By MANEKA GANDHI

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Sita, abducted by the demon Havana, sat in a grove of Ashoka trees and remained chaste through all the long years that she was forced to stay in Lanka. The tree was very popular with the Mathura school of sculpture. It is depicted surrounded by female figures who are not dancing girls but Vrikshadevatas or gods of the trees who represented fertility and were worshipped by childless women. Ashoka trees are always planted in Buddhist monasteries. In the legend of Buddha, when Maya, his mother, became aware that she had conceived him she retired to a grove of Ashoka trees.

Very well”, said the alligator, relieved that his friend had taken the news so well. He turned round and the pair headed back to the banks of the tree. As soon as they neared the tree, before the alligator could see that there was no heart drying on its limbs, the monkey leapt and caught a branch. From that day on, the monkey refused to come down from the Jamun tree. But, because he was a generous soul, he threw the fruit down to the alligator who sunned himself on the banks of the river. It is a large, dense, long-lived, evergreen tree.

Hence it is also called the Bodhi tree or Tree of Enlightenment. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang gives an account of this tree. In the olden days, he says, when Buddha was alive, this tree was several hundred feet high. Often injured by cutting or breaking for relics, it is now only 50 feet high. Buddha reached perfect wisdom under it, so it is called the Samyak Sambodhi or Tree of Knowledge. The bark is yellowish white, the leaves dark green. The leaves remain shining and glossy the whole year.

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