Saturday, July 18, 2009

The mango tree of Indian mythology

70 kms (about 40miles) south west of Chennai lies the temple town of Kanchipuram, one of the 7 holiest places of the Hindu religion. Kanchipuram, called the town of a 1000 temples draws as many tourists interested in seeing its temple architecture as it does devotees of the Hindu religion. Being an architecture buff myself, i set out this month to take in the architectural splendours of this ancient town.

Imagine my delight, when i found the town to be full of not just 7th century architectural marvels but also several of the tropical trees that ive been meaning to get a closer look at. But i should have known it would be so - trees have always been revered in the Hindu religion and the tradition of worshiping trees continues to this day. No temple in south india is complete without the 'temple tree', and the one that really caught my eye in Kanchipuram was the Mango tree of the Ekambareswar temple.

This famed tree, called the sthala-virutcham, features in Hindu mythology and is supposed to be 3500 years old! The tree is supposed to have four branches, each of which bears fruit of a different flavour - so tree grafting is not as recent a technique as one would have imagined! Each branch represents one of the vedas - which are four sacred texts of Hinduism.

Now there's no telling how old the tree that stands now really is. I could not find any literature about it and sadly i was to taken with all the sculpture that followed in the surrounding halls to remember to talk to the priests about the tree. But i found it really nice that there was an entire temple, and such a revered one at that, that centers around a mango tree! The name of the temple comes from the tree - Ekambareswar in sanskrit means 'the God of the one mango tree'. The structure around the tree looks like it has been added in recent times; but much of the other temple structure was built in the 7th century AD by the Pallava Kings and later expanded by the Chola Kings. The temple was in existence even prior to the 7th century though, as it is mentioned in tamil literature dating from the 2nd century AD.

One of the exquisitely sculptured stone pillars of the temple features the tree:

Neat, isnt it?! The mango is the national fruit of both India and Pakistan. Called the king of fruits, it probably is the fruit that is most relished in the summer months all over the region. Here is a picture from last month of a few branches of our neighbourhood mango tree, laden with mangoes!

No comments: