Monday, 11 July 2011

Meet the Oldest Tree in Chennai

The international headquarters of the Theosophical Society is located in Chennai, just a couple of miles from my home. Dedicated towards Theosophy, this unique society encourages the study of different religions and philosophies.  According to Lonely Planet, its library houses a vast collection of religious books, including “thousand-year-old Buddhist scrolls and intricate, handmade 19th-century bibles”. Yet, more often visitors, including myself, are drawn here for another reason – its natural beauty.  Of late, I’ve been making regular trips and I find I’m getting addicted to the fragrance and the loveliness of the place.
Burmese Pink Cassia
Tree Canopy
Vinka Lined Path leading to the Parsi Fire Temple
The entire campus is canopied by old, majestic trees. Paths leading to various bungalows and places of worship are lined with flowering shrubs that are often mobbed by swarms of butterflies and colourful dragonflies.  Although nature hasn’t been allowed to grow completely wild, here you will not find well manicured gardens, save for a few patches. Instead you may often find yourself under eerie bat colonies, buzzing bee hives or monstrous hornet nests. But it is this wilderness, in the heart of bustling Chennai, which I find so alluring.
Flying Fox Colony
Bee Hive Near the Cannon Ball / Nagalingam Tree
Hornet's Nest
The star attraction of the Theosophical Society is the Great Banyan Tree, the oldest tree in Chennai.  The tree is over 450 years old, and by the latest record, is spread over 65,000 square feet. It is not surprising then, that it can host a gathering of 3000 at a time.  The tree’s central trunk was destroyed in a storm, years ago, but now its prop roots support the tree and it continues to encompass more ground each passing year.  When one learns that the tree has been host to great souls like Gandhi, Maria Montessori, the Dalai Lama and J. Krishnamurti among others, one feels even more reverence for it. 
Great Banyan Tree: Over 450 years Old and Spread Across 65,000 sq ft.
There is another tree that characterizes the campus: the Nagalinga tree or the Cannon Ball tree. Native to the Amazonian rain forests, this is a tall tree with beautiful fragrant flowers that one can smell from a mile off. The Nagalinga flower attracts  hordes of bees and strangely it springs directly from the bark of the tree trunk.  If that’s not enough oddness for one tree, there’s more.  Its fruit is woody and resembles a cannon ball that can cause considerable harm if it were to fall on you. The flower is considered sacred in India as the petals resemble the hood of a Naga (snake) protecting a Shiva lingam (the stigma).
Nagalingam Tree/Cannon Ball Tree
Nagalingam Pushpa (Flower)
From Another Angle
Bordering the campus is the Adyar river, on the banks of which one can find many large water birds and Giant Ghost Crabs. And though I tried hard to get a picture of the Giant crab, they were just too quick for me. These crabs crawled into their holes, the moment they sensed my presence from afar. 
Cactus Flowers
Palm Flowers
Enclosed within 100 acres of land, the Theosophical Society campus is a treasure house of diverse plant and animal species. The campus can easily be mistaken for a botanical garden. For a pictorial reference of the flora and fauna that reside here, click on the links you will find here.
Tamarind Drying
Harvested Coconuts
Rofous Treepie


  1. vasanti said:

    lovely place and lovely pictures. had seen the cannon ball tree but came to know its name today. thanks.

  2. A fascinating post, Anita. Most of the things you have written about are so completely different to what we are used to here in the UK - except the snails!

  3. The cannonball tree is so unique and interesting to me. Great photos of the flying foxes, coconuts and tamarinds. This was such an informative post. I enjoyed reading it. I used to visit a large Theosophical Society library when I lived near Chicago, Illinois

  4. Anita, Thanks for the tour. The history of the Banyan Tree and photos was interesting. You have such a different climate than me. I like that. Keeps me learning. Jack

  5. hi anita am nisha from axis v
    every photos is realy nice this is great job hands of you