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Sunday, October 17, 2021

The ‘endless’ Banyan at Bhikaji Cama place

The banyan is one on a list of 16 'heritage' ones hand picked by the Delhi government a few years ago.

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind , Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: September 29, 2021 11:29:49 am
The big banyan tree at Bhikaji Cama Place (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

While standing before the big banyan tree at Bhikaji Cama Place, determining where the tree ends can be difficult. Seemingly endless clusters of leaves reach for the sky and form a wide canopy. The tree dwarfs the cars that lay parked beneath it.

Close to the entry gate of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), the banyan is hard to miss. Several strands of hanging roots are entwined, forming thick coils, some touching the ground beneath the tree. The detritus from the nearby government offices has found its way to the tree. A wire lies coiled around one of the hanging roots, and bits of plastic and waste are lodged at the base, while discarded tyres and the rusted metallic remains of a car sit beneath the tree.

The banyan is one on a list of 16 ‘heritage’ ones handpicked by the Delhi government a few years ago. A man sits below the aerial roots of the tree to take a call while others walk past the tree, oblivious to how old the tree is. There are no markings near it and no sign boards that could point to its place on a list.

People have their own estimates of how old the tree might be. Someone says “I’ve seen it since I started working here four years ago”, while a guard at the entrance guesses, “It must be at least 50-60 years old”. There is a sense of mysticism around the tree since many people inside the campus say that the tree is sacred to them.

People have their own estimates of how old the tree might be. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

The Banyan tree is supposed to be found throughout the Indian subcontinent. However, some authors have mentioned that they grow wild only in the sub-Himalayan tract and some peninsular forests.

The tree has a myriad of medicinal uses. While it’s latex is applied to bruises and cracked soles, a part of the bark is used as a tonic. Their figs are food for birds, bats and monkeys alike.

According to Pradip Krishen in his book ‘Trees of Delhi’, the Banyan can be spotted in Teen Murti, inside Olive restaurant in Mehrauli and inside the zoo (near the crocodiles).

Krishen writes about the Banyan in his book, “Although the banyan tree has been known to the western world at least since Alexander’s expedition to India in the 4th century BC, it was known by a series of not-particularly-memorable names. We owe an account of how it came to be called the ‘banyan’ to Thomas Herbert, who travelled through Persia in 1627-29. One such tree grew close to present-day port city of Bandar Abbas, where ‘banians’ (banias or traders) from Western India had decorated it with ribbons and built a temple inside its shade. Therefore, says Herbert, it has been ‘named by us the Banyan tree’.”

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