The Big Banyan Tree is dead, long live its roots!

The Big Banyan Tree is dead, long live its roots!

Troops of undeterred monkeys, boards withholding crucial information, locals who prefer silence over speech might welcome visitors here, but the Big Banyan Tree (Big-B) as we know it, is dead.

It’s death, caused by a lightning, might not have been a quiet affair. But, the 20 years that have passed since, have quietly witnessed some of its roots spread, some die and some more spring to life from other roots keeping its romance with the place, 28 km from Bangalore City (off Mysore Road), alive.

For Muniyappa, 60, who sees thousands of visitors every weekend here, Big-B’s death is personal.

A fifth-generation priest at the Jade Muneshwara temple here, Muniyappa has seen roots die and grow just like the tree has seen generations of his family. The tree, he said would have been 375 years old today.

“My elder brother took care of the temple then. A huge lightening hit the mother trunk (the tree from which all the roots that are visible today originated). It died 20 years ago. Many teams of experts came here to see if it could be saved, or if it was alive. It was dead,” he said.

Even today, Muniyappa’s family prays to what is now a symbolic representation of the mother trunk. (see pic)

The temple, which still earns them their bread and butter, he said was constructed only about 50 years ago, when Big-B had begun ailing.

“Earlier, the tree was so strong and had such wonderful roots that they formed the shelter for Muneshwara. More than 50 people could stand under the roots and hold prayers in heavy rain without being drenched. The roots slowly got separated, and we had to construct a physical structure that you see today,” Munilakshmi, his daughter said.

Kavettappa, 78, says the authorities had left the place unattended for years, when lot of the degradation happened. Having lived in the village since birth, Kavettappa said: “About 15 years ago, the Bank of Maharashtra took up some development work. And, now the government (Horticulture department) is doing something.”

Spread across three acre of land, Big-B (botanical name: Ficus Benghalensis) was considered the fourth largest Banyan tree in the country, following ones at Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata and Adyar in Chennai.

Without the main trunk, the area, typical to the species of Big-B, is filled with hundreds of aerial roots spread out, giving birth to newer ones. “The present crown of the tree has a circumference of about 120 metres and the highest branch rises to about 95 feet,” officials at the Horticulture department said.

Asman Naaz, senior assistant director, Horticulture department, while confirming Big-B’s death said: “We are developing newer aerial roots by protecting them. After they take a particular shape and gain strength, the protection around it is removed.” She said that the death was due to natural illness.

Today, the new roots are covered with mud protected by metal grills. There are tens of such new roots identified which are being developed.

Muniyappa showed around seven to ten new roots that have already grown in strength and the protection has been removed.

While the newer roots, which bear the responsibility of keeping Big-B’s name etched in the history, names like Shalini, Manohar, Peter etched without any regard for the place on their predecessors can die with them, who are on the verge of death, just like Big-B.

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