Over 200 people from Hyderabad gathered around a cluster of Banyan trees in Chevella to celebrate Deepavali with the magnificent, century-old trees, in a bid to show solidarity with the trees and protest the proposed felling for a highway expansion project.
There were brief talks on the historical and ecological significance of the banyans by naturalists Anjali Pande, Sadhana Ramchander, and Asiya Khan. They stressed the importance of these trees, which were planted in the Nizam’s era, sequester carbon from the atmosphere and are the sentinels which ensure that rain water from the hills do not flood Hyderabad.
Noted birder and writer, Aasheesh Pittie, spoke about the birds that live in and around the banyans and whose lifecycle is intrinsically linked to them. These birds will lose their habitat if the trees are felled.
Sita Reddy read out Robert Macfarlane's “Heartwood”, a poem written as a charm-against-harm was read, and we could almost hear the Banyans ask -
"Would you hew me to the heartwood cutter?
Would you lay me low beneath your feet?"
Anand Vishwanadha's poem "Save the banyans of Chevella" read out by Malini Siruguri, and touched many hearts.
"What axe dare cut these gentle giving giants?
Under the shade of the banyans of Chevella, the participants pledged to be "a warrior, protector, voice and ally of the forces that hold our beautiful planet together."
"As these trees support the family of the earth, I will support them”, they pledged, repeating the words written by Usha Raman and read out by Natasha Ramarathnam.
Children and adults prepared and showcased paintings and posters in support of the Banyans.
They strung marigold garlands, and tied threads of friendship and love around the Banyan trees with the promise to be saviours if the need arises.
Poems were read out, songs were sung. Sweets were partaken and #SelfiesWithBanyans clicked and posted on social media. Young children and senior citizens and everyone in between came together to celebrate the magnificence of the Banyans.
The evening concluded with people lining the road holding earthen diyas and singing “Hum honge kamyaab”/ “We Shall Overcome”/ “Vijayam manade ra”.
Deepavali with the Banyans was organised by ‘Nature Lovers of Hyderabad’, a civic action group comprising naturalists, bird-watchers, scientists and lay public who love trees and tree dwellers, and seek to find sustainable solutions to development projects
A note from "Nature Lovers of Hyderabad":
A big thank you to every one of the 200-odd people who came for the Deepavali-under-the-banyans event, 30 km out of the city! It was very touching and overwhelming to feel the love for our banyans, and to know that so many people extend their support to this cause.