Saturday, May 19, 2012

In Search of the Truth and the Great Banyan..

It is a hot day. Sitting in the little rickety yellow auto, my hair takes on a life of its own. I try to hold it back with both hands as I catch glimpses of the beautiful city flying past.
It is the best part of the day. The sun is warming up, still warm and yellow and not yet the giant blaze it gets to be in the afternoon.I am on my favourite road in the whole of Madras.I remember stubbornly calling it that even after it was officially renamed Chennai.The road leads on, and then turns to meet the Ocean.Today it is not the beach we are going to. It is a place where I have always wanted to go, but until recently did not know how. For the Theosophical society is now open to the public and after living in Chennai for more than a decade it is now that opportunity comes knocking, although at only certain times of the day. 

At the entrance of the Theosophical Society
Before I knew it as the Theosophical Society I knew it by a  different name, 'The Adyar Alaamaram'.
Older than the city itself, the 'Aalamaram',  is the 450 year old Banyan, rooted and stretching out in the center of this 200 acre woodland, which was acquired by Annie Besant in 1908, after she took  over as president of the Theosophical Society. Flanked by the Adyar estuary on one side and the sea on the other, this area of green is a veritable oasis in the midst of a busy city in a hurry to get ahead of itself.
It is a beautiful day. There are not many people around. We wait for the fellowship to assemble and then walk in.
In honour and memory of its founders...
Annie Besant is a woman I deeply admire. A reformer and an activist, she established the Theosophical Society in India, a movement in search of the truth, The ultimate truth being god as we know the idea.
A stromg advocate of democracy and recognizing the right to self determination, once in India she joined the Indian National Congress and launched the home rule movement.

In honour of Annie Besant..
The estate is full of trees and flowers form all over the world. Different shades of green come together in perfect harmony, and I feel a  sense of calm as we drift through the path on our way to see the Banyan.

The creeping money plant..
When Annie Besant first got the estate, all meetings of the society were held under this Banyan. The Aalamaram is thus a local legend, with a place in history for its role as host of many great speeches,  with the likes of Gandhi addressing people from under its giant canopy. The Dalai Lama also took stage here in 1959. For Tibet and Buddhists, it was under a banyan that the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya and it was a banyan which again welcomed the Dalai Lama into the gathering and played gracious host!
The nucleus of the Big Banyan..or is it?
The banyan seemed like a forest, a copse of many trees all linked back to its heart. Everywhere we looked we could see roots gently reaching to groud, 'propping' up green leaves strongly growing in all directions. From cracks in the green we could see the blue sky.
The truth of the center and the center of the truth..
Sometime back a cyclone destroyed the center in 1989. With the nucleus of the tree , the giant trunk gone the other roots took over and have held the great banyan like a giant umbrella.

Around the banyan, there are loads of benches. We walk around and try and figure out where the tree starts and where it ends.

Brightly coloured Bougainvillea flowers..
Brightly coloured flowers light up the path. Pink Bougainvilleas merrily whisper secrets and the wind seems in the know of everything that happens around this place
Beobab Tree 
At a distance is the Beobab tree. It is a beautiful tree. It looks like a strong , stout man standing with his hands reaching up to the sky. A native of South Africa, the diameter of the tree can get to be almost 30m.  Considering the dry condition the tree usually grows in, its no wonder that it doubles up as a natural reservoir of water and can store upto 4000 liters maybe more in it's porous bark

Other trees stare out at us in all corners, some full of fruit, some merry with flowers.
We see every shape and every colour. Brightly coloured insects crawl through the undergrowth.

One of the millions of tiny inhabitants of this place..
The way stretches on.



The great banyan..
And we keep passing different parts of the great big banyan. In the 450 years it has watched over the city, it's roots have spread out like giant tentacles and it seems to have walked several miles from where it all started. I read somewhere that it was under the tree that loudspeakers were used for the very first time in India and 3000 men and women could stand under its able gaze, until in the interest of the tree, the venue of the meetings of the theosophical society were shifted.
Test the roots..

The winding coconut
Man has for so long asserted his identity through symbols. We build monuments, towering buildings and long after their time has come and gone these symbols still stay on as living testimonies to those who built him. But what of trees like the Aalamaram,  who come from an age before the city itself exists and have stayed on amidst the chaos of change and the rubble of development? It looks like the banyan took root and the city built itself around it, stretching outwards while always looking in.


  1. Beautiful place and nice photography.

  2. Lovely piece Meena! Glad you were able to go! I had no idea of its history :)


  3. Lovely piece Meena, I had no idea of the history :) Glad you were able to go!

  4. Niranjan- Thanks

    Rush- Thanks. It is right in the middle of Chennai. Can you believe it?
    It is a beautiful place.

  5. Nice to learn of the banyan. I'll remember to visit the Theosophical Society some day. It's good to know Madras has its piece of peace, if nothing else than at least so it can be reminded of its own past among greenery.

    The Banyan is living history, and if it could talk in a language we could understand imagine the tales it would have up its sleeves nee roots.

    Nice trip this.



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