Sunday 28 October 2012

Jumping from the tree of immortality

Nature has always played a major role in Hindu religion and even philosophy. Whether it is the solar system or the five elements, Hinduism has given them all a very prominent place.
Hindus not only worship many animals but also trees and plants. The banyan tree, coconut tree and  Tulasi plant are all examples of the high regard we have for all things that belong to nature.
One of the most respected trees in India is the Akshayavat tree in Allahabad. It is a banyan tree, which is supposed to be indestructible.
This tree is today located within the beautiful fort of Allahabad which was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
The tree is a very ancient one and it is mentioned in almost all our religious texts.  It has a hallowed history. The tree is so important mythologically that hundreds of people over several centuries have jumped from it into the Ganga beneath to attain immortality.
The tree is above the Patalapuri Temple in the fort and it stands on a niche of a depression or a tunnel which is supposed to lead to Triveni Sangam. Our religious texts say that the tree is so divine that if a mortal jumps from it, he attains immortality.
The tree is, therefore, also known as the tree of immortality. Today, one has to take the permission of the Camp Commandant of the fort to enter the area as it is under the jurisdiction of the Army.
Long long ago, a Rishi, Markendaya, asked Narayana to show his divine power, Narayana flooded the whole world and only this Banyan tree survived the swirling waters. Rama took shelter under this tree along with Lakshmana and Seetha.
Another story associated with this tree is that Rishi Shuka gave a discourse on Geethe to Parikshit under this tree.
Rama is supposed to have given Pinda daan  near the Patalpuri temple for his forefathers. Besides, the Triveni Sangam which is just a few kms away is the sacred confluence of three rivers-Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi.
The Chinese traveller Huen Tsang, visited Allahabad in 644 AD which then was called Prayag and he has given a graphic account of the city.
Huen Tsang says the tree was surrounded by human bones. This is a reference to people jumping from a tree in Prayag. The British historian, General Cunnigham, identifies this tree with the Akshayavat.
One the Jain Thirthankaras, Rishaba, also meditated beneath this tree. Trees at  Gaya and Varanasi are also worshipped as Akshayavat. The Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya is believed to be an offshoot of the tree at Allahabad.
Tibetans say Gautam Buddha visited Prayag and he planted a seed of the Akshayavat near Mount Kailash. There are several ancient texts which refer to this tree.
Apart from the Akshayavat, our texts also refer to coconut trees as Kalpavriksha and several other sacred trees. The sacred grove near temples is another special feature of our religion.

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