None who were present at the Campus on Friday May 14, would ever forget the day. The skies had opened up in all its fury. Lightning flashed and thunder-claps resounded, almost deafening our ears. The Giant Banyan Tree-sentinel that stood guard over the “L” Block of the University of Moratuwa; that huge creation of Mother Nature, with branches spreading wide over our roof, the sturdy trunk measuring well over six metres in girth, could not, that day, withstand the onslaught of the storm that had been raging from morning.
We, in the ‘L’ block, heard the creaking of timber, saw the massive foliage with branch-roots trailing like streamers to the ground, sway from side to side as the giant tree, unable to resist the gale-force storm, came down with a crash, roots and all, to lie spread-eagled on the ground. I, for one, at first thought it was the lightning that had struck our building, for, simultaneously, there was a streak of light and clap of thunder. It was only when others shouted that the “Nuga” tree had come down, did I realize what had happened.
There was confusion everywhere. The girl students, scared as always, screamed in fear. The boys in the canteen shouted in excitement. Their first thought was to rush out to the scene-thinking that there may be hapless individuals trapped under the tree. But soon saner counsel prevailed - for no one, in that weather would have sought shelter under the Nuga tree.
The Banyan is a rare tree. For those uninitiated, I quote from the new International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language; Encyclopedic edition- 2004. It says-“Banyan-an East-Indian Fig-bearing tree (Ficus benghalisis) which sends down from its branches, roots that develop into new trunks, thus producing a thick and shady grove,”
I tried my best, with the assistance of our secretary, to get in touch with a T.V. station but could not. Later however, they had said when contacted, that far more important news of people rendered destitute by the storm was on their agenda.
For us, of course, this Banyan tree is more or less historical. Stories are told of the reason to abandon the original plan of ‘L’ Block. It is said that it had been revealed in a dream to someone in high authority at the time, that a “Devathava” (forest goddess) had made the tree her abode, and she had to be appeased.
Anyway, all efforts to cut down and dislodge the Banyan had been to no avail. It had resisted bulldozers and such-like and stood its ground. That had resulted in the original plan being changed, to leave the giant Nuga as it was and continue the construction of the building, thus giving our ‘L’ Block its name. It is also said that the original tree was an “Atambe” and a fig from a Banyan had lodged in the hollow of the trunk of the Atambe.
However, all this is hearsay; I cannot vouch for it. To us, this huge Banyan is sentimental. Even some of our past students will have pleasant memories of it; for, in the days of “innocent” ragging, freshers were made to kneel on the rough ground around it and worship it as they would the Sacred Bo!
Be that as it may, the sentinel is no more. It was like a friend to us, providing us shade and preventing the strong rays of the sun from heating our block. It ended up too, as a true friend, falling not on our building which housed so many of us, but gently spreading out on the opposite side, on the wide open space, thus harming no one.