Mission Fact and faith intertwine as S. Krishnamurthi speaks of trees and their relevance to temples and individuals. GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN

I t is that time of the evening when the Mylapore Kapali temple is quiet with people just trickling in. The place and the ambience are familiar, the path trodden hundreds of times. A devotee, who is not in a hurry to complete the circuit, cannot miss the enclosure on the left abutting the huge hall of pillars. Plants of various species and trees make the space green and cool. What captures the attention is the board that charts out the trees, one for each star of the Tamil almanac.

Vanji ( tinospora) for Pooradam, Magizham for Anusham, Vilvam ( Bengal quince) for Chitirai and so on. Enquiries lead to the man, who has shaped the garden. Krishnamurthi is only too happy to talk about his pet subject. “You know, some species of trees – Vanni, Kadambu and Iluppai for instance - are fast disappearing, so much so that you may not find them after a few decades?” he begins.

A landscape artist with a knowledge of astrology, Krishnamurthi's casual interest in trees, especially sthala vrikshas, has become a passion, fuelled by fact and faith. “My religion is Nature and my mantra save trees,” he says and goes on to elaborate. “A temple is not complete without a Rajagopuram, tank and tree. A tree, especially, is essential for it is believed that once the doors of the sanctum are shut, the energy gets transferred to the sthala vriksham.”

Zodiac signs

The connection to the stars and the zodiac signs is incidental but it has caught on. His theory is that trees emit positive vibrations that are good for the body and the mind. “Watering trees and worshipping them have been a part of our ethos. Only we have moved away from that,” he observes.

“Do you leave home without a bottle of water? Can you go back to the days when we filled jugs at railway stations and drank that water? The way trees are felled without a thought about the consequences, the day is not far off when we will have to carry a small cylinder of oxygen too. What the trees are doing for free will come with a hefty price tag. It is our duty to protect them.” There is anguish in Krishnamurthi's voice.

“This has been my mission for the past eight years - identifying sthala vrikshas and planting them in temples. The HR and CE board is giving me tremendous support. A Nandavanam of all the trees has been created at the Tiruvateeswaranpet temple in Triplicane, Vadivudai Amman temple in Tiruvotriyur and Ashtalakshmi temple in Besant Nagar. But the project that really gave me satisfaction was the greening of a temple on the ECR, which is 90 per cent natural and ten per cent concrete. A leading school in the city has adopted the concept and the garden is a big hit with the students,” says Krishnamurthi, who has a display at the Trade Fair, Island Grounds.

Krishnamurthi's source of knowledge? “I read a lot on the subject. The trees for the 27 stars are also those for temples in certain places. For instance Punnai for Kapali, Kadambu for Madurai Koodalazhagar and Meenakshi, Neem for Vaitheeswaran Kovil, Peepal for Sabari Hill and so on. What better way to preserve these species than link them to temples that do not have sthala vrikshas?” Krishnamurthi comes up with temples that do not have trees and facilitates planting them. It is a ritual as elaborate as the installation of an idol, with 18 materials, the mud from an anthill and crab hole among them, going into the pit.

Krishnamurthi travels widely. “It is incredible, the way information comes from unlikely sources. The natives, especially the old, of villages and hills, still stay connected with nature. A simple villager has a deep knowledge of the subject. The Chaturagiri Hill is abode for not only rare herbs and trees but men, whose age cannot be gauged. They are yogis. Money is of no use to them and they are a mine of information. ‘We take so much from Nature and it is our duty to put back at least a fraction,' they say. They taught me to respect trees. Every time I go there I learn something new. My salutations to those wise souls,” Krishnamurthi's hands fold in respect.

He is not eager to commercialise the concept. “An awareness has been created,” he says. “People now gift saplings for weddings and birthdays. It should become a trend and then a movement,” he adds with earnestness.

It is dusk and the sound of Mangalavadyam indicates the beginning of evening rituals for the Lord and Karpagambal, in the background of the temple bell, resonant and rhythmic. Pointing to the towering gopuram, Krishnamurthi says, “This is my worship and I have no regrets.” Krishnamurthi can be contacted at 9840151053.