The Sacred Bael

Essays > Culture India, my Love

Naina explores the history of the wood apple, a fruit tree native to the Indian subcontinent and considered as being very sacred.

Also known as Bilva or Bel or Bengal quince, Bael was mentioned in early Sanskrit writings already in 800 BCE. Its botanical name is Aegle marmelos. Wood apple is the name given by British botanists in the early 19th century when they found this exotic fruit in India.

Bael tree

Planting these trees around one’s home or temple is believed to be sanctifying and they have been found in many temple gardens that are the abode of various shaktis or emanations of Shiva’s consort Parvati. The fruit is also known as Shriphala – the fruit of Shri, another name for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Bael leaves
This three forked leaf is symbolic to three universal gunas – Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. All parts of the Bael tree are instilled with valuable medicinal properties.

According to early Hindu Vedic legend, the Bael tree is said to have originally germinated from the drops of sweat that fell from the forehead of the Goddess Parvati on Mt. Mandara (according to legend located between Bhagalpur, Bihar, and Dumka, Jharkhand, East India).

Its trifoliate leaves symbolize the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as well as the trident of Shiva. This tree is particularly sacred to Shiva, although it is also used in worship of other deities such as Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi and Surya. The leaf is very commonly used to adorn the matted hair of Shiva.

Lingam
Wet leaves of the tree are traditionally placed on the lingam in temples as a cool offering.

According to Vedic belief, a Pindi (lingam) contains two types of pure particles from the Ahat sound (produced by the water falling onto its surface) and the Anahat (subtle) sound. The tender Bael leaves can unite Ahat and Anahat sounds. It is said that the leaves offered with their stalks facing oneself and placed upside down on the Pindi will attract the combined energy of the three leaves towards oneself.

Osho says: Shiva’s temples are found everywhere. No other deity is worshipped as much as Shiva. In every village, in every lane you will find a Shiva temple. Under trees you will find stones that are revered as Shiva. This is because with Shiva the world comes to an end. He is the deity of death, and hence worthy of worship. Brahma gives birth to the world, Shiva destroys it. India’s keenest desire was always how to be rid of samsara, how to attain liberation. Therefore we find Shiva temples abounding.

There are temples dedicated to Vishnu also. Many among us are afraid of annihilation. They worship Vishnu. The shopkeeper worships Vishnu for Vishnu is the treasurer, the keeper of the stores. He is in between Brahma and Shiva, and so he is the Lord of Laxmi, the deity of wealth. So those who lust for wealth worship Vishnu.

This is worth pondering over; if you want to approach a man it is best to go through his wife. Not only in ordinary matters of the world does this method apply, but even in matters of the spirit. The rule is: please the wife and the master is bound to be pleased. Please Laxmi and Vishnu is pleased.

Vishnu looks after the world; therefore, those who want to live in the world worship him. Shiva is the end. He is the supreme death. He is the deity of the sannyasins. Therefore there are so many temples of Shiva. The smallest village is not without its Shiva temple. And because it is the temple of the sannyasin it has to be made as cheaply as possible. You do not need great funds for a Shiva temple. Find a rounded stone and it becomes the Shivalinga, the symbol of Shiva. You do not even need flowers; a few leaves off the woodapple tree, that is all. Temples to Vishnu are elaborate affairs that a millionaire can afford, but who is to erect temples in honor of the lord of death? Certainly not those who cling to life and the world, so Shiva’s temples had to be cheap constructions.

These three deities are the three threads of life: birth, life and death. Remember, birth has already taken place, so what need is there to worship Brahma? What has already happened is a closed chapter; there is nothing more to do about it. Life still is; therefore some are absorbed in the worship of Vishnu. But these are not very wise people, for life is ebbing away every moment. Unless the knowledge of death descends into your life, sannyas cannot enter your life; you will remain a worldly man.

It is also believed that Brahma, the creator, presented Shakyamuni Buddha with this fruit and in this gesture of veneration, he humbles himself before a wisdom superior than his own. The Bael tree is also sacred to the Jains because the 23rd Tirthankara, Bhagwan Parasnathji attained Nirvana under this tree.

Newar community Nepal

An interesting custom in Nepal is Ihi (Bael Vivah). In the Newar community the girl child is married to the Bael before she attains her puberty. It is held every year during akshya tritiya. In the Newar community a girl is married thrice in her life, first with the Bael fruit which is called Ihi ceremony, second with the sun which is called Gufa (Surya darshan) and finally with a man. It is said that once a girl is married to a Bael fruit she will never be considered a widow even if her husband dies because she is already married to lord Kumar, the son of Shiva.

Essay by Prem Naina

Quote by Osho from The True Name Vol 2, Ch 5 (excerpt, translated from Hindi)

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