Saturday, May 31, 2003
S I T E S  &  S C E N E S

Lure of the deodars
Usha Bande

"Even if all the trees were bread and cheese, we must not gobble them up all."

The deodars are considered a symbol of prosperity and venerated as the ‘trees of God’
The deodars are considered a symbol of prosperity and venerated as the ‘trees of God’

GOING towards Rampur from Shimla, as you cross Narkanda, you encounter a magnificent sight that is at once awe-inspiring and overwhelming. A huge mountainside, literally kissing the sky, is covered with dense pine trees of almost equal size and height. Wonderstruck, you gape with amazement, just taking in the beauty too hallowed to be put in words. These are ancient deodar trees. In and around Chamba, the deodar forests are so thick and ancient that they lend a dark hue to the scenery. Sit on some isolated slopes in Kasauli and listen to the whistling breeze rustling through the pines and you will be soothed of all your stress and strain. In Manali, the long stretch of deodar grove just across the main road provides a divine sight as the rays of the morning sun come straining through the trees, making a gossamer pattern with light and shade and the birds resonating the air with celestial music.


It is then that you realise why the pine is held in such high esteem in the Himalayas. It is the might and beauty of the tree, coupled with its ecological significance, that the hill people so adore. The pine is befittingly called "God’s initial over the grand scheme of nature."

The deodar is one of the world’s four varieties of cedars and it is found in the Himalayas at heights between 1000 m and 3000 m above mean sea level. The tree takes roots during spring as the saplings come up after winter. The small tree is just a slender stem; it takes years before the tree grows to its full height and thickness. A full-grown tree can have a girth of 15 to 20 feet; in height it rises, spreading its branches like huge arms on either side of the trunk, to around 200-250 feet. This full-grown tree is the mature deodar or the Himalayan cedar, with the botanical name cedrus deodara. A mature tree bears both male and female cones. These are initially soft and silvery green. They darken with age and become wooden when dry.

The deodar is a symbol of prosperity and is venerated as the ‘tree of god.’ The name deodar, in fact, comes from the local word deodaru, in which ‘deo’ stands for god and daru means tree. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva was meditating under a deodar tree when Kamdev shot his arrow of love, disturbing Him and thereby incurring His wrath. In the western Himalayas, the deodar is closely linked with Shiva worship and often a Shiva temple is found near a cluster of deodars.

In the European tradition too, the cedar or deodar is valued as the ‘tree of prosperity’. According to an old German legend, a forester was once sitting with his family by the hearth on a cold December evening when there was a knock on the door. The forester saw a shivering child seeking shelter, standing in front of him. He took pity on the child. Bringing him in, the family fed him and gave him a warm bed to sleep in while the forester’s child slept on the floor. The next morning, the family woke up to the tune of celestial music. They saw the child enveloped in an ethereal glow. Soon they realised that their little guest was none other than Jesus himself. The child beckoned them out, plucked a bow from a nearby fir tree and planted it in the ground. The tree in due course grew to be the majestic pine that was to bring prosperity to the forester. With the passage of time, the tree came be associated with the spirit of Christmas and is today much in demand for Christmas decorations, and is popularly called the ‘Christmas Tree’.

In Himachal Pradesh, the local myths and legends associated with the deodar go a long way in preserving the tree from destruction. There are several groves dedicated to a particular deity.

Consequently, nobody dares harm the woods. Of the large sacred groves, the biggest deodar grove in Shimla district is at Shipin, 12 km from Shimla. It is home to trees that are hundreds of years old. There is an interesting practice to protect the sanctity of the grove: those who pass through the grove dust their clothes before leaving the grove to make sure they do not carry anything belonging to the deity. Trees in the area are not hewed and all deadwood found in the forest is used in the temple located in the grove. Similarly, the sacred grove of Dev Kothi in the Kothai-rohru belt of Shimla district is a hundred years old. There are many such groves that have become ‘mother groves’ for the natural regeneration of forests and for sustaining bio-diversity.

The deodar is a symbol of the eternal. It is majestic, tall, handsome and fearless. It guards as it stands erect, facing the raging storms of the mountains or the chilling snowfall. Covered with snow, it looks like a hermit, standing in its pure white garments with arms outstretched in prayer. Looking at the stately deodar, serene and undulating, one is reminded of Joyce Kilmer’s lines:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree

Poems are made by fools like me

But only God can make a tree.