The other day, I saw a tree. It was a tree unlike any other. Its branches did not reach out for the sky. It did not attempt to bear fruit. It stood there, proud and unyielding–an outsider who neither demanded praise nor attention.
From the sandy coast where I’d left my temporary footprints, I made my way to a bench. I wiped off the sand from my feet, all the while gazing at this tree that called out to me in secret whispers like an old friend I was meeting yet again. Once I’d done the needful, I put my sandals back on and made my way towards the Banyan.
I gazed at it in awe; amazed by the stories that it wanted to tell me on a day when I was patient and open enough to notice it. We humans are so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we fail to notice the miracles that lay right in front of our eyes. This Banyan Tree must be at least hundreds–if not thousands of years old. I was surprised to even see this magnificent sight in a city that isn’t even a century old (in human years, that is).
Singapore is often described as a young nation. Tomorrow is Singapore’s National Day. A day when we commemorate and celebrate the 55 years that have passed since the nation of Singapore sprang into existence. Yet as I gazed at this tree, I felt that the nation may be young, but the land was far older and wiser. It had seen the comings and goings of man, the rise and fall of nations, and all the historical events that went down in human history.
I stared at the coastline where I’d left my footsteps, but the ocean had already washed them away. Our lives–our human civilisation–felt fleeting and temporary in comparison to this Banyan. It was a tree that branched out to return to the ground. Instead of reaching out to the heavens, it found its home in the soil, in the dirt–in the Great Mother Earth that sustains all life forms on the planet.
I pondered that perhaps the sacredness was not in the transformations that we went through as the seasons changed and we passed from one passage to the next–but rather to hold onto that which has always been revered–the land itself–that always gives more than it takes.
In Hinduism, there are two types of sacredness–the fleeting and the eternal. Trees like the coconut and banana are fleeting–they represent the flesh, constantly dying and renewing itself. The Banyan represents the eternal. It is like the soul–neither dying nor renewing. In Eastern iconography, Lord Shiva and Buddha are sometimes depicted as sitting under a Banyan tree. They are the embodiment of universal soul. The knowledge they possess allowing them to welcome change and death as an old friend that is not to be feared.
There is a peace I feel whenever I spend time with nature. We humans try so hard to fit in, to stand out, to be so many different things all at once. But nature is proud as she is. She does not manicure herself, nor manufacture herself. She simply is.
I stared at the Banyan’s roots in amazement. They stretched out half a kilometre away from the main trunk. An interconnected web that found its home in the ground and refused to let go. Unyielding, unwavering, unapologetic. It didn’t see the need to grow nor to flourish. It just stood there, its branches sinking deeper and deeper into the ground, knowing that this is exactly where it belongs.