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Fascinating Folk Tales from ‘Cities and Canopies’

Native and imported, sacred and ordinary, culinary and floral, favourites of various kings and commoners over the centuries, trees are the most visible signs of nature in cities, fundamentally shaping their identities. Trees are storehouses of the complex origins and histories of city growth, coming as they do from different parts of the world, brought in by various local and colonial rulers.

Drawing on extensive research, Cities and Canopies by Seema Mundoli and Harini Nagendra is a book on nature’s own museums.

Here are some interesting tree-related folk tales and myths from the book:

The silk cotton in folklore is termed as a ‘parrot’s despair’.

“Folk tales mention parrots eagerly pecking at the tasty looking seed pods and being disappointed to find they contain mostly inedible cotton.”


Trishanku, the ruler of Ayodhya is believed to be responsible for the creation of the coconut tree

“King Trishanku was seized by the desire to go to heaven alive…. But the gods, who would not accept this unusual route of approach, complained to Indra, who pushed him down. Pushed up by Vishwamitra and pushed down by Indra, the unfortunate Trishanku remained suspended for a while. Tired of holding him up with his magic powers, Vishwamitra propped him up with a long pole. The pole became the trunk of the coconut. Trishanku’s head is the fruit or the coconut.”


Can trees predict the future? Many believed they do

“Mythologies from Greek to English talk of oracle trees—trees that can predict the future. Alexander the Great was believed to have received a warning from a Wakwak tree of the end of his life and the destruction of his empire.”


The frangipani is abundant around temples and graves due to its immortality

” The tree symbolizes immortality owing to its ability to produce flowers and leaves even after being uprooted. Its flowers adorn graves throughout the year. Great power is accorded to the seed of the tree as a cure for bites from the venomous cobra. Folk beliefs claim that the tree has no pods, as the cobras destroy them out of fear.”


Many ancient human societies long believed that people can talk to trees.

“In ancient Persian, Chinese and Indian mythologies, there are frequent references to the Wakwak or Vagh Vagh tree, which bears fruits that look like human heads. When the fruits ripen, the trees begin to talk, say a number of beloved old fairy tales.”


There are a number of tales about the tamarind from different parts of India.

“One legend from Sambalpur says that there was a fight between Bhasmasura, the asura chief, and Mahadev (Shiva). Bhasmasura hid in the tamarind tree, but Mahadev opened his third eye. The magical power from his third eye shattered the leaves of the tamarind tree, making them small forever.”

Cities and Canopies is a book about both the specific and the general aspects of these gentle life-giving creatures. AVAILABLE NOW.

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