The Fabled Jand (prosopis cineraria) Tree

There are many references to “Jand” tree in Punjabi literature. Foremost it is connected to a place called Danabad the village of Mirza in the legend of “Mirza-Sahiban”. After getting Sahiba from her home on the day of her marriage to someone else, and sneaking on his mare-called Bakki in local language, he decides to take rest under the cool shade of Jand tree. He was overconfident that even after taking rest for the summer noon, he will make it easily to his native place before the end of the day. Rest is well known. He was killed by Sahiban’s brothers who came chasing them.

Then there is a famous Gurudwara called “Jand Sahib” in Bathinda Punjab where Guru Gobind Singh is said to have rested under a Jand tree. And and there is one tree located behind Kiran Cinema in Chandigarh which I saw today. This is said to be very old and indeed it looked like that as only skeleton was there. Many people worship it.I always thought about how this tree must look.

I found a very beautiful video describing the beauty of this tree by Mirza. it is in Punjabi language but brief summary of the meaning is “Mirza describes the cool shade of Jand tree, the branches are touching the ground, you shouldn’t say no to sitting under the shade of it. And why to stress the mare in the hot sun because it is not rainy season. You don’t worry, we will reach Danabad (his native village) before the sunset.

Before Chandigarh came into existence, there were villages here. People lived mostly rural life based on agriculture. They worship female goddesses which is attested by many temples in the area. Like Hindu culture they worshipped trees and idols. The Jand tree is one such tree which was worshipped in the area.

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There are not many trees of this species in this area nowadays. I was curious to know how this tree looked like and other details. I found an article in the English daily “The Tribune” which gives the good information about the tree.

The tree known by scientific name of “prosopis cineraria” is endemic to dry areas and is found mostly in Rajasthan and adjoining areas of Punjab and Haryana. It is known by is known as “Jand” in Hindi and Punjabi, “jandi” in Haryanvi, “khejri” in Rajasthani, and “sami or samri” in Gujarati. The tree plays an important role in ecosystem of arid and semi-arid areas. All the parts of the tree are useful, it is called kalp taru or wish fulfilling tree.

During Vedic times, khejri wood was used to kindle the sacred fire for performing yajana. There are references of it in Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Lord Rama worshipped khejri tree known as Sami  Pooja, which represents the goddess of power, before he led his army to kill Ravana. The worshipping of this tree is referred to as samipuja. Pandavas also worshipped this tree and hid their weapons in it during their agyatavasa.

Khejri tree provides shelter and protection to animals and birds in desert areas. This tree is home to many large birds like kites, hawks and vultures.

Many Rajasthani families use the green and unripe pods (known as sangri) in preparation of curries and pickles. The importance of the medicinal value of samitree has been highlighted in our ancient literature. The bark of the tree provides immediate relief to a person bitten by snake or scorpion. Its leaves and fruits are used in preparing medicines for curing nervous disorders. The medicines prepared from its bark are also used for treating diarrhoea, dysentery, piles, worm infestations and other skin problems. The bark is also used to cure leprosy, bronchitis, asthma, tumour of muscles and to improve concentration. The gum of the tree is nutritive and good in taste and is used by pregnant woman at the time of delivery.

Dehradun in Mythology

In the earliest legend, Dehradun was a part of Kedarkhand, the abode of Great God Shiva whose popularity in this region is reflected in the hills being called after Him as Shiwalik.  The place also figures in two mythological epics Mahabharata & Ramayana. It is said that Rama and his brother Lakshmana came here to do the penance after the death of Ravana at their hands. Five Pandava brothers also sojourned here while on their way to inner recesses of Himalayas.

Another legend is connected with a little river called Suswa. After Indra made fun of 60000 pygmy brahmins for trying vainly to cross the vast lake formed by the footprint of cow filled with water. They prayed here by doing penance and mortification to create an alternate Indra who will be superior to the existing Indra. Their sweat resulted into this river and alarmed Indra. He appeased their wrath through good offices of Brahma.

Then there is a legend of Snake, Bamun, who became the Lord of Dun on the summit of Nagdish hill. This legend seems to point to the Naga supermacy on one time. The famous stone at Kalsi near Haripur on the right banbearing the Edict of emperor Asoka may mark the boundary on Northern side.

 

Rama

English: Deities of Sri Sri Sita-Rama, Lakshma...
English: Deities of Sri Sri Sita-Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman at Bhaktivedanta Manor temple, in Watford, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rama is the hero of epic Ramayana. Ramayana which is revered in India is little more than a quarter of Mahabharata. It is different in style and content from Mahabharata which contains many interpolation. The style of Ramayana bears some kinship to that of classical Sanskrit poetry.

Ramayana is older than Mahabharata but major narrative portions of Mahabharata are appreciably older. Some scholars think that Mahabharata is older than Ramayana. Ramayana was composed by sage Valmiki who was contemporary of Rama.

The central scene of the poem is Ayodhya which was the capital of old kingdom of Kosala. It shows that it grew in a milieu which was to the East to that of Mahabharata which mostly happened to the East of Ganges. In fact the war of Mahabharata was fought in Kurukshetra and the capitals of both the antagonistic parties Kauravas and Pandavas were around modern day Delhi.

Dasaratha, the king of Kosala, had three wives which bore him 4 sons namely Rama, Bharata, Laksmana and Satrughna. Rama won the hand of Sita in a great archery contest which was contested at Videha and was organized by King Janaka.

When Dasaratha became old, he decided to hand over the reins of kingdom to Rama his eldest son. But one of his wives Kaikeyi, reminded him of a boon which he had granted her long back and demanded to be fulfilled in the banishment of Rama to jungles and installation of her son Bharata as the king.

