One of the world's oldest and holiest trees is facing a slow death, the Times of India reports.
The sacred banyan tree in the town of Jyotisar is said to be more than 5,000 years old. According to Hindu teachings, the god Krishna delivered the messages of the scripture known as the Bhagavad Gita to the warrior prince Arjuna before the battle depicted in the broader epic text, the Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita contains the Hindu doctrines of Karma and Dharma.
Local tradition says that the banyan tree is actually an offshoot of the original. The current tree has persisted for centuries and is visited by thousands of people every year. But the Times of India found that two groups are fighting over control of the holy site and the tree is suffering as a result. The Hindu Mission, which has cared for the tree for many years, and the Kurukshetra Development Board (KDB), which represents the district in which Jyotisar is located, have gone to court to see which organization will retain control of the tree.
In the meantime, the Times reports that the holy tree is suffering. "The area surrounding the tree has been covered with marble pavement and it can't draw nutrients for its growth," the paper reports. "Fancy lights and lamps are fitted with nails on the tree for lighting during night and big bells are tied all over it." A nightly light and music show recreates events from the Mahabharata for tourists visiting the tree.
In addition, holy threads tied to the branches by visitors seeking wish fulfillment have covered the lower branches, impeding their health. The paper also found that caretakers have unscientifically pruned many branches "without any expert advice."
An agricultural scientist contacted by the paper said that old branches would be replaced if they were pruned properly and that the tree should be periodically treated for pests and diseases.
Pandit Sukhpal of the Hindu Mission says scientific preservation methods would create "problems" for the holy area. He also said the KDB wants to establish a fee on anyone who visits the site.
The KDB has landscaped the area around the tree in recent years, adding a mango-shaped lake, bathing ghats, a restaurant and flowering bushes.
In addition to the marble pavements under the tree, a marble chariot representing Krishna and a Shiva temple can be found beneath its branches.
Banyan trees play major roles in Hinduism and Buddhism. The god Krishna is said to reside in the leaf of the banyan tree. In the Bhagavad Gita he says, "There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas." The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Buddha is said to have received enlightenment under a variety of banyan tree in the region now known as Bodh Gaya.
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