Since childhood I have memories of many Banyan trees. Among these many are some which are really really big and are known as Akshya vat. Vat is Hindi of Banyan. It is commonly known as Bargad.

The first Banyan tree of importance in my memory is one in Company Bagh of Kanpur. Kanpur is the city of my growing up days and the Company bagh there on the Mall road at that time used to be very different than what it is now. It was very dense and we never used to venture inside it beyond that historic well, which was a memorial to large number of unknown freedom fighters. We used to watch this big Banyan tree from outside the boundary wall . If my memory serves me correctly, even in bright summer days we could see dark room kind of spaces between the pillared stems/ roots of the tree.

The second Big Banyan I saw is the famous Great Banyan Tree in Indian Botanical Garden, Howrah. The botanical garden is also commonly known as Botanical garden of Kolkata or Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Indian Botanical Garden. This botanical garden has many attractions but presently we will limit ourselves to the Banyan tree only. This Banyan tree is said to be more than 250 years old. Though no specific date can be successfully attributed to it’s origin but its reference can be found in writings of early nineteenth century. As the tree is in premises of one of the premier institute  where various kinds of botanical researches take place, all the factual information regarding it are available. The great Banyan tree has survived two major cyclones of 1864 and 67.

This single tree in itself is like a small forest. While walking on the wide road towards the tree, from a distance you find it hard to believe that there stands a single tree. It covers an area of about 1.6 hectares.We were told that the main trunk of the tree does not exist now. It was infected with some kind of fungus and to save the tree it was removed . However the giant tree still stand there supported by thousands of  aerial roots turning into subsidiary stems. Proper care is being taken care of  the aerial roots going down properly into the earth so that the huge, magnificent tree can be preserved for posterity.  A brick wall of small height was erected to mark the increasing area gradually being covered by the tree.

 

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The Big Banyan tree in the Botanical Garden At Kolkata– as we saw it from the road leading to it.

 

Few more shots of the trees . It really felt like walking through a forest.

 

And the third Banyan tree which I recently found out still stands in obscurity. Local people are aware of it but it is not being preserved and being taken care of properly by any concerned authority.The huge tree stands surrounded by many mango orchards from all sides. The mango orchards are owned by different individuals. If the tree is given freedom to grow it might cover areas of those orchards. Still local people rever and worship it. As the religious activities are gradually picking up around it, unplanned construction in between its area is increasing which definitely restrict it’s growing with abundance and mar it’s natural beauty too.  Various signs forbidding to put names on its branches have been put there but still almost every stem of the huge magnificent tree bleeds with engraved names.  despite these few saddening facts the Akshya Vat is a magnificent sight to behold.

This Akshay Vat is about 30 kilometers from the city of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India. The tree is in Manjhi village of Mall Block. The Pujari residing near the tree told us that the tree is said to be about 200 years old. Though there is no authenticated proof of that but believe me the vestibules between the prop roots turned into stems, far and wide stretched arms of the tree and the reigning silence take you to the times bygone.

In the center of the tree is a very thick cluster of many trunks. Many branches are sloping outward in all the directions and are in turn supported by entwined prop roots gradually thickening into new trunks. lovely passages and arched vestibules are formed by tapering branches and multitudes of trunks. Overhead stretches the thick canopy . It is a bright, sunny January day but this part talks in shadowed whispers. Big, thick trunked mango trees standing all around Akshay Vat in meticulously lines somehow reminded me of lines in prayer grounds. A villager  cycled away on the dusty road behind the tree, two boys sauntered in  the mango orchard, a bird called somewhere and the sentient atmosphere seeps deep down me.

The magnificent tree standing rapt in all around quiet, aerial roots hanging and once in a while few of them moving slightly with the wind felt like a wise old sage  with long beard lost in deep meditation. As I moved under it and looked upward , the green overhead canopy of leaves felt like showering blessings, keeping evils away.

 

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A panoramic view of Akshay vat of Manjhi village, Lucknow

 

All pictures@ Sunder Iyer