The famous Parijat of Kintoor
A 6,675-year- old-still-lush tree is the prized possession of the locals who swear it has wish-granting powers and that they will do everything in their power to keep it alive forever, finds out Himanshi Shukla in this exclusive report
Surrounded by indigenous trees like Peepal and Neem and lush greenery from all sides is the village Kintoor, 38 kilometres east of District headquarters of Barabanki. To any ignorant eye, the village may seem to be as nondescript as any other, but for the rusty board sign that graciously pronounces the entrance of the famous Parijat tree.
Just 500 metres into the entrance, one would find the Parijat complex. Since the tree has mythological significance, as we shall discuss further in the article, it has become a major pilgrimage both to the nearby residents and the ones who hear of its grandeur. Several small shops adorn the entrance- selling memoirs to toys and even framed photos of the tree, not to mention the Puja Samagri and Prasad.
Maintained by the district administration, the tree is protected by the order of the District Magistrate. “On this important, historic and mythological Parijat Tree any kind of water (Jal), flowers, etc are forbidden. Kindly do not damage its roots or trunk in any way”, reads the sign of the forest department at the entrance. The tree and the temple beneath have been encircled by an iron fence, prohibiting any entry within 20 metre radius. But lo and behold, the tree truly enraptures the viewer with all its grandeur and glory. If one is lucky enough to visit during the months of June- September/October, one may also be lucky enough to witness the not-so-ubiquitous flowers that adorn the tree. The flowers are literally as enchanting as the tree itself. Denying any luxury of a smell as one might expect, they would rather make a pleasant sight to behold. With just five or six large, shiny white petals, the flowers have a circular axis and tiny red stamens adorn the centre. Perhaps the most unique feature of the flowers is that they hang upside down, whether as buds or even when fully bloomed. When dying out, the flowers take on a golden tinge which will literally make you believe that it was ‘made in heaven’. Yet, one is strictly forbidden to pluck the flowers or even to pick up the fallen ones. The only ways to obtain it are either via exchange of a kilogram of Desi Ghee, as demanded by the saints of the temple as an offering, or when the tree itself grants it to one lucky chap. The latter is quite rare, and I assure you, when I the tree did grant me one, it wasn’t easy to make my way out without heated words and raised eyebrows.
The trunk and branches of the tree can be best described as ‘giant like an elephant’. Spreading in nearly all directions, it seems as if they form overarching giant umbrella. The perimeter of the trunk of this tree is around 50 feet and height of around 45 feet. There is another popular saying that, its branches do not break or dryout but shrink and disappear into the original trunk. The nearby people consider it to be their protector and obliging, henceforth they protect its leaves and flowers at all costs. Local people hold it in high esteem, in addition to the large number of tourists who visit to see this unique tree.
Like the flowers, the leaves too occur upside down and in the lower portion has five tips like the fingers of a hand, while at the upper reaches it has seven. Interestingly, one won’t find any trace of small wood chips or even small stems, for the tree doesn’t shed any. In botanical terms, Parijat is known as Adansonia digitata and has been kept in a special category, because it does not produce neither its fruit nor its seeds and nor can its branch cuttings can be planted to reproduce a second Parijaat tree- making the tree only one of its kind.
Though considered a variant of the baobab trees found in arid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel region in Africa, its presence in the fertile region of Uttar Pradesh in India which on average receives 50 centimetres of rainfall per year is mind boggling if not questionable. Some other baobabs too exist in India like the ones in Botanical Garden at Kolkata, Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh, Mandu region of Madhya Pradesh, Vasai Fort in Maharashtra and Theosophists Society Gardens, Chennai, etc- but all cannot be said to be of same species and none matches the uniqueness and mythological significance of this one.
What are the mythologies associated with the tree?
As per the ‘Parijat Dhaam’ booklet by Basant Lal Gupta and as per the account of Mahant Mangal Das, there are three main myths. The oldest being that it was produced during the ‘Samudra Manthan’ and therefore landed up in the Swarga (heaven) under lord Indra. The second one is that Lord Krishna once went to kill a demon that had terrorized the heavens and his queen Rukhmini rode the chariot. After killing the demon, lord Indra offered the golden flower from the tree, which quite expectedly inspired the awe and jealousy of the other queens and maidens- especially queen Satyabhama. Queen Satyabhama insisted that a mere flower won’t be enough to make her happy, instead she desired the entire tree. Hence, the tree from heavens was brought down to earth, albeit for a single day. The third one being that at the end of the Dwapara Yug, when the Pandavas were serving their ‘Vanvaas’ or Forest abode for 12 years and ‘Agyatvaas’ or hidden abode for 1 year, Queen Kunti, in order for the Pandavas to succeed at the epic battle of the Mahabharata, wished to pray to Lord Shiva and offer him golden flowers which were found only in Indra’s heaven. To fulfil her wish, her son Arjuna and nephew Lord Krishna went to the Swarga themselves and brought a branch of the tree and planted it in a well that stands till date in Kintoor. Among the three, the last one has a wider acceptance amongst people. Thus, the name of the village ‘Kintoor’ is itself derived from the name of the queen Kunti- and so is the famous Kunteshwar Temple of Lord Shiva situated not far from the Parijat.
