Socio-cultural, Ecological and Religious Importance of Plants as Mentioned in the Scriptures (Part-3)

By BALRAM (10-07-2019  )

ECOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPORTANCE

 

Plants have been integral part of Indian life and culture. Owing to its importance in day-to-day human life and environment balance, ancient seers of India did all that was possible to conserve and preserve plants. They developed the concept of tree worship apart from discussing the merits of plantation. How felling or cutting of trees was considered as sin and hazardous have been discussed in ancient scriptures. As plants are required for healthy environment, thoughts for plant conservation were given prominence in ancient India. If those thoughts are practised in modern era too, problems of environment pollution could easily be met. For promoting conservation of plants, our ancient seers and poets developed a unique idea

of tree worship. This aspect was given prominence in ancient India. Going by scriptures, one could easily find references that some trees were abodes of various Gods. It can be stated that from time immemorial tree-worship has occupied an important place in Indian society.

SACREDNESS OF FLORA 

Tree worshiping occupied a very important place during the Vedic period also. The following Rig-vedic hymn illustrates the important of trees during that period:

 

May plants, the waters and the sky preserve us, and

Woods and mountains with their trees for trees…..

May the swift wanderer, Lord of refreshments, list

Our songs, who speeds through cloudy haven .And

May the water, bright, like castles, hear us. As they

Blow onward from the clover mountain.

(Rig-Veda 5.41, 11-12)

 

In Rgveda a prayer is offered for the growth of Vanaspati:

Vanaspati mount up with a hundred branches that

We may mount with a thousand, thou whom the

Sharpened hatchet has brought for great auspiciousness

(Rig-Veda 3.8.11)

Vedic seers offered prayer to god for the purpose of making plants and herbs sweet.

As regards plantation and celebration of tree festivals, it is noted that a wise man who perform certain prescribed rites, obtains all his desires (Matsya Purana, 59.16).  He who plants a tree would live in heaven. He attains great prosperity without any rebirth. The trees alone make a sonless person too have a son (Padma Purana-1.28.18-22).

According to the Vamana Purana the following plants arose as listed below:

  1. Lotus (Neiumbium speciosum) from Vishnu’s navel.
  2. Kadamba (Anthocephallus cadamba) from the forepart of the hand of Kandaripa.
  3. Banyan (Ficus bcngalensis) from Manibhadra, the chief of the Yakshas.
  4. Dhatura (Datura fastuosa) from the chest of Siva.
  5. Khadira (Acacia catechu) from the middle body of Brahma.
  6. Bread fruit (Adansonia digitata) from the body of Visvavarman.
  7. Kurchi flowers (Jasminium pubescens) from the palm of Parvati.
  8. Sindhuvaraka (Vitex negundo) from the temple of Ganesha.
  9. Palasa (Butea frondosa) from the right side of Yama.
  10. Udumbara (Ficus glomerata) from the north-south side of Yama.
  11. Vrsa drig (Banduvija pentapates) from Rudra.
  12. Bamboo (Banduvija pentapates) from Skanda. 13- Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) from Ravi.
  13. Shami (Acacia suma) from Katyani.
  14. Bilva (Aegle marmelos) from Lakshmi.
  15. Reeds (Arundo donax) from the lord of serpents.
  16. Durbha (Pao cynasuroides) from Vasuki.

There are various vratas (vows) and festivals also related to trees.

Some of them are named here such as Arkasaptami (Padma Purana, 5.75.86-106), Asokadwadashi (Matsyapurana, 81.1-28), Asokapurnima (Matsyapurana, 184.1), Amla Ekadashi (Padma Purana, 6.47.33), Kamalasaptami (Matsyapurana, 78.1-11), Dhatrivrata  (Padma Purana, 5.58.1-11).

 

Many plants are considered highly sacred. Plants are often associated with many myth and folklore. The tradition of conserving the plants and the forest wealth was strengthened by social

customs and traditions. The plants are associated and identified with Gods, planets, months etc.

Vamana Purana (17/1-9) has come up with unique aspect in this regard. It has discussed the divine origin of the plants.

