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Tree and plant life is deeply embedded in the Sikh religious tradition. Sikhism is the only religion that has sanctified its association with trees by remembering its most sacred shrines with the names of different trees. No less than 19 species of trees have the honour of fifty eight of the most sacred and historical shrines being named after them.
Whether for meditation and communion with the Creator or as a source of fruit (beri), as nourishment (leaves of jand) for the horses fatigued by war, as a source of timber (tahli) or even as a humble provider of a twig (datun of neem) for cleansing the mouth, trees have figured prominently in the spiritual evolution of Sikhism as in the socio- economic and cultural life of the community.
The Gurus generally halted outside habitated areas, which also facilitated their interaction with large groups of followers. Trees were invariably the sites selected as the halting places both for their shade as well as shelter for disciples and horses. After the departure of the Gurus from the site, the trees were devotedly preserved and remembered for their association with the visit of the Guru and later commemorated by shrines which still exist
Trees are repeatedly referred in all religious texts and ancient hymns which emphasize that man must coexist with his environment and respect the forests, which is why many trees and plants are revered and worshipped by the people and to this day no religious ceremony, sacred rite, festival is complete without the presence of trees, plants or their fruits and leaves.
Unfortunately, either out of ignorance or lack of awareness, in many gurudwaras these sacred relics have been cut down to make way for expansion of the gurudwara buildings. The sacred Tahli in gurudwara Santokhsar, near Sri Harmandir Sahib, associated with Guru Ram Dass, was cut down in to make way for a large marble clad building.
The stem of the giant Kalp Vriksh (Mitragyna parvifolia) tree at Gurudwara Kalp Vriksh Sahib at village Attari, Ropar.
Without soil support the branches of the Kalp Vriksh have collapsed. The remaining tree now survives with the support of stilts.
A picture of the orignal sacred Imli (Tamarindus indica) tree at Gurudwara Imli Sahib, Chamkaur Sahib, Ropar, taken from the wedding album of a village resident.
The tree was cut during karsewa to make way for the impressive new gurudwara building.
The Imli (Tamarindus indica) tree at Gurudwara Imli Sahib in Chamkaur Sahib was put to the axe in 2005 by the kar seva jatha to make way for a dazzling white marble structure at the site. As a small recompense to the sacred memory of the Imli, an imli sapling was planted outside the gurudwara premises. A hoarding by the side of the sapling proclaims that the historic Imli was laid to rest because it had dried up and, in its stead, the new sapling has been planted.
If the community and its leaders do not wake up and create awareness about trees after which some of the most sacred shrines are named, a time may come when future generations will remember these shrines, not by the name of the tree, but by the variety of the marble from Makrana.