The extraordinary Peepal tree

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Intriguing facts about this unique and sacred tree, compiled by Bhagawati and Kul Bhushan.

A friend marvelled recently that we have a peepal tree (bodhi tree) in our garden. It grew from a sapling taken from Bodhgaya’s peepal tree, which was brought to Sri Lanka from where it travelled to Bali.

Peepal tree in Bodh Gaya
Peepal tree in Bali
Under the peepal tree

 

The peepal tree (Ficus religiosa or sacred fig) is native to India and considered very sacred. It is the first-known depicted tree in India: a seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, one of the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation (c. 3000 – 1700 BCE), shows the peepal being worshipped. Its bark is light grey, smooth and peels in patches. Its heart-shaped leaves have long, tapering tips and its fruit is purple when ripe. During the Vedic period, its wood was used to make fire by friction.

In the Upanishads, the fruit of the peepal is used as an example to explain the difference between the body and the soul: the body is like the fruit which, being outside, feels and enjoys things, while the soul is like the seed, which is inside and therefore witnesses things.

The Hindu scriptures mention it and in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna declares of all the trees, he is the peepal. Hindus in India hold a great spiritual respect for the peepal tree, regarding it as the tree beneath which Vishnu was born. People tie threads of white, red and yellow silk around it to pray for progeny and rewarding parenthood.

Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment mediating under the peepal tree and thus it is also known as bodhi tree. According to the Buddha, “He who worships the peepal tree will receive the same reward as if he worshiped me in person.” The site is in present-day Bodh Gaya in Bihar, visited by millions from all over the world every year.

The leaves of this tree move continuously even when the air around is still and no wind is blowing and make a rustling sound. This phenomenon happens due to the long leaf stalk and the broad leaf structure. However, religious minded people in Hindu and Buddhist religion attribute this movement of the leaves to the fact that devas or gods reside on these leaves and make them move continuously. This fact is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita as a verse – “O Ashvatha, I honour you whose leaves are always moving…”

Interestingly, the pineal gland (also called the third eye), defined by scientists as the most important gland in the body, secrets a substance that is found in large quantities in the peepal tree. Without the secretion that comes from that gland consciousness cannot evolve in humans.

Sadhus to this day meditate beneath the sacred peepal trees, and Hindus do pradakshina (circumambulation, or meditative pacing) around them as a mark of worship.

The peepal tree is of great medicinal value. Its leaves serve as a wonderful laxative as well as a tonic for the body and it is especially useful for patients suffering from jaundice, helping to control the excessive amount of urine released during jaundice. The leaves are highly effective in treating heart disorders as they help control heart palpitation and thereby combat cardiac weakness. Ayurveda makes extensive use of the leaves for about 50 disorders including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, gastric problems, and inflammatory disorders, infectious and sexual disorders.

Bhagawati and Kul Bhushan

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