Sacred Plants and Trees
It is mentioned of the Kalpavriksha and Chaityavriksha in the ancient scriptures indicating that the worship of the tree is indeed an ancient Indian practice. The Ancient Aryans worshiped nature. Plants, Trees and the other elements were always revered and several rituals were connected to them. Tree worship continues to be an element of modern Indian traditions. There are many trees which are considered Sacred. Some of the Sacred Trees are as follows :
Ashoka is one of the most legendary and sacred trees of India, and one of the most fascinating flowers in the Indian range of flower essences. It belongs to Caesalpaeniaceae family. It is a very handsome, small, erect evergreen tree, with deep green foliage and very fragrant, bright orange-yellow flowers, which later turn red. The flowering season is around April and May. It is found in central and eastern Himalayas as well as on the west coast of Bombay.Ashoka is a Sanskrit word meaning without grief or that which gives no grief. Of course, the tree has many other names in local languages as well. One such name means the tree of love blossoms. The Hindus regard it as sacred, being dedicated to Kama Deva, God of Love. The tree is a symbol of love. Its beautiful, delicately perfumed flowers are used in temple decoration. There are also festivals associated with this flower. Lord Buddha was born under the Ashoka tree, so it is planted in Buddhist monasteries.
Like Peepal Tree, the Banyan Tree also symbolizes the Trimurti-Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma. The tree also symbolizes life and fertility in many Hindu cultures. That is the reason, banyan tree is worshiped by those who are childless and this tree should never be cut. The tree can grow into a giant tree covering several hectares. The Great Banyan in the Indian Botanic Garden, Howrah, is considered to be the largest tree in the world. Lord Dakshinamurthy, who is worshiped as the “ultimate guru”, is usually depicted beneath a banyan tree. He symbolizes Lord Shiva and is seen as the the destroyer of ignorance and embodiment of knowledge.
In India, Bael tree is considered to be very sacred because it is associated with Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord Shiva is pleased by offerings of leaves from the Bael Tree, also known as bilva or bel tree. Thus, the Brahmanas worshiped Lord Shiva by for a period of one fortnight by offering bel leaves and that way satisfied Lord Shiva greatly. The fruit, flowers and leaves of the tree are all sacred to Shiva. Planting these trees around home or temple is sanctifying and is equivalent to worshiping a Linga with bilva leaves and water. The trifoliate leaf or tripatra of the bael tree is believed to symbolize the three functions of the Lord-the creation, preservation and destruction as well as his three eyes. The offering of the leaves is a compulsory ritual while worshipping Lord Shiva all over India. The Beal tree is also sacred to the Jains. It is said the 23rd Tirthankara, Bhagwan Parasnathji attained “Nirvana” enlightenment under a Bael tree. Besides religious significane, almost all parts of the tree have medicinal qualities Bael is an ingredient in many Ayurvedic and Siddha formulations.
The common names of Lord Krishna-Venugopal, Bansilal, Murali and Muralidhar reflect His association with Bansuri or Venu, His constant companion. Bansuri is actually a flute made of bamboo. That is the reason, bamboo is revered in India because it is associated with Lord Krishna.
Though banana is not a tree but it is considered a tree because of its structure and size. It is a very sacred tree and all parts of the tree are used for some purpose or the other. For example, the trunk of banana is used to erect welcoming gates. The leaves are used to make the ceremonial pavilion. In some pooja, the leaves are used to serve “prashad”. Just as leaves of bel tree are customarily offered to Lord Siva, it is believed that offering of the leaves of banana pleases Lord Ganesa. Banana as a fruit is offered to Lord Vishnu and Laksmi. Infact, the eleventh day of the bright half of Pausa (December-January) is considered to be very auspicious to offer banana to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Laxmi and sixth day of the bright fortnight of Kartika (October-November) is considered auspicious to offer banana to the Sun god. In some regions, banana tree is worshipped while performing Kadali Vrata or fast. According to tradition, during Vaisakha, Magha or Kartika sukla caturdasi, a banana tree is planted and nurtured till it bears fruit. It is said that worshiping the tree with flowers, fruit, etc. will help in the welfare of one’s family.
