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Thursday, March 6, 2008

In the shade of the old Umbar tree


When we acquired the plot of land on which Native Place now sits, my only regret was that there were no trees growing on it. I later came to know that according to a custom when land is sold the seller could cut off the trees and take away the wood.

Once we began to build native place this stunted low canopy that had missed detection as tree even though it had a huge trunk began to grow – and how it grew. During the first year it grew to the height of the first level and by the next year it was at the height of the 2nd level of the house.

Today it is a large dense canopied tree under whose shade tents and hammocks are strung and whose branches are inviting to visitors young and old. Spend an afternoon in the hammock under this tree and depending on the season you will glimpse tailor birds, sun birds, bulbuls, ioras, leaf birds, orioles, leaf warblers, and many more birds

Over the years we got more and more familiar with this wonderful tree. It is known by different names such as 'Gular', 'Udumbar', or ‘Umbar’. Its Latin name is Ficus Glomerata Roxb. It is also known as Cluster fig. It is found all over India and grows wild in the forests and hills. It has many religious associations, a host of medicinal uses and many myths are also associated with this tree.

According to Buddhist scriptures, the Udumbara blossoms every three thousand years and is believed by Buddhists to be a sign of an overwhelming blessing and good fortune. Udumbara is an imaginary flower that only blossoms every 3000 years when the King of Falun comes to the human world. A collection of Buddhist sutras, claim this heavenly flower is a sign of rare preciousness and a miracle.

In Maharashtra it is venerated as the abode of Lord Dattatreya and therefore not cut. I learnt this from the old caretaker of the plot who told me that is the reason why the tree was saved. So it was by the intervention of the gods after all that we were given this mother of a tree that sustains and nourishes a variety of creatures, us included.

You will be hearing more about this special tree in the future

Astrid Rao

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