Trees of Terminalia arjuna cries for protection on the Banaras Hindu University main campus, Varanasi (India)

Terminalia arjuna

Trees of Terminalia arjuna cries for protection on the Banaras Hindu University main campus, Varanasi (India) 

-Dr. Arvind Singh

Terminalia arjuna is a large-sized (20 – 25 m tall) evergreen tree with a broad crown and shallow roots. It belongs to Combretaceae family of the flowering plants and is vernacularly called as Arjuna.

Terminalia arjuna is native of Indian sub-continent distributed throughout semi-arid, sub-humid and humid tropical South Asia from Pakistan to Malaysia. It occurs in valleys and plains up to 1200 m, elevation. In India, Terminalia arjuna is commonly found in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Western Peninsula.

It grows best on neutral (pH 6.5 – 7.0), fertile soils especially loose moist alluvial loam with good water supply and drainage. Terminalia arjuna also grows on a variety of soils including saline and alkaline soils with a pH above 7.5. It is a moderate shade bearer.

Terminalia arjuna is a tree of immense economic importance. The leaves are used as fodder for livestock. The leaves are also an excellent feed to tussar silkworms (Antherea mylitta). It makes excellent firewood and charcoal. The wood is strong and moderately heavy and is used for agricultural implements, poles, cartwheels, boats, and buildings.
Terminalia arjuna is well known for its medicinal properties. The bark of the tree is astringent, febrifuge, cooling, cardiac stimulant, cholagogal, lithotriptic and vulnerary. It is an excellent remedy for heart diseases. Terminalia arjuna strengthen the heart muscles and maintains the heart functioning properly. It also improves the functioning of cardiac muscle. It is used for the treatment of coronary artery disease, heart failure, oedema, angina and hypercholesterolemia.

The bark of Terminalia arjuna possesses diuretic, prostaglandin enhancing and coronary risk factor modulating properties. It is useful in the treatment of asthma as well. The Terminalia arjuna was introduced into Ayurveda as a treatment of heart disease by Vāgbhata (7 century A. D.). It is traditionally prepared as a milk decoction. In the Ashtānga Hridayam, Vāgbhata mentions Terminalia arjuna in the treatment of wounds, haemorrhages and ulcers, applied topically as a powder.

Besides economic importance, Terminalia arjuna has cultural importance as well. It is one of the sacred trees of India. The leaves and flowers of Terminalia arjuna are offered to Lord Vishnu and Lord Ganpati on the several religious occasions. It has been used in Ayurvedic formation since ancient times.

The great seat of learning Banaras Hindu University is the largest teaching and residential university of Asia born in 1916, during the Indian freedom movement as a national university with a donation from both the rich and the poor. It was founded by great freedom fighter and social reformer Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya who was also addressed as Mahamana’.

Recently on March 30, 2015, Malaviya was conferred (posthumously) India’s highest civilian award- The Bharat Ratna, for his outstanding contribution in the field of education, social work, journalism, politics and Indian independence struggle. The foundation stone of the Banaras Hindu University was laid by Lord Hardinge on February 4, 1916, the then Viceroy and Governor-General of British ruled India. The Banaras Hindu University came into existence through a Parliamentary Act on April 1, 1916. 

The main university campus spreads over 1350 acres of the land area encompassed by a wall all around it. The campus is located about 5 km south of Varanasi city on the western bank of the Ganges River (25° 18’ N latitude and 83° 1 E longitude) on levelled topography at an elevation of 76 m. The Varanasi District of Uttar Pradesh (India) belongs to Indo-Gangetic Plains physiographic division of India.

The soil is of the alluvial type formed by the deposition of sediments of river Ganges, which is fertile with sandy loam texture. About a century-old main campus of Banaras Hindu University provides dense flora.

Tree plantations programme is carried out from time to time on the Banaras Hindu University main campus along roadsides and vacant open grounds, compounds of hostels, departments, Sir Sunderlal hospital and health centers for the maintenance of greenery. Realizing the medicinal importance of Terminalia arjuna the former Vice-chancellor Dr. Hari Gautam (1995-1998) who by profession was a Cardiologist had given special priority to the plantation of Terminalia arjuna on the university campus consequently during his tenure plantations of Terminalia arjuna were raised on large scale on the university campus.

Besides Terminalia arjuna the other tree species in plantation programme of the university campus includes Acacia auriculiformis, Alstonia scholaris, Anthocephalus, cadamba, Azadirachta indica, Bauhinia purpurea, Bauhinia racemosa, Bauhinia variegata, Cassia fistula, Calliandra haematocephala,Delonix regia, Grevillea robusata, Jatropha curcus, Madhuca longifolia, Mangifera indica, Melia azedarach,Millettia pinnata, Senna siamea,, Sterculia alata, Syzygium cuminii, Tamarindus indicus. Tectona grandis and Terminalia bellerica.

Today the trees of Terminalia arjuna are threatened on the Banaras Hindu University main campus due to over-exploitation for medicinal value. The stem bark of the standing trees is removed by the local inhabitants residing nearby the university campus especially those belonging to weaker sections of the society having no any source of livelihood. The bark is sold to the local pharmaceutical companies, which is being used in the manufacture of Ayurvedic medicines. The tree bark is also extracted by the local villagers and university employees of lower classes for the fulfilment of their medicinal requirements.

The extraction of bark using sharp equipment like knife often destroys the vascular tissue of the tree bole either leading to stunted growth or death of the trees. The stunted trees often have a malformed stem.

The incidence of bark pilferage of Terminalia arjuna is more near Seer gate, Swantrata Bhavan, university agriculture farm and around Indian Institute of Technology (BHU)compared to other places of the university campus.

The over-exploitation of Terminalia arjuna in the highly protected campus of Banaras Hindu University is a matter of serious concern and needs attention to protect the tree species from over-exploitation for medicinal purposes.

Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen of published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted Research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India.

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