To all Hindus, the Bhang Tree is a very Holy Tree. There are many beliefs associated with the Bhang Tree. It is believed that a guardian lives in the Bhang leaf. To see in a dream the plant or water or leaves of Bhang is considered lucky as it brings wealth and prosperity into the dreamer’s power. To meet someone carrying Bhang is a sure sign of success. Bhang is a popular drink made of the leaves and flowers of the Bhang tree and considered to be a “prashad”. It is must for every devotees to have bhang on Mahashivratri. It is also said that nothing good can come to the man who treads underfoot the holy Bhang leaf. A longing for Bhang is a sign of happiness. Since ancient times, Yogis take deep draughts of Bhang so that they can center their thoughts on the Eternal without any disturbance because bhang has that intoxicating power in it. Infact, the students of ancient scriptures at Benares are given Bhang before they sit to study. Bhang has also many medicinal virtues. It is also believed that no god or man is as good as the religious drinker of Bhang. It is also said that to restrict the use of such a holy and gracious herb as the hemp or Bhang would cause widespread suffering and annoyance.
In Sanskrit, the name for the coconut palm “Kalpa vriksha”, which means “the tree which provides all the necessities of life” or “wish-fulfilling tree”. The coconut tree is given a special place in most Hindu households and great care is taken to nature the tree. In the southern part of India, it is a must for every household to plant coconut trees. There is a popular saying, “Water the plant for five years, reap coconuts for life” . The coconut is used for all religious purposes. Infact, it represents the main “sthapana” of any pooja. The whole pot filled with water, mango leaves and coconut, also known as “Purnakumbha” is a symbol of Goddess Laksmi or Fortune and the coconut represents divine consciousness. To break a coconut in the beginning of any event is considered to be very auspicious. Coconuts are offered in Temples to worship to various Gods and Goddesses. The fruit is also believed to represent Lord Shiva and the three black marks on the coconut shell, symbolizes his eyes.
The Lotus is always considered as an evocative symbol of beauty, purity and divinity and a highly revered flower by all Hindus. In Hinduism many of the deities are pictured sitting upon a lotus or holding a lotus flower. Rising up pure and unsullied from the depths of the muddy swamp, the lotus represents the manifestation of God. The pure white lotus flower is the only plant to fruit and flower simultaneously. The flower is a symbol of Goddess Laxmi. One of the incarnations of the Mother-Goddess or Devi and wife of the Hindu god Vishnu, Laxmi is the goddess of fortune and prosperity as well as the epitome of feminine beauty. According to Hindu mythology she was born radiant and fully grown from the churning of the sea. Lakshmi is always portrayed as sitting on a lotus flower which is her traditional symbol. That is why this flower held in high esteem. The Lotus flower has also symbolized spiritual enlightenment. It is said that the Lotus in Eastern Culture has a similar symbolism to the Rose in Christianity.
The mango tree is another sacred tree of the Hindus. The significance of this finds mention in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. The mango as a fruit is a symbol of love and fertility. The leaf of the tree is used during most religious and social ceremonies of the Hindus. A “Purnakumbha” is a pot filled with water and topped with fresh mango leaves and a coconut and considered to be the “staphna” of the puja. The pot symbolizes Mother Earth, water is the life giver, coconut the divine consciousness and the mango leaves symbolizes life. The whole “Purnakumbha” is symbolizes Goddess Lakshmi and good fortune. On various auspicious occasions, mango leaves are used to adorn entrances at home to signify good fortune. Mango blossoms are used on Basant Panchami day in the worship of Goddess Saraswasti. The tree is also sacred to the Buddhists because it is believed that Lord Buddha performed during his lifetime the instantaneous creation of a large mango tree from the seed at a place called Shravasti.
