At a time when deforestation in Assam and for that matter in entire Northeast is rampant, it is heartening to witness an entire village engaged in conserving a piece of history in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district.
A mystical tree, commonly called ‘bakhar bengena’ or the ‘Divine Jasmine’ is still standing ‘tall’ amid all other places of historical and archeological importance in this part of Assam which bears testimony of the grand Ahom rule.
Bakhar Bengena is a legendary living tree which is, believe it, scientifically estimated to be 580 years old, a pride of Jobolating village of Bokota Mouza, around 27 km from the district headquarter of Sivasagar.
The tree was discovered by famous botanist of India U N Kanchilan in 1939 gave the scientific name as Rendia Ulizinsa.
The tree has another botanical name – Tamilnadia uliginosa and a synonym – Catunaregam uliginosa.
It is a small tree, just 6.7 m in height and about 12 m in circumference of canopy area.
It is a small rigid deciduous tree. The bark is reddish brown with horizontal cracks.
The branches are quadrangular, pubescent when young with spines coming out at the ends of arrested branches.
The leaves are 2-8 by 1-3.5 inches often crowded at the ends of the branches.
The flowers are white in colour and blooms singularly while the fruit is about two inches in diameter.
The age of a living tree is normally determined by the popular method called ‘Dendrochronology’, which is a scientific method of dating based in the analysis of patterns and numbers of the growth rings.
But this method could not be applied on Bakhar Bengena tree due to its unique growth patterns.
Therefore an alternative scientific method had to be applied to ascertain the approximate age of the Bakhar Bengena tree in the month of November, 2012 by Dr Dipak Nath who was inspired in his endeavour by Prof S K Borthakur of Gauhati University.
After a series of prolonged experiments of various samples of the Bakhar Bengena by a group of scientists led by Dr S K Basumatary along with Dr Swati tripathi, Dr S K Bera and Dr C M mautiyal of Birbal Sahni Institute of Palacobotany in Lucknow. The team was locally assisted by Dr Dipak Nath.
After two years of research by The Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow using Radiocarbon Dating and Genetic Matching confirmed that the age of this tree could be around 580 years.
The findings were published by the premier institute on November 14, 2014.
This legendary tree in the Sivasagar district has been witness to rise and fall of several civilizations and still survived around 580 years in changing climates.
According to legend, the tree was believed to have been planted by the Barahi-Kachari king Mahamanikya in the 14th century to demarcate his kingdom.
Another theory claims that the tree was protected by an official of the Ahom king Suhungmung (1497-1539).
According to a third view, the Chutia king (12th century to 16th century) planted this precious tree on the boundary of his kingdom.
This legendary tree is still a mystery to the botanists and environmentalists of the world.
The plant lacks sexual reproduction and more interestingly scientist could not able to reproduce it artificially.
This unique tree which is a prized possession of Sivasagar district is also believed to be found in eastern, central and southern part of the country as well as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Looking into the legendary aspect of this species of this tree, a committee named ‘Bakhar Bengena Bikshya Sangrakhan Samily’ was constituted in the year 1986 by some conscious locals.
The committee has been persistently working for protection of the tree which can be arguably one of the oldest living tree on planet Earth.