As we bid farewell to 2023, it is inspiring to recall that it has been a most memorable year for Meherabad, marking a century since Avatar Meher Baba first touched His foot on its blessed soil. The neem tree heralded below stands sentinel to that day.
The Neem Tree
There are many unusual or unique types of trees heralded worldwide by botanists. But in the world of Meher Baba’s lovers, it is a simple roadside neem tree that holds a special place in our hearts. It is the neem tree that once had a small masonry parapet around it, typical in village trees in India, that Baba sat on one hundred years ago, in 1923. And it happened to have been planted in the place that the Avatar of the Age destined to become the most sacred pilgrimage site on earth, Meherabad.
The neem tree at lower Meherabad which had a parapet around it over a hundred years ago. This is where Baba sat on His first visit to what is now “Meherabad”.
For the tree, it was fortunate to not only have shaded Baba that day, but to have provided the umbrella under which He and His mandali slept that night.
Meher Baba and some of the men mandali, Quetta, 1923, a few months after they first visited Meherabad.
(Photograph courtesy of Meher Nazar Publications)
For the interest of historywallas, it seems probable that this tree was planted at time when, according to old government records, in 1876-1877 there was a tremendous famine in Ahmednagar district due to a lack of rain (from the average 32 inches, it rained 5 inches that year, affecting 912,00 people.) The government’s response was providing relief work:
…relief works had everywhere been opened. Prices were nearly five times their ordinary rate. Relief was being mostly given in the shape of wages for work on 250 miles of roads, tank digging, collecting gravel, etc. All who had applied for work were given it, and at one time 320,338 — over 33 per cent of the population — were employed…
In another account from that same time: “Most of the trees planted in the district in this period were under a programme to provide shelter by roadsides…” This project was generally considered to have failed according to the reports, as the saplings were taken to provide wood for cooking fires.
However, to this day some of the old neem and banyan trees planted then still stand in a line on either side of the road from Daund to Ahmednagar, including a few of those planted in Meherabad.
Another centenarian, the neem tree by Baba’s dhuni, was one of those planted along the road over a hundred years ago, in line with neem under which Baba sat.
How fortunate were those who, thinking only of trading a day’s hard labour for some grain to feed their families, bent their backs in the sun to dig holes along a dry, dusty road and planted saplings; never knowing that one day their labour would be the envy of kings.
How could they guess that the Lord of the Universe would walk down that road and His precious form would be cooled and shaded by those trees, and that some of those saplings would grow strong and tall, and offer Him a place to rest.
From the plaque under the tree.
Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai!!