It is said that on the first day of Chaitra, after Amavasya, it is very essential to worship the neem and eat its leaves, mixed with pepper and sugar, as a safeguard from fever. The neem tree besides having various medicinal benefits is a highly revered tree among the Hindus because it is a manifestation of “Goddess Durga” or “Maa Kali”. That is why the tree is sometimes referred to as Neemari Devi. The Tree is worshiped very intensely. Tamil Ladies, while worshiping Maa kali dress in red, carry branches of the Neem tree, and dance in public places swishing the branches as an act of exorcism and to purify the world. The multi-headed occult goddess Yellamma (a highly revered goddess in south Indiai) sometimes assumes the appearance of a young neem tree. Young maidens worship this Goddess by cladding themselves all over in neem branches. In Bengal, neem is considered to be the tree which is the abode of “Sitala” (the great Pox-mother who can cause or cure disease). The customary treatment of pox is therefore to rub the body with neem leaves while making prayers to Sitala. It is also said that the smoke of burning neem protects both the living and the dead from evil spirits.
Peepal Tree also known as “Ashvattha” in Sanskrit, is a very large tree and the first-known depicted tree in India. A seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, one of the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation depicts the peepal being worshiped. According to the Brahma Purana and the Padma Purana, when the demons defeated the gods, Lord Vishnu hid himself in the Peepal Tree and that is why it is believed that the Peepal Tree is a symbol of Vishnu and is worshiped since a long period of time. There is another belief that the tree represents the Trimurti-the roots being Brahma, the trunk Vishnu and the leaves Shiva. Some says that Lord Krishna is believed to have died under this tree, after which the present Kali Yuga started. According to another belief, Goddess Lakshmi also inhabited the tree, specially on Saturday and hence it is considered auspicious to worship it. Infact women worship the tree to bless them with a son tying red thread or red cloth around its trunk or on its branches. According to the Skanda Purana, to cut down a peepal tree is considered a sin. Even Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment under the peepal tree and the peepal is also sacred to Buddhist. Hence it is also called the Bodhi tree or “tree of enlightenment”.
Red Sandalwood Tree
Besides being used in fragrance industry, fine woodworking and aromatherapy, Sandalwood is commonly used for incense and religious ceremonies. The Red Sandalwood Tree is considered to be a very sacred tree and is like a sage among many people. It is said that all other trees are considered ordinary trees and are like ignorant men in front of a Red Sandal wood. Popularly known as Chandan, Sandalwood has an extraordinary fragrance. Sandalwood paste is used in all religious rituals. The paste is smeared on the foreheads of devotees of Vishnu and Shiva and it is said that the sandalwood paste is meant to cool and protect the “Agna chakra” present between the eyebrows. In India, the death pyre is made using sandalwood branches for centuries. According to legend, Lord Ganesha was created by Goddess Parvati out of sandalwood paste that she used for her bath and breathed life into the figure. According to Indian mythology, sandalwood tree is depicted as being entwined with serpents. Sandalwood remains cool and aromatic even when the poisonous serpent coils around it. This also has another meaning that the basic nature of an individual cannot change because of outer effects.
Sandal wood, its paste and oil are important in worship of gods. The Sandal tree is highly regarded in the Vedic texts, and the heartwood is considered to be sacred. It is said that chandana, or Indra’s Sandalwood tree, scents the whole of paradise with its fragrance. Sandalwood is considered the epitome of excellence, imparting fragrance even to the axe that cuts it. For this reason anything that is excellent is referred to as chandana. It is used in sacred ceremonies and to purify holy places.
Tulsi is always associated with purity and a highly revered and used for all religious purposes among the Hindus. It is considered very auspicious to have a Tulsi plant in the front courtyard of many Hindu households. Tulsi beads can always be seen around the necks of serious yogis and mystics in India, worn to purifying the mind, emotions and body. Dispelling the unwanted influences of others, gross and subtle, is one of the many benefits bestowed by Tulsi plant and hence worshipped by all. Tulsi plants are also prized in Ayurveda, where they are considered an integral part of that sophisticated healing system. In practically every temple in India, no puja can be started without few Tulsi leaves. There is always a special place reserved for this sacred plant. The qualities and amazing powers of this plant are found throughout the oldest writings on Earth, the Sanskrit Vedas of ancient India, where it is stated that simply touching the wood is purifying at many levels. Tulsi plant is most loved by Lord Vishnu and Vrinda Devi, the Goddess ruling Tulsi is known as the personification of bhakti or devotion to the Supreme Being.