City Faith – A Sacred Tree, Shiv Shani Temple, Basant Lok
A leafy tree that is also worshiped.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru once famously declared that dams were the new temples of modern India.
But now, with climate change, we might also to regard trees as our temples as well. Particularly those that somehow survive and thrive in smoggy cities like ours. Helping to improve air quality by absorbing carbon.
Happily, the capital has its share of trees nestled on the grounds of temples and mosques and such sacred spaces. We even have mosques named after trees, like Amrood Wali Masjid in Old Delhi.
Some city trees are breathtaking, real mind-stoppers. Take this gorgeous Peepal tree at Shiv Shani temple in south Delhi’s Basant Lok. Its trunk is truly massive, contrasted with the more modest temple itself.
Even so. “That tree has been chopped and cropped to a great extent to build a flyover,” reports the temple priest. Pandit Vidhyanand Jha recalls another lush peepal when the temple was first built in 1980. “Sadly, that tree was chopped down during the widening of the road.”
The tree that is still standing has become even more special, because worshippers have tied thick layers of red thread around the trunk—in hopes that the gods will make their specific wishes come true. On looking at the Peepal from a distance, it appears as if somebody has smudged it with red tika.
Offerings of earthen lamps and rose petals, too, are placed around the tree.
This evening an elderly lady emerges from the temple and stands still in front of the Peepal. Her eyes closed, hands clasped as she silently murmurs a prayer. Thereby transforming the tree into a sacred figure, as indeed all trees should now be treated.
PS: The temple’s prashad comprising halwa and channa is excellent.