Of Devarakadus, Gundutopu and heritage trees

An interview with Vijay Thiruvady, the man whose passion for preserving nature is evident in the two books he has compiled.

A cluster of banyans that are home to seven thousand bats
A 150 foot tall araucaria tree from New Caledonia!
Gnarled and irregular trunks of ancient tamarind trees that are around 800 years old in a Devarakadu (god’s grove) near Bangalore!
A keelback snake just about to swallow its breakfast in Lalbagh.

These are extracts from Heritage Trees and Green Heritage Sites by Vijay Thiruvady, published by Bangalore Environment Trust on behalf of their project sponsors. To say that Thiruvady is a walking encyclopaedia on trees and wooded areas in and around Bangalore would not be far from the truth. However, he is not only a botanist but also a historian; a photo in one of the books shows an ancient Banyan tree which was also the one under which Cornwallis’ troops would have marched to confront Tipu Sultan.

Banyan tree

Pic: Banyan – Hosur Road This is one of the two trees surviving from hundreds planted over 300 years ago on either side of Hosur road. Lord Cornwallis’ army must have marched past these trees to confront Tipu Sultan in 1790. Height: 45 ft Spread: 20,000 sq ft Girth :25 ft (Courtesy: ‘Heritage Trees’ & ‘Green Heritage Sites – Devarakadus, Gundutopus & Wooded Areas’)

Appropriately enough, at the lush greens of the Bangalore Golf Club, Thiruvady talks about his passion and his books.

Bauhinia, Lalbagh

Pic: Bauhinia, Lalbagh – This climber entwines many trees and has spread over 150 feet. The climber has now developed a huge stem with a girth of over 2 feet! This climber can be found in Western Ghats and sub Himalayan tracts eastwards to Assam. (Courtesy: ‘Heritage Trees’ & ‘Green Heritage Sites – Devarakadus, Gundutopus & Wooded Areas’)

You have recently compiled the book Heritage Trees. What, according to you, defines whether a tree has heritage?

I have given the definition of ‘heritage’ in the introductory chapters of the book. Age alone cannot be the basis for a tree being termed heritage. Age, size and species contribute to the heritage status of a tree. Trees that are rare, brought from far-off places or are home to other forms of life are some other factors. Also, trees that have special significance in history or that are associated with the life of a person or commemorate an event can also be classified as heritage trees.

Having said that, I’d like to clarify the last point. During the post-Independence period, many saplings were planted by Gandhi at various places. So if you find a tree planted by Gandhi or Nehru, it may be special but certainly not heritage as there are many such plantings by them across the country.

Araucaria - Lalbagh

Pic: Araucaria – Lalbagh The Heritage tree from New Caledonia stands like a sentinel towering over everything else in Lalbagh. The tree can be found near the steps of Glass House. Planted prior to 1861, it’s height is 150 ft and is known to grow over 200 ft. The cones of this tree are the size of a tennis ball! (Courtesy: ‘Heritage Trees’ & ‘Green Heritage Sites – Devarakadus, Gundutopus & Wooded Areas’)

Can you tell us more about the historical trees in and around Bengaluru?

Bangalore was once a bare plateau. Some old photographs show the area as a barren land. Of course, there were many Devarakadus and Gundutopus near villages and village temples. But the actual greening of Bangalore started only after the British defeated Tipu Sultan. Ficus or rain trees that provide shade were planted on many roads that led to the city. Even now, on some roads where development has not eroded the green, you can spot Banyan trees.

Banyans are one of the most revered trees in India. Even now, in many villages, the Banyan serves as the centre of village activities. It is home to many species of birds, bats and other life forms and is also home to village shrines. So you can see that the book starts with details on heritage Banyan trees followed by other Ficus trees.

Many trees from Lalbagh are mentioned in the collection.

Of course. As I said, heritage trees also include trees from around the world. Have you seen the magnificent Araucaria tree in Lalbagh? Then there is Colville’s Glory. In September, it’s a pretty picture with beautiful orange (blossoms).

Tamarind Tree - Nallur

Pic: Tamarind Tree, Nallur – This is probably the oldest tamarind tree in Nallur’s Gundutopu and it has been split in half by lightning. The grove still has around fifty such trees whose age can be estimated to be 500 to 800 years old! However, despite their age and gnarled trunks, the tamarind trees challenge the concepts of the limitations of floral growth in a specific species. (Courtesy: ‘Heritage Trees’ & ‘Green Heritage Sites – Devarakadus, Gundutopus & Wooded Areas’)

What are Devarakadus and Gundutopus?

Devarakadus can be found across the country. These were protected wooded areas that were home to local village deities. Gundutopu is an interesting concept found in the old Mysore region. Many village communities planted trees in commonly held land and the produce from these topus was shared between the villages. It was also used for village fairs and funerals. The tourism department had commissioned us to do a compilation of all Devarakadus and Gundutopus in and around Bangalore. There were many such groves in and around the city. Unfortunately, due to rapid urbanisation, we have lost many of them.

How many of them are present now?

We have only considered groves that have not been severely encroached upon. In the final compilation we found only four of them that remain as they were originally. The Nallur topu is one of the oldest while others are much younger. We have also considered the Roerich Tatguni Estate and the Lalbagh garden as they help in preserving diverse species and are of great botanical value.

Squirrel feasting on flowers from Colville's Glory

Pic: Squirrel feasting on flowers from Colville’s Glory(tree from Madagascar) – Lalbagh (Courtesy: ‘Heritage Trees’ & ‘Green Heritage Sites – Devarakadus, Gundutopus & Wooded Areas’)

You have a fantastic collection of photographs, such as the squirrel feasting on Colville’s Glory. It must have taken a lot of time to research and shoot for these books?

Research with respect to the book did not take much time since I have always been interested in flora. But taking photographs, editing and coming up with the final compilation did take time. Overall it’s been an interesting two years completing these books.

Vijay Thiruvady spent his early years in Delhi in his grandfather’s (the famous physicist, K.S Krishnan) spacious bungalow that was a few houses away from Nehru’s house. It was here that Thiruvady’s interest in flora and fauna developed. He studied at St Stephens in Delhi and has been consultant to companies like Tata Engineering, John Brown Engineers and AMEC. He was also the Director of John Brown Engineering India. Keenly interested in nature, Thiruvady been conducting the Lalbagh Green Heritage Walks, a part of Bangalore Walks, since its conception in 2005. He is also a trustee of Bangalore Environment Trust.


  1. Deepa Mohan says:

    Nice post, of particular interest to me! Thank you.

  2. Sudeep George says:

    Nice article. Any idea where we can get Vijay Thiruvady’s books in Bangalore?

  3. Poornima Dasharathi says:

    Thanks Deepa and Sudeep. About the books, please contact Vijay Thiruvady. You can get his phone number on http://www.bangalorewalks.com

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