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On the left, the forest caretaker, on the right, Mr. Selvapandian.

 

The sun was warm in early February. The trees were beautiful and tall, having grown up in just a few short years on land that had been completely barren.

 

Under the expert guidance of Mr. Selvapandian, botanist and Project Manager of the C.P.R. Education and Environmental Centre, fifty acres have been transformed as part of a project of the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Launched in 2006, the project is being carried out by CPREEC on a plot of 300 acres of land owned by the temple, and eventually all these acres will be planted.

 

Organic vegetables are being grown on the acres near the trees. These are used for the free meals that the Meenakshi Temple provides for people.

 

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Ten acres of trees are part of the Nakshatra Rasi Vanam. By donating 1000 rupees, which goes towards the upkeep of the trees, anyone who wishes may have a tree planted; the species of tree will correspond to their own nakshatra, that is their own star or constellation, based on their horoscope.

 

Ten more acres are currently in the process of being planted.

 

Thirty additional acres have already been replanted with beautiful trees of many native species. The trees provided welcome shade, and there were smaller flowering plants and bushes as well. Everything was neat, clean and well cared for.

 

 

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Among species of trees planted in this grove are the following: Sandanavengai, Eezhilai Pavai, Jack, Padiri, Mango, Magizham, Karungali, Arasu, Thothakathi, Vanni, Banyan, Etti, Perunelli, Naval, Athi, Thippili, Punnai, Vilvam, Vanjikodi, Kadamba, and Illuppai.

 

Sandanavengai is the red sandalwood tree, used to produce various shades of red dye. The Jackfruit tree produces the largest fruit of any tree. The Padiri tree is the trumpet flower tree, the flower is a violet color. The Mango tree is well-known, and the mango is a symbol of renewal throughout Indian history and tradition. The Magizham tree is called bullet wood; it has glossy, dark, oval-shaped leaves. Karungali is ebony, a large tree that grows to around 90 feet. The Thothakathi is the rosewood tree. The Banyan tree is the gracious fig tree that develops numerous roots that descend from branches down to the ground. Thippili is the long pepper tree. The Vilvam tree is sacred to Lord Shiva. Illuppai are Wild olive trees (bassia longifolia).

 

The tree is sacred and is worshipped not only in India, but in virtually every ancient culture throughout the world. In India, reverence for the tree is an ever-present theme in the spiritual life of the country. Every temple has a temple tree which is draped with cloths and threads, representing people’s prayers. Stones with the engraved image of nagas, or snakes, surround the tree, placed there by worshippers praying to have children.

 

In replanted groves such as the Meenakshi Temple’s sacred forest – as well as bestowing their blessings on those for whom they are planted, the trees renew the land. Each tree planted provides a sanctuary for a whole mini-ecosystem—of plants, bushes, flowers, of bees and butterflies, of birds and insects; they preserve water and provide shade; they invite the return of squirrels and rabbits, foxes, and monkeys. They bring life, on all levels, spiritually and physically. They re-establish and heal the land.

 

This is true, of course, not only in India, but everywhere on earth where trees are planted; provided, that is, that they are the appropriate species native to that land, and that they are cared for, nourished, and maintained.

 

Planting trees is a way of returning life to the earth.

 

 

Sitting in the shade, under the extended branches of the trees, drinking coconut water, which had been kindly offered, while the son of the caretaker of the sacred forest played with his dog, one could only feel a sense of the profound peace that emanated from the souls of the trees.

 

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© text and photos, Sharon St Joan, 2014