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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Leafing through history: On Teen Murti lawns, a majestic Semal draws eyes

From the entrance gate, the tall tree, with branches reaching outwards almost symmetrically on either side of the trunk, nearly steals the Teen Murti Bhawan’s thunder.

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind , Ashna Butani | New Delhi |
Updated: October 13, 2021 3:52:37 pm
Semal trees flower in March, showing off flaming red blooms. (Express Photo)

A majestic semal tree on the front lawns of the Teen Murti Bhawan remains out of bounds to curious visitors for now, with access to it restricted to workers and security guards on the premises.

Has the tree ever met the famous, erstwhile occupant of the palatial home that stands behind it? The security guards at the gate seem to think so. One guard hazards a guess and says that the tree could be at least a hundred years old, while another lowers the estimate to around 80.

From the entrance gate, the tall tree, with branches reaching outwards almost symmetrically on either side of the trunk, nearly steals the Teen Murti Bhawan’s thunder. A full view of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s residence from the entrance is obscured by the tree; glimpses of the building’s façade visible through clusters of leaves.

Semal tree (Express Photo)

One of the security guards at the gate says that work is underway on a new museum at the site, adding that it could take a long while before visitors might be able to walk into the premises. A Prime Ministers’ Museum is under construction within the estate.

A trench has been dug behind the tree and workers sit on the lawns close to it. Another semal tree stands nearby, and the two trees flower beautifully, the guards said. Semal trees flower in March, showing off flaming red blooms. A picture on the website of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library shows the lawn carpeted with the semal’s red flowers and the Teen Murti Bhawan standing in the background.

The towering deciduous tree is seen across the city, its flaming red marking the end of winter every year. A common myth around the tree is that the redder its flowers are in spring, the hotter that year’s summer would be.

According to Pradip Krishen in his book ‘Trees of Delhi’, the Semal is spread across India; in the sub-Himalayan tract, dry teak and mixed deciduous forests in peninsular India and in moist forests in the Western coast. The tree is also seen in Myanmar, South China and throughout tropical southeast Asia.

The tree is also known as the (red) silk cotton tree. It’s silk cotton is collected to stuff pillows and quilts, and collecting rights to individual trees are auctioned in parts of Delhi.

Besides the huge trees in Teen Murti Bhavan, it can be seen in Neeti Marg and a number of parks, particularly in Hauz Khas District Park.

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