The Tree of Life concept appears in science, philosophy, religion and mythology and alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet, serving as a metaphor for our common descent. It is a symbol that appears in nearly every ancient culture. With the branches reaching for the sky, and deep roots into the earth, it dwells in the three worlds of heaven, earth and the underworld, acting as a link among the three.
In Indian textiles, the tradition began to be associated most significantly with palampores or bed coverings, featuring a central flowering tree growing from a rocky mound or arising from water surrounded by sacred lotuses and marine creatures. Animals, peacocks and trailing flowers were featured prominently in the early Tree of Life designs. These were among the Kalamkari (hand-painted) textiles which made an appearance in 17th – 19th century cotton fabrics produced in Masulipatanam, Andhra Pradesh.
The motif has since been adapted to several art forms and fabrics, appearing in distinct interpretations in traditional art forms like Mata Ni Pachedi, created by a nomadic tribe in Gujarat to represent their resident deity.
A common thread among all of these interpretations is their link to the Tree of Life symbolism in Hindu mythology and ancient scriptures. It often hearkens to the Banyan Tree (Akshaya Vata), an eternal and divine symbol that stands near the confluence of the Yamuna and Ganga Rivers in Allahabad. It is this tree that is believed to have survived the cyclical destruction of creation when the Earth was enveloped by water. It is on the leaves of this tree that Lord Krishna is said to have rested when land was no longer visible and is also where the immortal sage Markandeya, a devotee of both Shiva and Vishnu, is said to have received the cosmic vision of God. Even Lord Buddha is represented as meditating under the mighty Banyan tree and legend has it that the Bodhi Tree at Gaya is also a manifestation of this tree.
The ancient symbol continues to be re-created with modern textures and nuanced interpretations that highlight the continuity, connectedness and seamless beauty of nature and life.
Discover more in POOL 54.