Bhagvad Maha purana says that the birth of the trees is verily the most blessed in the world as it contributes to the well-being of all creatures. According to Varaha Purana, the learned recognize a tree to be like a son because it provides woods for building houses for domestic life, so is shelter for small animals, birds breeding besides providing fruits throughout the year. Keeping in view that trees provide food, shade, fuel and wood, Puranas have time and again mentioned that they should be produced, protected and donated to the society. According to Matsya Purana, planting of trees was a pious action and also he, who plants even one tree, goes straight to the heaven and obtains the highest perfection. Varaha Purana   adds that just as a dutiful son raises his family by austerity so do the trees with their flowers and fruits, raise up from hell their planter. Vishnu Purana emphatically discourages inflicting injury to the trees. Padma Purana specifically discusses the importance of planting trees. It says that it is not possible to know or to narrate the reward earned by that man who plants auspicious trees all around. The reward that a man would get by planting trees near water is a lakh crore times more than the reward that he would get by planting them somewhere else (1.60.3). Planting even one tree is a yeomen (Padma Purana, 1.60.11). He who plants never goes to hell. Those who set up orchards or plant trees on the roads proceed on to Yama’s abode without any trouble (Siva Mahapurana Uma Samhita, 11.6). Those who set up gardens, move on boarding the Pushpak planes (Siva Mahapurana Uma Samhita, 11.7). The trees laden with fruits are to be considered golden and best for birds. To protect the garden is to provide pleasure to people. To destroy it is to do harm to others. The Bhavishya Purana says- felling of tree results in the destruction of the family of the person concerned and he also becomes dumb and suffers from diseases (2.16.60). Vayu Purana says that whenever people on this earth become greedy and cut off the plants for self-use they suffer a lot. Emotions of lust and greed of a human being result in demolition of trees (Vayu Purana, 8.83, 87). When those trees got demolished, senses of people got dazed and agitated (Vayu Purana, 8.89). Vaman Purana says that if the trees, which protect all living beings like mother, are cut then the Earth becomes like a hell.  Cutting a green plant for the sake of fuel is considered as sin (Manusamriti, 11.64). Varaha Purana says that trees should never be cut. If even by mistake or unknowingly one cuts the tree grown in the garden of a city, he will certainly fall into hell after his death. It further adds that if the trees that give shelter to the travellers are cut by a person, he will fall into a hell called ‘Asipatravan’, wherein he will be tortured by the servants of God Yama. Brahmavaivarta Mahapurana says that even Brahmana, who was considered to be respectable member of the society, was also to be expelled from the society if found guilty of cutting tree, especially asvattha tree (Brahmavaivarta Mahapurana 35.40). According to the Vishnu Purana (3.8.15), Sri Keshava is pleased with a person who never fells or hurt trees.

In the seven chapters of Valmiki Ramayana and Ramcharit Manas by Sri Goswami Tulsidas – 1) Balkand 2) Ayodhya Kand 3) Aranayakand 4) Kishkindhakand 5) Sundarkand 6) Yuddhakand and 7) Uttarakand mention, a large number of plants and the names of trees, shrubs and climbers and tubers and fruits are scattered throughout the texts.

BUDDHIST SCRIPTURES 

Trees or the fruit they bore also came to be associated with wisdom, knowledge, or hidden secrets. This meaning may have come from the symbolic connection between trees and worlds above and below human experience. The tree is a symbol of wisdom in stories about the life of Gautama the Buddha, who is said to experience enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi tree. Jataka Stories have various references in this regard.

 

PLANTS/TREES AND SIKHISM

Though generally speaking, the Sikhs in India do not worship trees yet a few specimens are held sacred by them. One is a tree of Ber (Zizyphus jujuba) growing in the compound of the Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib) at Amritsar which is believed by the Sikhs to be a tree which removes sorrow and it has a story behind it too. Similarly, a tree of Carissa spinosa or the sacred Gama, growing in a village called Badal in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab State in India, is a tree of great antiquity and is held in great reverence by the Sikhs. Near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, there is a tree of Amla (Embelica officinalis) one branch of which bears sweet fruits and the rest of the tree bears bitter-sour fruits. No doubt a case of mutation in the plant but the Sikhs hold the tree sacred under the belief that one of their Gurus once rested under this tree and the branch which gave him shade, since that time bears sweet fruits.

 

 

To be concluded in Part-4

 

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