The Aasana tree is a common Indian deciduous tree. The spines on its bark tell the story of a time dating back to the Mahabharata. The story of Bhishma, before he became Bhishma.
Prince Devavrata, the handsome son of King Shantanu of Hastinapura, rides out of the palace gates one morning upon his chariot. Young and restless, perhaps even a tad reckless, Devavrata is not still the wise old Bhishma, who will live on in the collective memory of Indians for centuries.
The golden glow of the morning sun lights up the capital city. Citizens bow before the prince, making way for his speeding chariot as it rides out of the city limits. Charismatic successor of the kingdom, Devavrata rides into the forest with a young vigour and confident flair.
Chancing upon a large monitor lizard, sprawled across his path, he pulls at the reins of his steeds .
‘Get out of my way!’ Devavrata orders the lizard, as he slows down.
Basking blissfully under the outdoor sun, for his daily dose of sunlight, the lizard pays no attention.
“Out! Out of my way!” Devavrata repeats, visibly annoyed as he must bring his chariot to a halt; all because of an impertinent reptile.
The lizard throws him a perfunctory glance before looking away.
“You slimy creature! The prince orders you to get out of his way!” Devavrata fumes.
“Make your own way around me,” replies the lizard indifferently.
Devavrata is furious at the creature’s temerity. “Do you know who I am?” he thunders, seething in anger.
“I have no need to know!” the lizard replies nonchalantly.
“You shall repent your arrogance.”
“What arrogance? This is my home. You have disturbed me!”
“You are an insignificant little lizard. And I am the mightiest of warriors, the Prince of Hastinapura. Why do I waste my time talking to you?”
Jumping out of his chariot, Devavrata walks to the lizard and picks it up. Not giving it any further thought, he flings the creature out of his path. Rid of the obstacle, the prince mounts his chariot to ride away.
Hurtling through the air the lizard lands upon the trunk of the Aasana tree, by the side of the prince’s path. Bark full of spines, the lizard finds itself impaled against the tree-trunk as he shrieks in agony. The prince has picked up the reins in his hand and is about to ride away when the lizard’s wail pierces his ears. Turning back, he finds the creature writhing in pain.
“You may be the Prince of Hastinapura,’ gasps the lizard. ‘And I but an insignificant little creature….”
The prince is horrified as he watches and listens.
“But you have caused me pain and suffering for no fault of mine. And now I hang by the thorns of this tree incapable of living and unable to die. You too shall suffer the same fate.”
Devavrata swallows a lump in his throat.
“You too shall be impaled and suffer like me someday, unable to live nor able to die!” the lizard curses the prince.
Disturbed, Devavrata rides away and the incident is soon forgotten.
Many years later, lying on the bed of arrows on the battle field of Kurukshetra, Devavrata – then Bhishma, remembers the little monitor lizard and bows his head in submission to the machinations of time. As he prepares to teach his grand-nephews a lesson or two about being wise rulers, the lizard and its curse play at the back of his mind.
No creature is too low and no royalty too high to escape the cosmic Law. You reap what you sow.
In another version of this story, the incident of the impalement of the lizard takes place in Bhishma’s previous birth and not in his youth.
This is a little-known mythological story about the Aasana Tree. The tree has large pointed spines on its bark when young, which fall off as the tree ages. It is a fairly common tree in the Indian subcontinent and draws its name from its mythological connection with the bed of arrows on which Bhishma lay and died on the battlefield. The botanical name of the tree is Bridelia retusa and its common names are Asana and Spinous Kino tree.
Story collected by: Mallika Iyer
Location: Pan India
Source: Oral narration by Usha Desai and Renee Vyas, founders of Tree Appreciation Walks in Mumbai, who in-turn heard the story from Dr. Almeida, well known botanist, based in Mumbai