I saw this majestic banyan tree while driving out of Mysore one my one day trip to visit temples. It was simply stunning and I had wanted to stop but there wasn’t enough time. I love trees. I always have. Climbing them, drawing them, sitting underneath the canopy, I don’t know why, the beauty, the energy, the roots. I knew I had to try to see it up close.
I asked my old teacher ( he’s 11 years younger than me, love the irony of that statement) about the tree, and he was familiar with it and suggested a trusted rickshaw driver to take me back one morning. I was so excited and set up a 7 am pick up after practice. My friend Brian came along for the adventure and closer look as well. I was bubbling with excitement over visiting the tree, the drive was exquisite, the streets through Mysore were empty with all the street vendors just starting to set up for the day and a loop past the Mysore palace as the sun was just rising, so much beauty and the bizarre contrast of a mostly quiet ride through the city that usually bustles with an energy you most definitely hear.
It was everything I hoped to see, and more. There was a circle of benches spaced far enough back in a circle around it to sit and admire this gift of nature, and at the base of one side of the trunk, an alter of sorts for prayer and puja offerings. I smiled when I saw the spiritual tribute, as in my own way, I felt it too.
I’m not sure how long we had been there, walking around, taking pictures and admiring the tree when I walked past this spot of the tree again.
There was a branch, huge, jutting out from the tree that almost brushed the ground right in front of me. It just seemed to beckon me, climb, touch me, run up my arm! I impulsively just kicked off my flip flops and ran barefoot up the wide and sturdy branch. I felt like Mowgli in The Jungle Book! I was just starting to feel some adrenal surge inside me realizing how high up I had managed to get, when I saw and heard Dev, my rickshaw driver, running towards me from the road screaming. I couldn’t tell what he was saying at first, as the expanse of field between us was quite vast. However as he got closer, it was a voice of panic screaming for me to get out of the tree. I had no idea why at first, but Dev was adamant and scared. Repeatedly screaming to get out of the tree while waving his arms above his head. I was at least 20 feet off the ground, and I yelled back ok, I would start back down, but Dev said, “Get out now! Jump!” I was confused and frightened by his reaction, so somehow hung down and jumped from where I was, miraculously not hurting myself.
As Dev approached, I saw his concern, and I’m sure he saw my trepidation. He explained that banyan trees are sacred and the bark is considered to be a part of Lord Shiva. He was trying to protect me from the wrath of a deity and any remote chance of a passerby seeing me, thinking I was desecrating a holy place. I felt terrible for my ignorant, though innocent slight of dis honoring part of Dev’s culture. I hadn’t thought to have done any research in advance of this little excursion and had no idea of this significance. I apologized, stating I obviously had no clue, laughing a bit from my nerves, and Dev nodded and smiled, he said not to worry, he was just glad I hadn’t gotten hurt.
I spent a few more precious minutes at the tree afterwards, I kept laughing to myself and Brian while shaking my head at my pure ignorance and feeling the raw nerves start to ebb away from the high leap as well as the unsettling thoughts of Dev being scared enough to think someone seeing me in the tree would have put me in danger. Just how sacred was this tree, and what did that mean culturally? I certainly would never have marked the tree or even broken off a twig, and though the base had been riddled with spiritual offerings, actually going on it was taboo.
I reached out to my teacher after, explaining my idiocy and asked how I could make amends to Dev and Lord Shiva without extending my trip to include a trek to the Ganges for a purifying dunk. I was completely serious, as I felt awful about any perceived desecration in my ignorance. He said Dev had probably dropped me off and went straight to make an offering of puja for my transgression, but not to worry, as now I know.
Well, I have had this bizarre superstition ever since that occasionally hits my brain with worry in how to make an offering for atonement, yes I gave Dev a generous tip, for almost giving him a heart attack, but for my own heart, I decided I would paint a picture of the tree with Lord Shiva in the bark. I have yet to start it, as my hands have not cooperated. Part of the consequences of getting so sick in India re activated my RA and my thumbs are paying the price, my ode to a comfortable pincer grasp, will you be mine again? Either way I will have to deal with it and figure out how to draw and paint again so that I can still function after, but I haven’t yet, so the picture remains in my minds eye for now. I’m hoping putting my intention out will help it manifest.
On a last note, when I first got back someone I was friendly with asked how the trip went? I kind of laughed in my nervous way as there was too much to say in passing and I hadn’t yet figured out how to just say, “Incredible.”, and leave it at that. So instead I shook my head and though I don’t know why I said I don’t know where to start, the worst I did was climb a sacred tree. Before I could continue, she just freaked out. Well, I can attest everything can be misunderstood, as she looked at me and shut her eyes off. It was so disarming and I tried to explain, but she wanted to know no more. I felt sad as someone would misinterpret my action as so callous. I just didn’t know. There were no signs, no one gave me instructions, I didn’t even think it could be looked up on the web, until afterwards…in any case, I’m sorry.