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Sacred Trees

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Did you know that April 11,1872 was the day when the State of Nebraska observed the first Arbor Day?

Sacred Trees

Nebraska was once a treeless land in the heart of what was called ‘the Great American Desert’ and this year, one million trees were planted! The mission was accomplished with the devotion of Mr.& Mrs. J.Sterling Morton who spent their lives to filling the barren prairie with trees. Later on,the idea became popular and today, many nations around the world celebrate their own Arbor Day. In my country, trees are almost planted during the World Environment Day due to the monsoon season. But, interesting is a fact that trees have very significant meanings in India. Many trees are believed to be Sacred trees and as this month, according to Gujarati calendar is chaitra, (Chaitra month from 9th April and also day of Gudi Padvo-Maharashtrian New year and cheti chand of sindhi community) it is considered essential to worship Neem tree and eat its bitter leaves, mixed with pepper and sugar, as a safeguard from fever. It is believed that if we eat Neem leaves juice for seven to fifteen days, we will be free from any fever for the whole year! 

Kids can make a Scrap Book. Stick the Picture of the trees and write down the info.

NEEM TREE

On the first day of Chaitra, after Amavasya, it is considered essential to worship the neem and eat its leaves, mixed with pepper and sugar, as a safeguard from fever. Neem Tree, also known as nimba, the neem (Azidirachta indica) is a tall, evergreen tree. small, bright green leaves with bitter taste. The fruit of neem turns from raw green to ripe yellow. It is said that the neem once sheltered Surya from demons according to the Brahma Purana and the Padma Purana. It is also considered sacred because the six goddesses who regulate disease are believed to live in it. These goddesses are said to infect people as a punishment for misconduct. The presence of these goddesses makes the neem a test of truth, for those who utter falsehoods beneath a neem are believed to fall violently ill. The neem is cherished as much for its shade as for its medicinal properties. The leaves have insecticidal and antiseptic properties. A neem twig is considered a very effective toothbrush, for while its fibres clean, its juice works both as a mouth freshner and a germ-killing dentrifice. Drinking water boiled with neem leaves is said to purify the blood and heal a skin afflicted with measles and chicken-pox sores. Dried neem leaves are packed with wool and silk, to keep away moths and other insects. During the rains, when most epidemics occur, women pray to the neem and make offerings at its base. The neem is also sacred to Manasadevi, queen of the serpents, who protects people from snakebite and so, is offered neem leaves at her altars. It is further believed that if a person lives on food cooked on a fire of neem wood, he will be immune to snake venom. To protect against any lingering infection, the Puranas urge that neem leaves are chewed after attending a funeral and should be strewn as an antiseptic barrier on the threshold of a house where a death has occurred. This rule was adopted to protect the mourners from the epidemics in earlier times. It is also believed that those possessed by evil spirits should be made to inhale the smoke of burnt neem leaves.

TULSI

Every year in the month of Kartik, the Vaishnavas marry a Tulsi plant to a Shalgrama stone with great fanfare. Around November, Tulsi vivah is marked the day to worship the tulsi plant. A big procession of the event is held in many places on this day.

The most widely accepted legend about the origin of tulasi is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana. According to it, Vishnu had three wives: Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Ganga. Once Lakshmi and Sarasvati quarreled and cursed each other. Sarasvati’s curse turned Lakshmi into a tulasi plant and forced her to live on the earth forever. In another version of the same story, after Sarasvati cursed Lakshmi to live on earth as tulasi, Vishnu explained that things had happened as predestined. Lakshmi would indeed be born so on earth and marry Shankhachuda, the demon, to help the gods vanquish him. Accordingly, Lakshmi was born as Tulasi, and in due course was married to Shankhachuda. Because of a boon from Brahma, Shankhachuda could only be defeated if his wife was unfaithful to him. Believing he was invincible, Shankhachuda became arrogant and began tormenting people. They prayed to Vishnu for help, and Vishnu sent Shiva to kill Shankhachuda. Meanwhile Vishnu assumed the form of Shankhachuda and seduced Tulasi, to make her unfaithful and therefore nullify the effect of the boon. This would allow Shiva to kill the demon. When Tulasi discovered the deceit, she began to curse the impostor. Before she could complete the curse however, the imposter revealed himself to be Vishnu. He pacified Tulasi, and reminded her that she was, in fact, Lakshmi, who could now return to heaven with him since her curse was over. To mark the event, Lakshmi’s hair became the tulasi plant, which remained on earth and was worshipped thereafter as her image, and her body was transformed into the river Gandaki. And so the tulasi is considered sacred. For the Vaishnavas in particular, no ceremony can be performed without it, and the worship of Vishnu is incomplete without its leaves. Since the tulsi and the Shalgrama Shila are so closely associated, every year in the month of Kartik, the Vaishnavas marry a tulsi plant to a shalgrama stone with great fanfare. It is believed that the tulasi ensures the presence of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who are said to reside in it and of Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Gayatri who are believed to live in its flowering sprigs. The tulsi is planted in the courtyards of many homes and is worshipped every day with water and pradakshina. This practice dates back to earlier times when entire families slept in the courtyard to escape the summer heat within the house. Since the tulsi emits oxygen and not carbon dioxide at night, unlike other plants, it was considered doubly effective to sleep in its sacred and healthy ambience.Tulsi is also known as Brinda or Vrinda and is frequently invoked in prayer and preaching as the embodiment of purity.

