“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heavens above”~~Tagore
There is something inexplicably uplifting and almost sacred about places which have thick groves of ancient trees, trees that sometimes grow tall and stately and shut out the sky with their thick foliage as well as trees that spread out laterally with aerial roots forming a mini-forest cover through which sunlight barely penetrates. The solemn stillness of such spots makes you feel as if you are in the presence of a deity, that you are in a place where you need to close your eyes, meditate and await enlightenment!! Perhaps that is why they were considered sacred among our ancestors.
The concept of trees as sacred is not just restricted to our country…it’s an idea shared by many races around the world. Some say the worship of trees began primarily because of the fact that their life-span is several times greater than humans. Several generations lived in the shade of the same venerable tree, almost as if it were eternal, and so they were treated with the same respect as the community elders. Many traditional societies considered themselves linked in a web of spiritual relationship with their biological envoronment..an idea so beautifully depicted in the movie ‘Avatar’. Trees thus came to be mankind’s first temples of gods and forest groves their first places of worship.
One of the earliest images of a ‘sacred’ tree is from my childhood history lesson…the ‘bodhi’ tree under which Prince Siddharta is said to have attained enlightenment or ‘Bodhi’, thereby becoming the great spiritual leader Gautama Buddha. Much later i learnt that this bodhi tree is none other than the ‘peepal’ which along with the banyan tree dots the landscape of our country. In rural areas these trees still remain the community’s focal meeting points, the ‘chaupals’ that form the social hub of the people. Almost every temple, every Buddhist monastery has one of these trees growing in its precincts. Even our ancient sages are always depicted as meditating in a yogic pose under one of these huge trees.
It is but natural that every region would hold as sacred trees found in that area. One price we pay for development is the gradual loss of our planet’s tree cover. Yet we still have communities and individuals that make an effort to preserve such “hallowed” nature spots. Take Muir Woods for example. What an inspiring story it has…the story of how a millionaire couple William and Elizabeth Kent purchased that land with the aim of protecting those giant redwood trees from being felled by the logging industry, and then donated it to the federal government for creating a National Monument! Wish we had more such nature worshippers…