Tree Marriages

Last Saturday we visited our family friends in Indianapolis.  Their son told me that his teacher taught in the school that Hindus marry trees and asked me if it was true. I present here my answer for the benefit of his teacher and for you.

Marriage Between Two Trees:

Bharat (the Indian Union) forms a major part of the huge Indian continent and has diverse cultures and practices.  There are 26 states in Bharat (the Indian Union).  Each state represents a nationality with hundreds of tribes/castes.  Andhra Pradesh (my native state) is one of those states with approximately eighty (80) million Telugus of various tribes/castes.   In Andhra Pradesh, according to Vaishnavite philosophy, holy Raavi Chettu (holy fig tree, Ficus religiosa) is respected as lord Vishnu, while holy Vepa Chettu (neem or margosa tree, Azadirachta indica) is considered Goddess Lakshmi (consort of Lord Vishnu). Usually, these two trees are planted together and worshipped in the temples of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations like Lord Rama.  Every year sacred marriage of Lord Vishnu (fig) and his consort Lakshmi (neem) is celebrated.

Many Indian religions are natural religions with reverence and worship for trees and animals.  The basis for this symbolic worship is the basic belief that God is all pervading and omnipotent that manifests in everything.  What Westerners categorize as supernatural (gods, spirits etc.), natural (animals, plants, weather, seasons etc.) and cultural (humans), Indians hold as essentially the same.

Marriage Between Humans and Trees:

Let me tell you that I have never heard of humans marrying trees. The following is a speculation and hearsay.  In Andhra Pradesh there are several tribes/castes that live in forests and hills. Dedicating a girl to the God (like Nuns in Christianity) was a practice among some of these tribes/castes.  In ancient Andhra, there were times when this Nun Practice was popular. Women used to devote (or forced to devote) themselves to God and serve in the temples, under the solemn vows of chastity and obedience. This practice later deteriorated into scandalous sexual slavery, where these Nuns were required to please the Priest, Village Head or the King with their services. All these practices were abolished long time ago and are of historical importance to a student of history and culture, just like slavery and segregation in the US.  As explained above, some tribes respect and pray to Trees as God.  Perhaps, dedication of Nuns to this Tree God may be considered as marriage with the Tree God.

Further, some tribes in Telangana province of the state of Andhra Pradesh may believe that marrying Trees symbolically averts the astrological predictions, e.g., that predicts the imminent death of the first spouse. Perhaps in the hope of fooling the fate, one might marry first a tree, and then a human, the astrological prediction would kill the first spouse (the tree) rather than the second human spouse. This belief in astrology may be explained by comparing to the very civilized and modern American psychic hot lines and American astrology that promise to predict the future.

Robert Parkin (United Kingdom) examined the phenomenon of tree marriage found in certain tribes of central India (Hindi speaking nationalities) in its cultural and historical context. It is compared with other examples in India of marriage to an inanimate object or to an individual who acts as a symbolic groom but not subsequently as a husband. Tree marriage in tribal groups in central India, however, would seem to have more to do with a specifically tribal version of reincarnation which is linked to the kinship system and lacks the ethnical basis of the karma doctrine of the Indian society. The significance of the practice varies with the tribes among which it is found.

However, rapidly changing Indian culture is westernizing under the garb of modernization. Interestingly, a boy or a girl might marry a tree (hypothesis)  for some incomprehensible reason in a remote village in Telangana, while 200 miles away a teenager in Hyderabad dates over the Internet (reality)!  And a modern American calls a psychic hotline to find out his or her future over a cellular phone. Your interpretation of the Indian Culture or Indian (Hindu) Religion depends on the depth of your knowledge.  Shall we say Americans practice polygamy and voodoo, while Indians marry trees and charm snakes?

Thanks to Drs. Rajagopal Duddu, Vishu Reddy K., Raj Rao for sharing their experiences and George for his curiosity.

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 06/07/2000

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