Picture Credit: The Hindu
I first saw or rather noticed the Ashoka Tree whilst working in Ghana. This tree looks like a folded umbrella with the branches leaning downwards. I had never seen the trees flowering and neither had I seen any fruits on the trees. I did ask the locals why people grew these trees, since they did not seem to provide much shade and neither were they pretty. I did not get any logical answer.
During a trip to Mauritius, a couple of years later, I noticed that visiting Indian dignitaries like the late Madam Indira Ghandi as well as her son, the late Rajiv Ghandi (both previous Prime Ministers of India) had planted this tree in the Pamplemousses Garden.
The trees, had markers showing the date and the name of the person who had planted the tree. And this was how and when I got to know that they were known as Ashoka trees. I also realised that there must be some history or significance attached, as they had been the tree of choice for two former Indian Prime Ministers. But I did not do anything to find out more.
A couple of weeks ago, during my trip to the northern tip of Borneo, I saw these trees again. Some of them had been planted by the roadside and also in several of the village houses around Kota Belud. This time I just had to find out more.
We stopped over at a roadside tea stall and talked to a couple of locals who were also having tea. It took a little while for them to warm up and then they told us what they knew about the tree.
They had never ever heard the term, Ashoka. To them the tree was called “Pokok Penunduk”, or “Taming Tree” or “Tree that makes you submit”. If we planted the tree in front of our house, any visitor would accord us respect and dignity. If we wanted to go into some negotiations then we should have some leaves in our pocket and be assured that the negotiations would go our way.
This was the first time I had heard this story and I thought that I should write a post on this tree.
Whilst doing some additional research, I was amazed at the seeming “richness” of his tree that I once thought useless.
Wikipedia says that the tree is considered sacred throughout India and Sri Lanka. Lord Buddha is believed to have been born under this tree. And surprise, the tree does bear beautiful flowers. In fact, the tree is prized for its flowers!
Dr. Rupa Shah, a trained practioner in allopathy and homeopathy has nothing but high praise for this tree. She ranks it as one of the most sacred and fascinating of the millions of species that are probably available in India.
I quote below from her write up.
Ashoka is a Sanskrit word meaning without grief or that which gives no grief.
In India, drinking the water in which the flowers have been washed is widely considered a protection against grief. It is a healer for deep seated sorrow, sadness, grief, and disharmony in one’s inner being due to events such as bereavement, failure, suffering, disease, and isolation. On using this essence, a profound inner state of joy, harmony and well being is produced. It works very gently, in that it changes one’s perception of the sorrow.
Ashoka is also seen as a remedy for women, allowing them to be feminine. The tree is regarded as a guardian of female chastity. The Vrikshadevatas–the gods of trees who represent fertility–are known to dance around the tree, and are worshipped by childless women.
Herbally, the bark of this tree is a household remedy for uterine disorders. The essence also helps women to be fertile. It is said that ‘weeping woman, weeping womb,’ in that the woman’s emotional state affects her reproductive organs. Therefore, the essence, like the herb, helps in the uterine problems like excessive bleeding, irregular menstrual periods and infertility.
I must say that I was quite fascinated by what I found out from my little research into this tree. Though 11 years late and despite the fact that this research has no commercial value, it sure looks to me like something that the Ririan Project describes as “ things in the world that make me pause, think, and end in a good ole hmmmm…”
But somehow it feels worthwhile. And I am sure that during my next trip to Kota Belud, I’ll be able to tell the villagers a completely different view about this tree.