The Soka Bodhi Tree Garden, an hour’s drive from Delhi, is perhaps the best kept secret of the Capital. Here around 3,000 peepal trees, scores of ducks, geese, peacocks, squirrels, flowers and ponds blend with energetic architecture in a green spread of 170 acres.
Conceived as a centre for peace and friendship and a gift to India from Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the tree garden was unveiled in 2011. Today Bodhi trees (the peepal tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment) tower the landscape in various stages of growth – some still saplings while others full grown, shading a carpet of grass below and providing sustenance to the interdependent ecosystem.
Though the garden is dotted with symbolic peace structures, the landscaping is so close to the natural that in no way does it take away from the raw energy of the elements and the lightness of being that the garden exudes.
Keeping close to the vision of the SGI president of “a large stretch where thousand of Bodhi saplings would be nurtured into tall trees” embodying “the dreams, hopes and future of humanity”, the landscaping has been executed by Prof Mohammad Shaheer, then head of the landscaping department at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. To promote serenity and encourage visitors to use the tree garden for meditation and thought, between the trees grass clearings have been created where stone benches and pathways are embedded in beds of green grass.
When the garden was conceived in 1993, Dr Ikeda had said, “I am positive that from among those who will come to visit this garden in the future –when the Bodhi trees that are saplings now, have grown tall and robust and are luxuriant with fresh green leaves – there will emerge great leaders…. It will be a place where leaders from various fields around the world will come to meet in order to cultivate and develop themselves, inspiring and stimulating each other’s growth”.
Last Sunday saw a glimpse of this vision of the tree garden when it became the venue of a peace symposium. Director General of the National Archives of India Professor Mushirul Hasan, journalist and writer Mark Tully, and Director of India International Centre Dr Kavita Sharma spoke to a large audience on the 40 anniversary of a dialogue for world peace that had taken place between British historian Arnold J Toynbee and Dr Ikeda.
The dialogue, that discussed a whole range of subjects — from the personal to the international and the political to the philosophical — was captured in a book titled ‘Choose Life’, which since then has been translated into 28 languages.
While the three speakers held eloquent on the subject of peace, pluralism and a respect for all humankind, the Soka Bodhi Tree Garden provided the befitting venue. Architect Achyut P Kanvinde who visualised its built up area and gave structure to the vision, first set up the Renaissance Hall which can accommodate around 100 people. Later, an open air bird house and a pond for geese and pigeons were added close by. He then designed a friendship centre that envelopes the environs and brings them right into the exhibition hall.
The most imposing of structures is the World Peace Monument that gently merges into the landscape, but stands solid beneath the vast sky — embodying the determination to achieve lasting world peace.
The garden also sports four pavilions that symbolise the four elements — Earth, Water, Fire and Air — with benches and shelters for visitors to imbibe the environment. “The softness of grass merges with the hardness of rock, qualities that forge a person’s inner being,” explains a handbook just brought out on the garden, while it explains the presence of so many lotuses in the ponds, quoting from the Buddha’s philosophy about the flower and how it rises above the water unsoiled just like human beings should.
“We plant a mustard crop here along with the trees and give the produce to the villagers in the vicinity so that it can add to their income,” says Hardayal Sharma, in charge of the Soka Bodhi Tree Committee who has nurtured the garden since 1993. A volunteer with the Indian arm of the Buddhist organisation, Bharat Soka Gakkai, he drives here all the way from Delhi (the garden is situated in Bilaspur, Haryana) to tend to the garden’s details. He recalls how the garden, its trees, flora and fauna grew from year to year, with Bodhi trees from several nations being added periodically.
“The garden has many moods, and in each season it looks different, with every nook and corner taking on a varied hue,” says another volunteer as she points out the blue, yellow and red Soka Gakkai flag that rests within a leafy grove. It flutters unfazed in the hope of world peace.