Pil­lala­marri lives on drips, ‘quar­an­tined’

■ Pop­u­lar pic­nic spot can be seen only from a dis­tance

Deccan Chronicle - - City - LALITA IYER | DC

In the good old days, the Pil­lala­marri tree, said to be the world’s sec­ond largest banyan, could seat over 1,000 peo­ple un­der its wide and many-branched largesse.

To­day, vis­i­tors are not al­lowed in and around the tree. It can only be seen from a dis­tance. The tree, known to be around since 1200 AD, is in such a bad shape that for­est of­fi­cials have hooked it to hun­dreds of bot­tles of di­luted in­sec­ti­cide after stan­dard treat­ments failed.

For­est of­fi­cials say ter­mites and mis­use by vis­i­tors are to blame for its cur­rent state. Di­luted chlor­pyri­fos was also poured around the tree’s roots to re­vive it.

This is not the first the tree has been treated for ter­mite and fun­gal in­fes­ta­tion. Shoot­ing chem­i­cals into the stem, ear­lier, did not help stem the tree’s rot, so an­other chem­i­cal infusion is be­ing given drop by drop.

All this has taken a toll on the tree.

Ear­lier, peo­ple would en­joy pic­nics un­der the tree’s branches. They’d walk around its branches or climb them to take pho­to­graphs as many tourists still do.

To­day one can­not touch or feel the tree, or stroll un­der the branches or swing from its roots. The few peo­ple who hang around the tree now are ac­tu­ally there to push away vis­i­tors.

The site is out of bounds for tourists, un­less one can con­vince the district col­lec­tor that he or she has a magic po­tion to re­vive this dy­ing be­he­moth. In fact, there were just two vis­i­tors the day we vis­ited the tree.

And now, when the tree is prac­ti­cally dy­ing, the au­thor­i­ties have built a lit­tle watch bridge, which one can climb to look at the tree, and pray for its good health.

The other prob­lem for the tree is lack of wa­ter. One borewell does not work at all, while the other is used spar­ingly. Mah­bub­na­gar as a district has wa­ter is­sues, es­pe­cially in this part.

The Pil­lala­marri banyan tree is sit­u­ated at the edge of the Eravalli thanda.

Pil­lala means chil­dren and Marri means banyan tree. Read to­gether, it is the banyan tree with chil­dren.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, these are also known as “stran­gler figs”, be­cause they grow on an­other plant be­fore en­velop­ing the host in its roots. From afar, the tree looks like a huge um­brella, ca­pa­ble of pro­tect­ing peo­ple from both the sun and the rain.

There are tombs of two Mus­lim saints, brothers Ja­mal Hus­sain and Ka­mal Hus­sain in the vicin­ity. Some believe the tombs are un­der the tree, but the shrine is at a slight dis­tance from the tree and there is a sep­a­rate en­trance to it. Many faith­ful come here and cook food in cel­e­bra­tion. All these years of cook­ing have harmed the tree in var­i­ous ways.

Many faith­ful believe the tree was ear­lier named “Peeru­lah” after the Mus­lim saint.

There is also a beau­ti­fully re­con­structed Sri Ra­jara­jesh­wara tem­ple on the premises. The tem­ple was trans­planted here from Er­la­dine on the left bank of the Kr­ishna river.

A board there says the vil­lage was about to be sub­merged dur­ing con­struc­tion of the Sri­sailam reser­voir when the state ar­chae­ol­ogy depart­ment dis­man­tled the tem­ple and moved it to the Pil­lala­marri com­plex in 1981.

In 1983, the tem­ple was re­con­structed on a new foun­da­tion. It was orig­i­nally built in the 16th Cen­tury in an ar­chi­tec­tural style dis­tinct to the Vi­jayana­gara dy­nasty that ruled in the area.

There is also a tworoom mu­seum, one hous­ing a col­lec­tion of sculp­tures and the other coins, tools, pot­tery and other such items. These arte­facts date back to the 6th cen­tury and were trans­ported from Poodur, Gol­lath­agudi, Kal­wakol, and Vad­de­man in Mah­bub­na­gar district.

From the look of the in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the rooms on the premises, it seems like it was built for vis­i­tors. But a can­teen and the mu­seum re­main closed, while all kinds of men walk around rat­tling their keys.

The 800-year-old tree has mul­ti­ple branches, which in turn has more branches. The tree has spread out on three-anda-half acres and the branches do not look like the usual branches. These are more like trunks, bury­ing them­selves deep into the earth, prob­a­bly get­ting their sus­te­nance from there.

Ap­par­ently, the site can­not be de­clared a bio­di­ver­sity her­itage site as it is in a re­serve for­est, but the for­est depart­ment seems to have wo­ken up to the idea and plans to give it a her­itage tree tag and con­serve it.

The world’s largest banyan tree spreads over eight acres at the Acharya Ja­gadish Chan­dra Bose In­dian Botanic Gar­den near Kolkata.

Top: The 1200 AD Pil­lala­marri tree in a bad shape. Above: Sri Ra­jara­jesh­wara tem­ple.Right: A carv­ing on a stone near the tem­ple rep­re­sent­ing Shiva of Sri­sailam jun­gle and women ar­moured.

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