Rama accompanied by Sita his wife and his younger brother Lakshamana dwelt as hermits in forests of Dandaka and destroyed many demons who harassed the ascetics and villagers. Ravana the lord of demons decided to avenge this and came to collect the alms in the guise of a Sadhu and abducted the Sita and flew her to his capital at Lanka where he kept her in a garden. He did not touched her or maligned her.

With the help of Hanumant and his army of Monkeys Rama located Sita and constructed a bridge over the across sea to Lanka. The Ravana and his kin were killed by Rama and Sita reunited with Rama.

They returned to Ayodhya after the completion of banishment period. Although Sita was treated with respect by her captor and had in no way yielded to his blandishments. But Rama put her to the test of chastity and she threw herself into a funeral pyre but the Agni refused to take her thus proving her innocence.

Sarus Crane: Venerated Bird

The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a large non-migratory crane. It is found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia.  These cranes are the tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 6 feet and live and forage in the wetlands. The Sarus Crane is easily distinguished from other cranes in the region by the overall grey colour and the contrasting red head and upper neck.

Sarus Crane (Grus antigone). Français : Grue A...

In India these birds are held in great esteem. It is said that Ramayana was written by sage Valmiki was inspired by an painful incident which happened to him. He was going for taking a bath in the sacred river Tamsha near Allahabad in North India in the morning. He decided to take a walk before taking the bath. On his walk he spotted a pair of Sarus Crane in an inseparable pose and was rooted to their beauty. Suddenly a hunter suddenly killed the male bird leaving the female alone making heart rending cries. The sage cursed the hunter. This poignant scene catalyzed the beginning of writing of the epic poem.

It is believed in India that these birds are the most faithful to each other and for whole of their life cling to each other. If one of them dies, the other pines for the spouse rest of its life and sometimes refuses to take food and die. It is due to this reason, the newly wedded girls in Gujarat and many other parts of India are blessed by the elders to have a life like the Sarus cranes.

Incidentally, just as I was writing this entry, Kaun Banega Crorepati (variant of Who wants to be an millionaire) was being telecast on Sony TV channel by India’s iconic star Amitabh Bachchan  and there he asked one question to a candidate about the name of river on whose shores sage Valmiki wrote the Ramayana which is of course Tamsha as noted above.

English: Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) at Sultan...

In a program about wetlands in India, it was noted that the numbers of these birds are on decline. It may be due to the bad condition of many wetlands due to mindless infusion of pollutants from industries into these bodies of water which support diverse kinds of fauna. For example, the wetland Harike in the Taran Tarn district of Punjab was in a very deplorable state few years back. It resembled a drain from a city. Only due to the efforts of the Sant  Seechewal that many of the rivers and wetlands are breathing again and have been revived.

Second Banishment of Rama

The war with Ravana has ended. Ravana and all his companions have been vanquished. Lanka, once the glorious kingdom of Ravan, is lying in ruins. There are corpses rotting in the streets. Sita, who was abducted by Ravana and brought here and for whom the war has been waged has united with Rama. Rama is filled with many feelings of mixed kind. He is contemplating the long period of 14 years which he , his brother Laxman and wife Sita has spent in the jungles. He has seen many colors of the life. He has killed many evil persons and emancipated many suppressed ones. There have been good and bad times. Moments of happiness and sorrow.

Rama and his retinue are all waiting eagerly to proceed to their Kingdom. Bhabhisan has made special arrangements and arranged the Ravana’s spacecraft for them to fly supersonic to their kingdom. At last, the mission blasts off and soon they are cruising over the Indian ocean.

Soon they enter the Indian space. They are startled to note that there are fires, terrifying sounds of bombs, bloodshed, rivers water are sullied red, and jungles look sparse like the bald head of aging man. The sounds are nothing like they have heard in their life. They are surprised that what they have used is child’s toys in comparison to these. Poisonous smoke is billowing making many kids gasping for breath. Rama is distressed, his heart is weeping and all the enthusiasm of going back to his home disappears. He then orders the spacecraft to be taken back again to jungles for another self inflicted banishment.

Notes on Assamese Literature

Assam is the north eastern most state in modern India. In the Mahabharta and Ramayana and other Puranas of  ancient times, it was known by the name PragJoytish. The modern name is associated with Ahom, the Shan tribe which invaded the Assam in 1229 AD and ruled it for many centuries. Earliest specimens of the use of language are traced to name and places inscriptions on copper plates in the reign of Kamarupa kings. Earliest form of  language is in the form of Baudha Gan O Doha, a work on Yogic practices in the 8th to 10th century can be considered as the formative phase.

The literature seems to have begun in the reign of Durlabhnarayana who was the king of Kamatapur in 13th century beginning. First Assamese book called “Prahlad Charitra” was composed by Hema Saraswati. It was in the rhyme and borrowed the inspiration from Sanskrit literature. After the Durlabhnarayana, in the reign of his son Indranarayana, two poets Harihar Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed verse narratives also. Harihara’s notable work was Babrubahanar Yuddha  and Kaviratna wrote Jaidaratha Badha Kavya. The influence of Aryan literature in North West India is very clear.

Madhav Kandali, in the reign of Kachari king Mahamankiya in the 13th century, undertook the stupendous task of translating Ramayana into Assamese. Due to this effort, he was given the title of Kaviraj and called as Kaviraj Kandali. While being honest to the original text,his work is very lucid and less Sanskrit laden. He freed the literature from the Sanskrit and added the local flavor.