With a glittery red ‘Mata ki Chunni’ tied around a root of its massive trunk, clusters of scarlet red figs sparkling like jewels against the brown and green of its branches and leaves and its vast umbrella of shade a welcome cover for the coming summer months, a Banyan tree captures significant space and turns heads near the post office in Sector 9 market.
Bargad (Ficus Bengalensis of the Moraceae family) has its roots in Indian mythology, spirituality and all things divine. It’s a tree that is worshiped and revered and counted as a heritage tree of Chandigarh. In fact, according to the first ever tree census conducted by the Horticulture Wing of Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), this year, the campus showed off a 200-year-old Bohr Banyan tree standing tall and rooted in its compound. There is a very old Bargad in Sector 17 too.
It’s a tree that lives through ages and whenever Chandigarh celebrates Triveni Day as part of Van Mahostsav, three trees are planted — the Triveni of Bargad, Peepal and Neem. The tree of immortality, it is said to fulfill one’s wishes. In a heritage tree survey of Chandigarh done by volunteers of Yuvsatta from 2005 to 2006, a very interesting note in the report points out how the ‘Banyan is a very hospitable tree’. It reads how, apart from people, it attracts a large number of visitors — birds, squirrel, insects, flying foxes who reside in the tree which is full of dark, private corners suitable for a variety of tenants, living next door to each other, without interfering in each other’s business. Because it takes up a lot of space and also gives shade, one has to be careful of not planting the Bargad on narrow streets.
Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik has writen about many facets of the Banyan tree — how it got its name Banyan from the British who noticed how the trader community gathered around a fig tree, and hence, Banyan from ‘bania’. Also, that it is the hermit among trees, planted near crematoriums for it’s associated with the god of death, Yama.
Cultivated as a sacred tree, the fibre extracted from the bark and aerial roots is used in making coarse ropes. The wood is used for well curbs, tent poles and its juice is made into birdlime.
The Bargad also grows in a peculiar way. After birds drop its seeds on branches of other trees, they sprout, initiating life as an epiphyte on the host tree. Once nourished, the roots shoot down, enlarge into trunks and develop new branches. Due to the additional trunks, it’s also called Bahupada (one with several feet). In time, the Banyan strangulates the host tree and takes over.