A tree to tale

Exhibition>> Landmark Trees of India • by Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness • American Centre Delhi • April 15-29

By Harshita Soni
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Exhibition>> Landmark Trees of India • by Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness • American Centre Delhi • April 15-29

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we rarely stop to take a look at the trees around us. Many of them have been witness to some of the landmark events that shaped our history, culture and politics. American forest ecologist Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness is among the few who have an ear for the stories trees have to tell. He considers trees as “distinct individuals and ambassadors of global biodiversity.” Bar-Ness has spent two years in the country researching on landmark trees. A two-week long exhibition at the American Centre in Delhi showcased his work.

The exhibition reminded that India has a rich history of stewarding trees. It also reminded that mundane concerns take over this love for trees. For example, the leaves of Tansen’s Tree found at the tomb of Mohammad Ghaus in Gwalior were known to make one’s voice melodious. This reputation drew throngs to this ber tree and as they plucked its leaves in the hope of gaining a sweet voice, they left this six-century-old tree a decrepit skeleton of branches.

Then there is the Hanuman’s Mace. The banyan tree located above the main ghat in Varanasi on the banks of river Ganga has been witness to the Hindu veneration of the river. But it can also tell you how the holy river became one of the most polluted water bodies on Earth.

Another landmark neem tree, Hailey Baoli Neem can be found at Ugrasen ki Baoli, an ancient step well just southeast of Delhi’s busy Connaught Place. It stands testimony to how overexploitation of groundwater has left this seven-century step well parched.

Bar-Ness is a keen student of history and this love is reflected in his research on the Sarnath Bodhi tree found at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. Planted in the early 20th century by the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Anagarika Dharmapala, the tree actually is a descendent of the Bodhi tree under which Buddha attained nirvana. A branch of that tree was taken to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka around 250 BC. In a mission to revive Buddhism in its place of birth, the Sri Lankan monk planted a branch of the Anuradhapura tree at Sarnath.

Bar-Ness’s research is at www.treeoctopus.net. Take a look and you will surely not be indifferent to trees any longer.

Harshita Soni, research associate at the Centre for Science and Environment, is a tree lover

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