The Trees Who Pray and Bathe

Mar - Apr 2006

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It is now a scientifically established fact that plants and trees too have life. They feel and breathe like other animals and also feel pleasure and pain. Long back, the pioneering experiments of the Indian scientist Prof. J.C. Basu had conclusively proved as much. But although living entities, the life cycles of plants have certain inherent limitations. They cannot move from one place to another, and have to carry out all their vital activities standing at one place during their life-cycle. Occasionally, however, some trees do defy these limitations and indulge in activities, which are extremely unusual and are still beyond the ambit of scientific comprehension. Such phenomena go to reassert that nature hides within its bosom umpteen layers of mystery.

Sir J.C. Basu has enumerated many instances of highly extraordinary and awe-inspiring behavior of trees in his book ‘Plant autographs and their revelation’. One such tree mentioned is a palm tree in Faridpur in West Bengal (India). The tree, like all others of its ilk, remained erect throughout the day time, its leaves swaying and rustling with every breeze - all very normal activities. But when the evening set in and the temples resounded with the uplifting sound of gongs and bells, this tree prostrated itself on the ground in the manner of offering prayer to God-knows-whom. A huge crowd would gather there every evening to witness this spectacular sport of nature. It was commonly believed that this tree fulfilled one’s wishes and cured physical and mental ailments. But how? This still remains a mystery.

Apart from offering prayers, trees have been known to take bath too! This sounds incredible, but Sir J.C. Basu has recorded many such phenomena of bathing trees. There was one such tree in Faridpur. It stood on the bank of a pond. It remained calm and straight for the whole day, but with the onset of evening, it used to exhibit signs of growing restlessness as if to take a dip in the pond. Ultimately, after many visible attempts, it would gather the leaves and branches around, bend, and submerge itself in the water of the pond. After remaining in that underwater position for a while, it would again gradually raise itself and revert to its normal posture, calm and cool. People had nicknamed it ‘the bathing palm tree’. No one knew the reason behind this mysterious propensity of the tree to bathe.

Such strange occurrences of tree-behavior, which pose a challenge to human knowledge and understanding, have been found outside India too. In many countries, there are reports of the existence of ‘praying’ and ‘religious’ trees, which draw people from far and wide to witness their unusual behavior patterns. About one particular tree in Liverpool, England, J.C. Basu writes that it offered prayer in a distinctive manner. It was a thick willow tree by the side of a small stream. Unlike other praying trees, it prayed only occasionally. Then it would lie completely flat on the ground, and after completion of the prayer, raise itself erect. It prayed only in the morning and during this time, remained completely still, with no trace of any activity.

In this community of peculiar trees, the case of the worshipping palm trees of South Africa is well known. These palm trees standing in a farmer’s field once happened to bend under the impact of a hurricane. From then onwards, a strange change occurred in their behavior; every evening, they would routinely bend or bow in worshipping posture. It is quite possible, and as their owners believed, that these trees might be praying to Mother Nature to protect them from the onslaught of any future calamity. In any case, their new routine of evening prayers continued uninterrupted.

In the coastal region of Florida, USA, there is a Rhizophora tree, which had also earned some renown for its display of peculiar traits. It is said that in times of tide, when the seawater advanced towards the tree, its branches and leaves begin to exhibit unusual commotion. The branches would repeatedly bend and straighten as if trying to touch the water below. This laborious effort continues until the branches are able to touch the water. What else could it be, if not a kind of desire to bathe?

All these instances of mysterious behavior make it sufficiently clear that not only the subtle impulses of life are felt by the trees and plants too, but sometimes they even overtly try to make these impulses manifest. It is another matter that their flora-specific limitations do not allow full expression of the flow of life current within. Scientists are engaged in further researches, and some success, too, has come their way. If this mystery is explained scientifically, we may be able to find the missing link between the flora and the fauna, between the humans and the trees. The discovery of this link would enable us to better comprehend the path of evolutionary progress of consciousness in human beings.

The great philosopher-saint Ramanujacharya was physically weak. He would walk to the river for bath with the aid of other persons. Interestingly, the helping shoulder would be of a brahmin’s for the riverward journey and that of a shudra on return.

People were surprised and asked, “Bhagwan, a shudra’s touch makes you impure again. So what is the sense in bathing then”?
Acharyaji smiled and said, “A bath cleanses my body only. The impurity of mind is the ‘ego’ feeling of high and low. As long as this ego feeling remains, a person remains impure. Mere bathing is useless. By touching a shudra, I cleanse my heart of this impurity. I am superior to none. All are superior to me. A shudra, too, is superior to me. It is to internalize this feeling that I take the help of a shudra while returning.

One should endeavor to cleanse not only the body but also the mind and heart.

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