Socio-cultural, Ecological and Religious Importance of Plants as Mentioned in the Scriptures (Part-4)

By BALRAM (10-07-2019)

{NB: This the final part of the series} 

FOLKLORES AND A FEW STORIES

In ancient India, an elaborate ritual was laid for each sacred ceremony and plants/trees formed an important niche in the ceremony.  Trees and sacred beliefs associated with them in Indian mythology in the form of folklores and stories given below for the readers :

(a) For instance at the coronation of Yudhishthira after the battle of Mahabharata there were “Golden jars full to the brim with water, and those made of copper and silver and earth, and flowers, and fried paddy, and Kusa ghas (Eragrosds cynasuroides), and cow’s milk, and sacrificial fuel consisting of the wood of Shami (Acacia suma) Pippala (Piper lorigum), Palasa (Butea frondosa), and honey and clarified butter and sacrificial ladles made of Adumvara (Ficus glomerata) and conches adorned with gold”.  The above brings out the importance placed upon plants/trees in Mahabharata era.

(b) In Garuda Purana also there is a mention of the ritual use of plants: The twigs of such sacrificial trees or plants e.g. Arka (Calatropis gigantea), Palasa (Butea monosperma), Khadira (Acacia catechu), Aparmarga (Achryanthese aspera), Pippala (Piper longum), Udumvara (Ficus glomerata), Sami (Acacia suma), blades of Durva (Pao cynasuroides) and Kusa ghas (Eragrostis cynasuroides), soaked with curd, honey, clarified butter should be repeatedly cast in the sacrificial fire, in Homa ceremonies celebrated for the propitiation of the planets, such as the Sun.”

(c) The flowers offered in various months of the year to the various deities are mentioned in Garuda Purana. The vow of Ananga-Trayodashi falls on the 13th day of the moon’s increase in the month of Marga’sirsha (January). Yogesvara (Siva) should be worshipped on this day with offerings of Datura (Datura stominium), twigs of Mallika (Jasminium arborescens), Vilva leaves (Aegle marmelos), twigs of Kadamba (Anthocephallus cadamba), sandal paste  Santalum. album); god Nateshwara with Kunda flowers (Jasminium pubescens) and Plaksha twigs (Butea monosperma). In the month of Phalguna (February-March) god Vivesvara is to be worshipped with Muruvaka flowers (Vedala cadai), pot herbs and Chuta trees (Mangifera indica), twigs of Vata (Ficus bengalensis); in Vaisakh (April) God Sambhu to be offered flowers of Asoka (Saraca indica), twigs of Udumbara (Ficus glomerata) and nutmeg. In the month of Jyaistha (May), Pradyumna who is an incarnation of Kama, the god of love, is to be worshipped with Champaka flowers (Michelia champaca) Vilva twigs (Aegle marmelos). In Ashada (month of June) gods are worshipped with flowers of Aparmarga (Achryanthes aspera) and Agaru twigs (Aquilaria agallocha). In Sravana (July) with Karavira flowers (Nerium oleander). In Asvins (Sept.-Oct.) god Suradhipa, lord of celestials is worshipped with flowers of Vakusa (Mimusops elangii), twigs of Madhavi (Hiptage madhoblata); in Aswina (September) with Champaka flowers (Michelia champaca) and twigs of Khadira (Acacia catechu). In Kartika (October-November), Rudra is worshipped with twigs of Vadari (Zizyphus jujuba). At the year’s end Puja is done with milk, pot herbs and lotus flowers (Nelumbium speciosum) are offered to deities.

(d) In the Puranas it is said that he who gives libations-of first fruits in the vessels of Palasa (Butea monosperma), Aswattlia (Ficus reiigiosa), Plaksha (Ficus lacor), Nyagrodha (Ficus bengalensis), Kasmari (Gmelina arborea), Madhuka (Jonesia asoka), Phalgu (Ficus oppositifolia), Bilva (Aegle marmelos), Venn (Bamboo) get the benefit of all Yajnas.

(e) According to the Mahabharata, the eastern side of Meru has a large forest of Bhadra salas (identified both as Anthocephalius cadamba ‘and Cedrus deodara), and a huge tree called Kalamra (Mangifera indica). This Kalamra is always graced with fruits and flowers. It is a Yojana in height and adored by Siddhas and Charanas. People who live on this mountain are good looking, of fair complexion and live up to 10,000 years. Drinking the juice of Kalamra, they continue youthful forever. On the south of the Nila and north of the Nishadha, there is a huge Jamvu tree ‘(Syzgium cumini, syn. Eugena Jambolena) that is eternal and wish fulfilling.

The Dvipa is named Jamvudvipa after the tree Jamvu. The height of the tree is a thousand and hundred Yojanas. Two thousand and five hundred cubit measure the circumference of a fruit of that tree. When the, fruit is ripe, it bursts and falls on the ground making a loud noise and a silvery juice pours out of it. This juice becomes a river which passing circuitously round Meru, comes to the region of the Northern Kurus. Drinking that juice, one gets peace of mind, does not feel thirsty again and decrepitude never weakens one.

(f) Sometimes cities are compared to flowers. According to the Bhagavata Purana the lotus floats on the lake, Madhura (Mathura) rares itself on the earth, protected by the Chakra, the disc of Vishnu. Hence it is called Gopalapuri. This Puri is surrounded by the above mentioned forests.