Yet, the tree also finds mention in the Harivansh Purana and according to which the tree is unique and is found only in heavens. Thus, it is a ‘Kalpavriksha’ or wish-granting tree and whosoever wishes anything from under the tree shall not be disappointed. Interestingly, the same claims are also made about many African baobabs in Tanzania, etc by their indigenous tribes and their mythologies.
A signboard under the aegis of the District Magistrate of Barabanki reads as under, “A tree that fulfils all the wishes of people and which is thus known as the ‘Kalpataru’, ‘Kalpdaan’ or ‘Kalpvriksha’. The mythology most widely accepted about the tree is that it was among the fourteen ‘Ratnas’ that were churned out in ‘Samudra Manthan’ between the demons and the gods. The tree was brought to earth by the gods. The Pandavas brought the tree to the earth by their intense ‘yagya-tap’. Then Arjuna, the third of the Pandavas, planted the tree at its present spot by shooting an arrow in the ‘Paatal’. The tree has been revered by the people since ancient times. It is heard that there exists none other tree of this kind elsewhere in the world. The trunk of the tree is approximately ten meters. The tree blooms white flowers in August which give out a golden tinge while dying. People are humbled and blessed with bounties when they witness the Parijat flowers.”
But how ancient is the tree?
Whether these mythologies have any truth or not can be a matter of debate, but what cannot be disputed is that the tree is in fact quite ancient. The ‘Parijat Dham’ book claims the age of the tree to be 6,675 years. As per the study- ‘Radiocarbon dating of two old African Baobabs in India’ by Pratut A, Garg A, Woodborne S and others, the age of the tree as per radiocarbon dating is claimed to be approximately 793+-37 BP.
If the tree is of African origin, how did it land up in India?
This is a question to which there are no easy takes, let alone and answer. While some experts, academicians and botanists claim that the tree was brought to India by Portuguese travellers around the turn of the fifteenth century, still others believe that the perhaps a stem or some propagules might have floated across African shores all the way through Indian ocean to the Western Indian coast Still some claims are made by Siddharta Joshi- a traveller, who runs a blog by the name- ‘Sid the Wanderer’, the tree was introduced to India by Ibn Batuta, a 13th century traveller from Morocco, Africa. But empirical evidence suggests these are mere myths. How can a tree, mentioned in the Mahabharata and Harivansh Purana- that too with no error of its geographical location be brought by the Portuguese or Ibn Batuta, who visited India after the Mahabharata were written? The floating-across the ocean theory too seems implausible for it fails to explain the absence of baobab trees in coastal areas.
Mahant Mangal Das recounts the countless visits by scientific teams across India, including the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow in 2017 to clone the tree. A detailed query of the same was emailed to NBRI but that was unresponsive. “Since the tree doesn’t bear any fruits, or any kinds of propagules and neither can it be planted via a stem, botanists have repeatedly failed to reproduce another one. It is as if the tree is too stubborn to shed its monopoly and wants to remain one of a kind,” he says with a smirk.
What does the tree mean to the locals and what have been their experiences?
Tripti Dwivedi, 16, resident of village Raipur (distance from Parijat= 7 kilometres) recounts how she would look forward to visiting Parijat every time it bloomed with flowers. “I would always wish that the tree makes me so tall that I would be able to pluck its flowers. But now that I am tall, I don’t think that even now I could get one of those.” On the question that what Parijat means to her, she says, “Parijat is the jewel of this place. As Agra is famous for its Taj Mahal, so is Barabanki due to Parijat. Whenever I stand beneath it, I feel so enraptured by its magnificence that I never feel like moving away.”
Shail Tiwari, a former resident of Village Gopalpur, (distance- 5 kilometers) recounts her childhood that revolved around Parijat. “We would visit the fair that was held nearby. Earlier, there were no fences around the tree, and the tree was somehow smaller than it presently is. We used to throw a coin into the well every time we asked for a wish and revel in the sound of the coin falling into the well. To me, Parijat reminds me of my entire childhood.”
What efforts have been in place to preserve and protect the tree?
A five-member panel of experts from Narendra Deo University of Agriculture and Technology (NDUAT), Faizabad with Akhtar Hussain Khan and soil scientist, TPS Katiyar as members, visited the tree and took samples in 2010 to prepare a detailed report over the tree and whether any problems plagued the tree. The report was submitted to the District Magistrate of Barabanki and appropriate measures were taken. The tree is currently under the protection of the District Magistrate of Barabanki.
Likewise, the Uttar Pradesh government announced on 17th June 2021 that the state government would preserve 15 trees that are of hundred years or more and the list includes the Parijat Tree as well. These 15 trees were identified by the state Biodiversity Board. A detailed booklet will be prepared on each of these trees and their history and associated myths will be recorded in it and the same will be available on the internet.
The tree as special as Parijat should be preserved at all costs for it is a wish granting tree and let us hope that the tree live on forever.