‘Bonsai’ ( a combination of two Japanese words – bon meaning tray and sai meaning tree or plant – thus literally meaning ‘tray plant’ ) is not just anything that is grown on a tray or shallow pot . The distinction of being a Bonsai can only be given to a plant with all the features and characteristics of a naturally full-grown tree. These artistically grown miniature replicas of trees are aesthetically appealing.
Surprisingly, Bonsai’s roots can be traced back to India. Millennia old Ayurvedic texts speak of medicinal trees grown in pots by physicians. They served practical purposes and not aesthetic. In addition to having the not easily reachable trees at hand, the pots could also be conveniently carried around, when travelling to treat patients in remote regions.
H H Swami Ganapathy Satchidananda, spiritual head of the Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore elucidates on the method of miniaturization of trees, described in the Ramayana, in his article about Bonsai in Indian culture. He talks about the Kishkintha Vana developed by Dadhimukha, the maternal uncle of King Sugriva. In addition to mythological reference, there is also enough evidence to show that the knowledge of miniaturizing trees was known to Indians.
Bearing testimony to this is a passage from UpavanaVinoda, an ancient treatise on gardening.
‘Ishtaka chitesamantaat purushanikaat eva tetaruryaatah
Vamanaeva hi dhattephalakusumam sarvakaalamiti’.
[ Dig a pit, line its inside with bricks, fill it with earth and plant a vata ( pipal ) tree. Such a tree will remain a dwarf, yet flower and yield fruits throughout the year.]
Bonsai is a fascinating hobby which brings home the great outdoors, albeit on a reduced scale. It enhances the beauty of landscapes and gardens and brings Man much closer to Nature. Bonsais not only pleasurably tickle one’s aesthetic sense, but are also great stress-busters, with their ability to provide deep relaxation and peace to both body and mind. Indian Bonsai enthusiasts describe the time spent with their creations as one akin to meditating, elevating them to a higher plane.
Another positive aspect of this hobby is the deep bonds of individual friendship that it builds globally through meetings and interactions among Bonsai clubs and enthusiasts.