Symbol of Forest in Literature

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Symbols of Forest in Literary Imagination

:- Ph.Sanamacha Sharma


Forest implies an spot filled with trees. Without trees, a place cannot be called forest. But to understand a forest, we cannot talk only of the trees, then it would be like discussing a leaf singly by forgetting the whole complexity of the tree. Our talk of forest cannot be complete if we do not speak of the birds, animals and insects and other organisms living in it, the soil and the rocks, the ponds and the rivers running through it, the grasses and colourful flowers growing there and man living with it, in it, as a part and as a dependent. Accordingly, deliberation on forest means touching Nature itself in totality, as something separate yet inseparable from human life itself, as something which is in us, as a part of us, outside us and we inside it at the same time. Though there can be nature without forest, there cannot be forest without nature.

Yet forest is an important part of nature. Talking about forest in literature does not mean talking about it impersonally or coldly as a collection of trees from scientific point of view. Literature often represents it like a real person with real feelings and emotions of their own, as representation of parts of our own thoughts and feelings, of collective conscious and unconscious, as sort of a mother who nurses her children, or something as inscrutable as mysteries of life itself which has the potential to create, sustain or destroy life like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Hindu mythology.

Tree as metaphor/image/symbol

It is impossible to imagine life without forest. Human life and human settlement cannot be envisioned without trees. Trees and forests have been shaping the cultural imagination of people since prehistory time. Even today, some people still consider forest groves as sacred and mysterious. Even today, there are many animistic people who believe in deities dwelling in these forest groves which control the general welfare and well-being of a particular community. As ecocritics one can view it as old indigenous way of conserving the natural resources, sustaining the biodiversity of a particular area.

Obviously, trees as metaphors have gone into our parlance for self-and community-expression and have been employed since time immemorial in ancient and modern literatures. In Genesis of the Bible, there is the image of Adam and Eve near the apple tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating the forbidden fruits severs their link with innocence and connects them to the beginning of knowledge of the world. Buddha got his enlightenment sitting under a tree in a forest grove. In the Gita, tree-metaphor is used to explain the complicated spiritual matrix binding of all things in universe:

It is said that there is an imperishable banyan tree that has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns… The branches of this tree extend downward and upward, nourished by the three modes of material nature. The twigs are the objects of the senses. The tree also has roots going down, and these are bound to the fruitive actions of human society. The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment…. ( Ch.15: Text.1, 2 and 3)

Every people has its own distinctive mythology as reflected in legend, folklore and ideology. Yet there are some archetypal motifs and themes and images which are found in many different mythologies which elicit analogous psychological responses and serve similar cultural functions. In many parts of the world, many people do not look at simply as an object to be owned and cut down for use. They sometimes worship trees as deity. In literature, trees in its most general sense symbolizes "life of the cosmos: its...
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