  1. Brhad-vana from Brhad or large
  2. Madhu-vana from Madhu, a tree (Bassia latifoiia)
  3. Tala-vana from Tala, palm tree (Borassus flabbifera)
  4. Bahula-vana from Bahula, a tree (Cardamon) (Elettaria cardamornum)
  5. Kumuda-vana from Kurnuda, lotus (Nelumbium speciosum)
  6. Khadira-vana from Khadira (Acacia catechu)
  7. Bhadra-vana from Bhadra (Gmelina asiatica)
  8. Bhandlra-vana from Bhandra (Ficus bengalensis)
  9. Sri-vana from Sri or Lakshmi. Sribriksha (Aegle marmelos)
  10. Loha-vana from Loha, a plant (Aloe agallochum)
  11. Brada-vana from Brnda or Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum)

 

These forests are presided over by 12 Adityas, 11 Rudras, 8 Vasus, 7 Rsis, Brahma, Narada, the five Vinayakas (Moda, Pramoda, Amoda, Sumukha and Durmukha), Viresvara, Rudresvara, Visesvara, Gopalasvara, Bhadresvara and 24 Siva-Lingas.

(g) Since very early times Deva Daru or the Deodar (Cedrus deodara) is considered as the abode of gods, may be because of the lofty, awe inspiring height the tree attains. In the Western Himalayas, particularly in the Kumaon hills and the Kulu valley, people hold the tree sacred and offer iron pieces as their offering to the gods dwelling in the trees. One often comes across trees studded with iron nails as a form of worship mainly to ward off illness, death and destruction of cattle, sheep and crops. Like the worship of Deodars, many trees are worshipped mainly because of the belief that spirits and deities dwell in them. Why iron nails are made as an offering can only be explained from a common Indian belief that iron keeps the evil away. And may be, to the people worshipping the tree, it was not just the gods dwelling in the tree that were important but also the tree itself as it brought rain which was important in an agricultural country.

(h) The Navapatrika or ‘nine planets’, are Rambha associated with the Plantain (Musa sapient); Kacvi (Arum colocasia); Haridra, the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa); Jayanti or Barley (Hordeum vulgare); Vilva (Aegle .marmelos); Dadima or pomegranate (Punica granatum); Asoka (Saraca indica); Mana or Dhanya called paddy (Oryza sativa). The nine goddesses presiding over the Individual plants are Brahmani, Kalika, Durga, Kartiki, Siva, Raktadantika, Sokarahita, Chamunda, and Lakshmi respectively. These nine forms of the Devi can be described as comprising a variety of the Nava-durgas.

(i) A reference to the vana-devatas or the tree spirits is made in Kalidasa’s world renowned play Sakuntala where the vana-devata blesses Sakuntala as she leaves for her husband’s home.

(j) There is a sculpture piece of the Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) at Mahabodhi near Gaya which shows two human arms extended from the tree, one holding a plate full of food and the other containing a vessel with a drink, towards a man who is ready to receive them.

(k) Marriage of boys and girls to trees is still being practised by certain tribes and families in India. This is a relic of the primitive age. Tulsi vivah and saligram vivah are quite famous in various part of India in this context. Among boys such a marriage is usually performed if the prophecy/prediction is that his first marriage will break. By marrying him to a tree which is considered to be female, the tragedy is averted and later he is married to a girl and she is considered his second wife. In Orissa if a man loses two wives in succession, before he can be married for the third time, he is first married to a tree of Stribulus asper or Morus indica before he is considered free of the curse of becoming a widower again, as the ill-luck is now carried by the tree he is married to. The same custom for girls, however, has a different basis. An unmarried girl’s body cannot be consecrated to the fire as per traditional belief system. In other words, a virgin cannot be cremated and it is the sacred duty of her parents to marry her at the appropriate time to a boy of their own caste. But if for any reason, the father fails to get her married, a marriage is solemnized between her and a tree after that the girl can be given away informally to any boy or to a boy of an inferior caste. For instance, among the Kunbirs of Gujarat, if a man fails to provide a husband for his daughter, she is married to a bunch of flowers and the flowers are later thrown into a well after which the girl can marry anyone or she is simply given away to any man who is prepared to accept her. In some cases a girl is first married to a tree with a belief that she will imbibe some of the fertility of the tree before she is married in the normal way to a man. Among the Gauras of Orissa, a girl who fails to get a husband is taken to a forest, married to a tree and left tied to it. She is rescued by the first man who comes that way and she becomes his wife informally. Mostly a youth of a lower caste is waiting for the family to depart before he takes her to his home.

(l) There is a mention of the birth of plants in Matsya Purana. The legend says that by the power of their penances, Rishis Prachetasa (ten brothers), had protected the plants but Agni burnt them. So the Rishis married Soma-Kanya, Marisha, the daughter of Soma and from this union was born Daksha. Daksha in turn produced on her innumerable plants and trees.

CONCLUSION

Starting from the Hindus Valley civilization to the present age, the place of trees in cultural and social life has been of immense importance in India. The scriptures, Vedic, Puranik, Buddhist, Jains etc. are full of references of the significance of plants/trees. In fact a number of sacred beliefs pertaining to trees can be identified in Indian mythology. This signifies reverence to the benefits provided by the trees to human beings and helped in conservation of many important species. The cult of tree-worship is as old as or older than civilization, in fact almost the first objects to be worshipped were trees. In India this is marked by a seal discovered at Mohenjodaro which depicts Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) being worshipped.

Sources and References :

 

  1. Major 10 Puranas published by Gita Press Gorakhpur
  2. Balmiki Ramayan
  3. Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsi Das
  4. Kautilya’s Arthashastra
  5. Mahabharata
  6. Jataka stories
  7. Various articles available on internet

 

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