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Thimmamma Marrimanu – The World’s Biggest Tree

About 25 kilometers from the Indian city of Kadiri, a single tree has grown to be the size of a forest. Thimmamma Marrimanu is a banyan tree, and its enormous canopy was awarded the Guinness world record for ‘Largest Tree’ in 1989. It’s the most spectacular example of the ficus benghalensis species, which is the national tree of India.

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The aerial roots of a banyan tree – photo by McKay Savage

Banyan trees are a peculiar type of fig tree that grow aerial roots from their branches, which then form thick trunks. The beginning of their lives is also unusual. They are epiphytes, which means they sprout from cracks and crevices in other trees. Epiphytes are not parasitic, and don’t drain nutrients from their host. However, as they grow larger they can engulf the host entirely, giving them the nickname ‘strangler figs’.

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A strangler fig engulfing a bolder with its roots – photo credit O. Baudys

Thimmamma Marrimanu takes its name from the local legend of Thimmamma, a woman whose husband died in 1434. When he was burned at the pyre, she threw herself onto the flames, committing sati. Sati is an ancient practice that is now outlawed, but was once seen as the ultimate form of devotion and sacrifice. Shortly afterward, a banyan tree grew near the pyre. Marrimanu means banyan trees in the Telugu language.

Today, a small shrine to Thimmamma has been build under the tree, and locals believe that childless couples praying beneath it will be blessed with a child the following year. The tree is also a site where Maha Shivaratri is celebrated. This is a yearly festival in honor of the Hindu god Shiva. Thousands of visitors come from all around to worship.

Fortunately for visitors, the tree has grown to a size that can accommodate 20,000 people beneath its canopy. Its branches provide shade to nearly 5 acres, or 2 square kilometers. That’s about 2.5 soccer fields, all under a single tree. However, as the tree receives more visitors, some conservationists are concerned that the shallow roots are in danger of being damaged by the weight.

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Thimmamma Marrimanu as seen from above – photo via google maps

But that’s not the only problem that the tree faces. As it has become more famous, it has become the target of vandalism and careless mistreatment. Some have commented that this represents a loss of traditional Indian culture, where trees are sacred. Professor Lakshmi Thathachar had this to say about trees with regard to ancient religious beliefs in India:

Trees are not different from us. We are having the body of the human beings. They have got the body of the trees. So in each individual tree, there is life. Not only life, there is an individual soul. So when you think of the individual souls, all individual souls are equal… So from that point of view there cannot be any distinction between the tree and the human being.

The village forestry department is doing what they can to protect the Thimmamma Marrimanu, but they simply don’t have the budget to protect from even natural dangers like flooding. Currently, they are petitioning UNESCO for world heritage status, which would bring with it a surge of funding. With this a surge of visitors would follow shortly, potentially causing further damage. However, if it does become a World Heritage Site, the responsibility for the care of the tree will pass from a group of concerned local villagers to some of the most qualified conservationists in the world.

The future of this tree is unknown, but for now, it continues to grow. Its isolated location and poor infrastructure have limited tourist numbers, but as it becomes more widely known as an incredible landmark with potentially magical properties, it may be in danger. Hopefully it will gain the attention it needs from conservationists, and survives for future generations.

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Banyan fruit – photo credit Adityamadhav83

If you enjoyed this article about Thimmamma Marrimanu, check out the archive for more tree stories. Also check out the Facebook page, with a few extra tree goodies throughout the week. Subscribe below to receive notifications whenever a new tree story is published.

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Further reading:

http://www.anantapur.com/travel/thimmamma.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvntf

http://www.lasexta.com/noticias/ciencia-tecnologia/solo-arbol-centenario-capaz-formar-bosque-19000-metros-cuadrados_20170519591ee24e0cf249bae1a2ff2a.html

http://chaibisket.com/thimmamma-marrimamanu/

15 Comments

  1. When I was little, in my village there was a banyan tree. As my mama lived there I used to visit a lot and played with my cousin,swinging on the branches of this magnificent tree. But now due to the industrialisation these amazing beings are being cut down. It’s truly sad what’s the world has become now. 😔😞

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary

    Oh my goodness!!! I can hardly believe it’s one tree! Coincidentally, we have a bar next to where we live called ‘banyan’, and everything is tree themed. Always wondered in the back of my mind what it meant – and now I know! Beautiful post, thank you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful blog! Thanks for doing this. I saw some huge banyan trees when I was in India, but had not idea they could grow to that capacity! Beautiful! You are the official electronic tree hugger….flying all round the world in waves of light with Your knowledge and passion for our leafy relations. Thanks again and Cheers! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the telling. How much do you want to bet that the pearly gates are not made of pearl, but two massive banyan trees forming a beautiful arching canopy walkway into the light?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love banyan trees…and all trees. I saw several banyans in Hawaii a few years ago. I’m also glad I found your blog. So informative! I’m a new follower. In case it’s fun for you, here’s a link to a post in my blog about a very old tree–feeling fragile. It’s an allegory, but I imagine this is the way a very old tree might feel:
    https://overthehillontheyellowbrickroad.com/2017/06/13/conversation-with-a-tree-feeling-fragile/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Cathi! Also thanks for the link! I first saw the ‘wishing’ banyans in the book Wise Trees, and you’ve turned it into a nice little story! I love the concept of your blog (and the googly eyes!). Looking forward to reading more. 🙂

      Like

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