‘Magic’ tree in MP tiger reserve brings thousands of believers

Milind Ghatwai
Prayers to mahuva in Satpura Tiger Reserve, MP. (Express photo by Milind Ghatwai)

A mahuva tree in the buffer zone has become the latest big draw at Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR), in Madhya Pradesh’s Hoshangabad district. Since late-September, thousands of people from across MP and neighbouring states have come here, believing the tree to have magical powers.

They circle the tree, or hug it in the belief that it will bring instant cure to their ailments or misfortunes. Carrying coconuts, incense sticks, lemons, diyas and other items of worship, they arrive in droves, accompanying relatives with disabilities.

Punaram Kunwahi, 60, from Amarwada, said a persistent body-ache that had plagued him for a while has been cured after visiting the tree. “I could barely walk without pain but after touching the tree I haven’t felt any pain,” he claimed.

Like him, hundreds insist that they found cure to aches, arthritis and blindness.

By most accounts, the frenzy began during the Navratras, when a villager claimed that the mahuva tree had magical powers.

The area where the tree is located is remote — the nearest town, Pipariya, is about 14 km away — but word-of-mouth publicity and a social media frenzy has meant hundreds visit the spot every day. In turn, more than 300 shops have come up on the route.

“Initially there was a trickle, but rumours started taking different forms and intensity and the numbers started swelling,’’ STR assistant director Lokesh Nirapure said. Villagers, he said, started identifying it as Sidha Mahuva Dham.

With the number of visitors turning unmanageable, the authorities imposed restrictions, which led to clashes between the police and local residents. Soon, there were rumours that the tree has been cut. That, according to forest guard Ramkrishna Dubey, drew even more people.

On Wednesday, police barred believers from getting close to the tree, leading to stone-pelting that left nearly a dozen officials injured. In response, the authorities imposed prohibitory orders under CrPC Section 144 in the area.

But once police were out of sight, a group of believers rushed towards the tree, ignoring the barricades and prohibitory orders.

Former MP chief secretary and rationalist S C Behar said, “There is no scientific evidence to support that the tree has any such powers. There are many superstitions about mahatmas and (self-claimed) godmen. This, too, is such a rumour.”

When The Indian Express visited the site, many lower-rung Revenue officials on their first or second visit were trying their luck, pretending that they were only imitating what the villagers have been doing over the last few days.