Saturday, January 05, 2008

Banyan Trees in Pune

Winding roads, drizzling rain and many majestic banyan trees. Those were the images I took back with me after my first, brief trip to Pune. This was during the monsoon of 1999. I had a new job offer that required me to move to Pune. The job was very exciting but I was uncertain if it made sense to move from Delhi to Pune.

Banyan Tree in PuneAt this point, my new employer offered to fly me and my wife to Pune for a week to see the city and make up my mind. Needless to say, we were sold after spending a week during the monsoon in this lovely city. After Delhi, Pune seemed such a quaint little city (those days) with it's small winding roads, greenery, clear skies, the romantic rainy season...

We also couldn't fail to notice the many gnarled, old banyan trees dotting the landscape. Each of them seemed to have a story to tell - of times bygone.

Banyan trees take a long time to grow; the ones we see now have probably lived for over hundreds of years. The Banyan tree is unique: it's branches spread out and send trunk-like roots to the ground in order to support itself.

Banyan Tree in PuneThis ancient tree is considered sacred by the Hindus and symbolizes eternal life due to it's ever-expanding branches. The name of the tree was apparently derived from 'Baniya' - a trader community in India. Hindu traders used to spread out their wares under the shade of these trees which led to this association.

Incidentally, the world's largest Banyan tree is located in the Botanical Gardens in Howrah (across the river from Kolkata). This tree with a circumference of over 300 meters looks like an entire forest!

During the last few years, Pune has suddenly grown into a destination of choice for the high-tech industry. The sudden influx of people led to new, multi-lane roads, buildings, malls and cineplexes. But this development has come at the cost of Pune's green cover. Many trees were felled during road-expansion projects. While it's easier driving on the new concrete roads, I hope we can preserve the remaining trees. Many of them have watched over Pune from the time of the Peshwas and will be around for many more generations to marvel - if we only let them live too.

Note: Banyan tree pictures by Memsaab and Jim Reeves. Pictures have been linked to their original Flickr accounts.

15 comments:

memsaab said...

I always imagine that there are all kinds of strange and exotic creatures living in banyan trees...

Enjoyed your post!

philippine dragonfly said...

nice banyan but folklore made people afraid of it

bint battuta said...

This post brought back childhood memories of visiting the famous banyan tree in Bangalore... Lovely, thank you for this!

Shantanu said...

@memsaab: Now that you mention it, I do recollect a bunch of folk-lore with stories of creatures in banyan trees.

@philippine dragonfly: Didn't know that until you commented. Here's what Wiki says about Philippine mythology on the Banyan tree: "It is is said to be home to a variety of spirits and demon-like creatures..."

@bint battuta: :-)

Madhuri said...

It is probably because they live so long that the Banyan trees seem to have some other-worldly and haunting associations. Sometimes one can feel that shudder on meeting very old people suddenly on the road - isn't it?
It seems you really are in love with Pune after that decision!

AzAzura said...

This is very informative and prove that you can write about just any subjects! I love trees and this is gorgeous.wish I can go to pune one day.

backpakker said...

Reading your post made me smile thinking about all the banyan trees that I have seen , including a few in Pune..There was a very ancient one in Chennai, extremely old in Adyar which recently gave way ..there is one in Bangalore ..enroute to Mysore Road ..I remember driving down to Pune and enjoying the shades of these trees way back in late 90s ..thanks for the memories

Shantanu said...

@madhuri: I guess so! And yes, I do like Pune.

@azazura: Thank you! And that's the primary reason I loved Malaysia - because it is so green (I remember the drive from the airport to Genting)!

@backpakker: And if I remember all the Indian comics we read during childhood (Amar Chitra Kathas, etc.) the banyan always showed up as a spot for village meetings, where the hero would rest under, or the place where sadhus rested and blessed people who came to see them.

Sriram said...

My grandma was born and raised in Pune,and she says she misses the city a lot.As you said,its supposed to be very pleasant during the monsoon.

Prashant Sakare said...

You are certainly a very good writer. Enjoy your writting.

Anil P said...

There sure is something about trees, more so the banyan.

Where I work, I get to sit under a tree after lunch, and watch the world go by for a few minutes, helps put perspective back in place.

Shantanu said...

@sriram: When I first came to Pune, it sort of reminded me of RK Laxman's cartoons depicting Malgudi (of Malgudi days)!

@prashant: Thank you!

@anil: Cool! That's a luxury few get now-a-days.

Rosa John said...

I have heard somewhere that the best place for meditation is beneath the banyan trees. YOur mind gets clear and thats because the leaves of a banyan tree, that makes up that thick canopy, can absorb all those UV rays. (Could be one of the reason why Pune is an educational hub.)

Banyan trees are considered holy as well as haunted. They (they are the old time puneites) say that because it was holy... it became haunted too...
Since people shouldnt disrespect this tree ... rumours and talk were liberally spread. This would keep mischief mongers away from this tree during the dark hours.

Agree totally that a decade ago also Pune was beautiful and green... Today's Pune has only got banners of "Green Pune, Clean Pune" besides banyan tree stubs that were deliberately cut down for city development.

Shantanu said...

@Rosa: The banyan tree certainly is popular with the holy men of India who would medidate under the shade of these old and majestic trees. Thanks for leaving your comments here.

Ranjit said...

In fact, if you go from Panvel which is near Mumbai towards Pune or Ahmednagar, you can see so many of the Banyan trees with the secondary roots as well as their gnarled trunks.