Kashi or Varanasi is one of the most ancient and sacred cities of India. In his previous human avatara, Mahadeva and the Devatas walked on the soil of Kashi. Puranas and Itihaas describe numerous incidents that happened in Kashi, which can still be traced to existing structures, temples and places in Kashi. One such distinguishing feature of Kashi is the Akshay Vat tree, which is recorded to have existed since the Treta Yuga, where Bhagvan Hanuman resides. There are a total of only three Akshay Vats in India which have the blessings and divine presence of Hanuman—in Prayagraj, Kashi and Gaya.

On 27th April, 2021, this history was destroyed, to the horror of all who witnessed it and who consider Hindu Dharma to be their religion, culture and way of life. The Akshay Vat Vriksha, despite numerous appeals and warnings of citizens of Kashi, was mercilessly destroyed by government beauraucrats in an attempt to “beautify” the space for the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project, which seems to be in full swing despite a raging pandemic in North India.

Felled Akshay Vat Tree at Kashi - Closeup
Felled Akshay Vat Tree at Kashi – Closeup

The images of the felled tree are shocking. It must be remembered that Akshay Vat is a huge tree with a wide spread. It is not something that can be uprooted that easily. No storms or natural calamities for thousands of years could fell this tree. It has stood strong. The very name means “indestructible tree.” So, to suggest that the tree was felled due to “carelessness” is an irresponsible attempt to cover a heinous crime. The images clearly show that the tree, along with the Vigraha Murti (deity) of Bhagwan Hanuman have been felled and damaged.

Uprooted Akshay Vat Tree
Uprooted Akshay Vat Tree

The ancient Akshayvat Hanuman Mandir and Shiv Sabha Mandir are under the purview of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project, aimed to “beautify” the surroundings of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. Hard as it is to believe, but it seems that Indian bureaucrats and government officials of Kashi seem to have forgotten that the beauty of Kashi is in its temples, its history, its trees, its people. Kashi does not need to become an amusement park for it to be beautiful. It only needs a little cleaning of the roads. Not a single structure needs to be broken. Every brick of Kashi is sacred and practicing Hindus should know this not just intellectually but as personal experience. The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is proving to be the very antithesis of preserving ancient heritage of Kashi. Destruction of a sacred tree, one which has survived for thousands of years, is a crime against Mother Earth and all practicing Hindus. From religious, heritage and environmental perspectives, this is an act which should never have happened.

Hanuman Mandir Structure also damaged during felling of Akshay Vat Tree
Hanuman Mandir Structure also damaged during felling of Akshay Vat Tree

The Akshaya Vat tree is called thus because it is the only tree which floats above water in the time of Pralaya, as described in ancient Hindu texts. If the tree is being felled by human beings now, it surely means that in some ways we are in the middle of a Pralaya, one in which we did not even spare a tree! A tree has no ideology, has no politics, has no bias, has no beliefs. A tree gives shade to all. Anything which has withstood the test of time for thousands of years is worthy of worship, whatever it might be. That it is a living, green tree is even more astounding. In any other country, this tree would be a part of national heritage, officially, and even a scratch on the tree would have been accounted for. But a harmless tree, which is not offending, troubling, annoying anyone has now been felled for “beautification.” There are no words to describe the idiocracy we are living in.

Citizens of Kashi appealed to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and concerned authorities on growing concerns of plans to fell the tree. So, it is evident that the felling of the tree was not a sudden move. It was planned for some time, and carried out despite protests and appeals of citizens.

The Akshay Vat tree has great significance for Hindu rituals. Pinda daan is offered under the tree by sannyasis and sadhus. Prayers, pujas, rituals, mantra chanting are performed under the tree. The space around the tree is sacred, and people meditate under the tree for peace and spiritual growth. It is difficult to believe that a sacred, spiritual city like Kashi can be beautified by destroying its spiritual heritage. Despite assurances to the Mahant of the temple, the tree was felled in the morning of 27th April, in the middle of a pandemic which is already taking lives of so many.

“The mahant family maintaining the temple had previously requested the Kashi Vishwanath Temple administration and PSP Projects (the construction company that has the contract of building the corridor) to take care of the temple and the surrounding areas while carrying out their beautification work. They had also got a written assurance from both that adequate care would be taken.”

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The archaks of the temple were unhappy with the damage already caused to the tree earlier, as captured in the video below.

Archak Unhappy with the Akshay Vat Tree being Damaged Before the Final Demolition on 27 April

Hindu leaders, sannyasis and Gurus have expressed concern and displeasure by this act of the government, and have voiced their opinions on social media. Swami Avimukteshwarananada who is representative of Dwarka Shankaracharya Mutt has expressed pain and concern over the incident in no uncertain terms.

“In the name of Kashi Vishwanatha Corridor, the aatma of Kashi is being destroyed for many years, continuously.”

Swami Avimukteshwarananada

“Akshayvat tree did not fell but killed deliberately by cultureless bureaucrats who consider themselves above dharma.”—Shivam Mishra, a devotee who regularly visits Kashi, described the incident on Twitter.

This Akshay Vat tree is near the Gyanvyapi Well, which was recently in the news for permission to excavate the site to establish that the original Kashi Vishwanath Mandir existed at that site. It is possible that the felling of the tree has something to do with this decision of the Courts. Though that is only conjecture at this point, it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out.

Akshay Vat Hanuman Mandir Priest on Felling of the Tree

The priest of the Akshay Vat Hanuman Mandir gives testimony on video of previous attempts to destroy the tree and the final demolition of the tree on 27 April. He describes how authorities paid no heed to appeals. He remonstrates about the insensitivity of the government to Hindu heritage and the repeated attempts to fell the tree.

It is unbelievable that self proclaimed “Hindu activists” are referring to the incident as a hoax and trolling people who bring it to light, merely to defend the ruling government under Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi. It should be self evident that you cannot preserve Dharma by destroying Dharma. This should be obvious to everyone. Yet, a new wave of activism in the recent years has equated Dharmic activism with political activism alone, and this has resulted in such devastating incidents being deliberately whitewashed and obliterated from public memory. It must be noted, that in an earlier incident in 2020, Swami Nithyananda’s ashram premises in Kashi were also demolished in early hours of the morning when sannyasis were sleeping inside, despite repeated appeals to stop the demolition of the ancient temple and ashram.

Any attempt to bring notice to such incidents is immediately labelled as “anti national” or worse, an attempt to de-stabilize the government. This type of activism is detrimental to Dharma. Any attempt to throttle the voice of the people, sadhus, saints is not only Adharmic, it is hypocritical in the extreme, as it suppresses and demonizes those who are genuinely concerned about the preservation of Hindu heritage in India.

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Last modified: April 30, 2021