusiasts in Mysore, has been involved in protection of heritage trees. The samiti identified 10 trees in the vicinity of the city as ‘heritage trees’ for protection and conservation, and the banyan tree at Chikkahalli was the first to be identified. It has also chalked out a plan to establish a ‘tree park’ at Chikkahalli.

Some of the trees identified by the samiti have also been accepted by the state government as heritage trees. Incidentally, it was following the samiti’s representation to the Western Ghats Task Force that the government took steps to identify and conserve trees. Important among the samiti’s list of ten trees are:

The red silk cotton tree (Bombax Ceiba or Kempu Boorugada Mara, originally from Africa) at Curzon Park abutting the Mysore Palace -- the sapling of which was planted by Lord Curzon, viceroy and governor-general of India, in 1900;The peepal tree at Manasagangotri, which is 160 years old. It is learnt that it was worshipped by the members of the Mysore royal family – the Wadiyars. It was in the vicinity of Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion, constructed for Jayalakshmi, sister of Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. It is the second tree the committee tagged ‘heritage’;

The 130-year-old tamarind tree (tamarindus indica) located near the horticulture department, University of Mysore;

An old ber tree (zizybhus jujuba) located on the premises of Tamil Sangham on Vani Vilasa road. Although a big branch of this tree has broken, it is still green;

A 100-year-old jajuba tree in the compound of Government Senior Primary School, opposite RTO Circle in Chamundipuram. Besides, two more trees of over 120 years are located on the premises of two private houses.

Heritage trees

According to the list released by the Western Ghats Task Force, those labeled heritage trees are: Adansonia digitata-Malvaceae in Bijapur taluk, 600 years old; Adansonia digitata-Malvaceae in Bijapur taluk, 359 years old; Tamarindus Indica (tamarind) in Devarahipparagi of Bijapur - 883 years old; Azadirachta Indica (Bevu) at T Venkatapura in Chikkaballapur district 200 years old; Ficus Begalensis (Alada mara) in Chickkahalli in Mysore taluk - 260 years old; Ficus Religiosa (peepal) at Manasagangothri, Mysore - 160 years old; Kempu boorga mara, Palace Gate, Mysore - 130 years old; Ficus Bengalensis (Doddalada mara) - Kethohalli, Bangalore, 400 years old; Araucaria cooki - Lalbagh, 140 years old; Pilali (Ficus Micro Corpus) - in Banavasi of Shimoga district - 400 years old. It is noteworthy that three trees from Mysore find place in the list. The banyan tree situated near Varuna Tank on T Narasipur road, 12 km from Mysore and hardly five km from Lalitha Mahal Palace, stands tall and majestic on a large plain field, covering an area of more than an acre. It has a pleasant symmetry, its trunks look stolid and its leaves glow with health.

Ramp up the tree

A branch almost touches the ground and makes climbing up the tree effortless. It looks like a ramp up the tree.

Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s wife Devarajammanni built the tank in 1828. She got Madeshwara Temple constructed on the banks and ensured that some land was granted for the temple maintenance. People from neighbouring villages use parts of this tree to treat various ailments. Many birds feed on its fruits. The leaves of this tree are supplied for elephants that arrive for Dasara festivities.

The Indian Banyan or Ficus benghalensis is also the national tree of India. Older banyan trees are characterised by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.

The name banyan given to F benghalensis comes from India where early foreign travellers observed that the shade of the tree was frequented by banias or Indian traders.

In Gujarati banya means grocer or merchant. The Portuguese picked up the word to refer to Hindu merchants and passed it on to the English as early as 1599 with the same meaning. By 1634, English writers began to tell of the banyan tree, a tree under which Hindu merchants would conduct their business.

Village meeting

The tree provided a shaded place for a village meeting or for merchants to sell their goods. Eventually ‘banyan’ became the name of the tree itself.

The banyan tree at Chikkahalli has stood the test of time due to the spiritual and religious bonding people from the villages nearby share with it. The tree is revered as Muneshwara, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. But there is neither an idol nor a priest. People offer pooja independently as per their belief.

“People can visit the place, relax or even play. But they should not wear footwear near the designated place for Muneshwara. And they should keep the surroundings clean,” said Siddaiah, a resident of Chikkahalli.

(Published 24 February 2012, 16:30 IST)

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