Tulsi, the sacred basil, is revered for its medicinal and spiritual value. Tulsi literally means ‘matchless’. It is revered for its medicinal properties as well as its spiritual value. The leaves are a remedy for coughs, and if eaten after meals, assist digestion. They are also put in cooked food and in stored water to prevent them from spoiling. The tulsi is believed to be an antidote to snake venom. When burnt, its smoke repels insects. From this last quality came the social diktat that if tulsi branches are added to a funeral pyre, the soul of the dead would go to Vaikuntha. Practicality, this was done to keep flies and insects at bay until the funeral was over, to prevent the spread of disease from a possibly infected corpse. The tulsi plant is believed to be so pure that the slightest pollution can kill it.

BEL TREE

Also known as bilva or wood apple (Aegle marmelos), the bel is a medium-sized deciduous tree. It has thorny branches and trifoliate leaves. Its fruit is large and round with a greenish-grey, woody shell. The bel has medicinal properties. Its leaves make poultice for the eyes and are good for diabetes, and the roots help reduce fever. Its fruit is a remedy for dysentery. It is also believed to promote fertility. Its leaves are an important offering to Shiva, for their trifoliate shape signifies Shiva’s three eyes. Since they have a cooling effect, they are offered to the Shivalinga to soothe this hot-tempered deity. Even a fallen bel is never used as firewood, for fear of arousing Shiva’s wrath. Its wood is used only in sacrificial fires. According to the Agni Purana, on any auspicious day in Bhadra, Shiva should be worshipped with a day-long fast and the eating of bel leaves at night. Bel Tree Purana say that Shiva once hid in the bel to escape conquering demons . The Skanda Purana holds that the bel grew from Parvati’s perspiration, which fell to the ground while she performed penance. It also says that the various incarnations of Parvati reside in each part of the tree. The Brihaddharma Purana relates how Lakshmi prayed to Shiva every day and offered him 10,000 lotus buds. One day she fell short by two buds. Remembering that Vishnu had compared her breasts to lotus buds, she decided to offer them instead. She cut one off and offered it humbly. Before she could cut the other, Shiva, pleased with her devotion, stopped her. Her cut breast became the fruit of the bel. The Bhavishya Purana says that after the samudra manthan, Lakshmi, who had just emerged from the ocean, rested in the bel. It was the ninth bright day of Bhadra. Therefore, the bel is worshipped every year on that day.

PEEPAL TREE

The peepal is the first-known depicted tree in India: a seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, one of the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation (c. 3000 BC – 1700 BC), shows the peepal being worshipped since long time ago.

Peepal Tree, the peepal (Ficus religiosa) is a very large tree. It is also called ‘Ashvattha’ in Sanskrit. Its bark is light grey, smooth and peels in patches. Its heart-shaped leaves have long, tapering tips. The slightest breeze makes them rustle. The fruit is purple when ripe. During the Vedic period, its wood was used to make fire by friction. The peepal is used extensively in Ayurveda. Its bark yields the tannin used in treating leather. Its leaves, when heated in ghee, are applied to cure wounds. The Brahma Purana and the Padma Purana, relate that once, when the demons defeated the gods, Vishnu hid in the peepal. Therefore spontaneous worship to Vishnu can be offered to a peepal without needing his image or temple.

Peepal Tree also considers the peepal a symbol of Vishnu. He is believed to have been born under this tree. Some believe that the tree houses the Trimurti, the roots being Brahma, the trunk Vishnu and the leaves Shiva. The gods are said to hold their councils under this tree and so it is associated with spiritual understanding. The peepal is also closely linked to Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita, he says: “Among trees, I am the ashvattha.” Krishna is believed to have died under this tree, after which the present Kali yuga is said to have begun. 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. According to the Skanda Purana, if one does not have a son, the peepal should be regarded as one. As long as the tree lives, the family name will continue. To cut down a peepal is considered a sin equivalent to killing a Brahmin, one of the five deadly sins. According to the Skanda Purana, a person goes to hell for doing so. Some people are particular to touch the peepal only on a Saturday. The Brahma Purana explains why, saying that Ashvattha and Peepala were two demons who harassed people. Ashvattha would take the form of a peepal and Peepala the form of a Brahmin. The fake Brahmin would advise people to touch the tree, and as soon as they did, Ashvattha would kill them. Later they were both killed by Shani. Because of his influence, it is considered safe to touch the tree on Saturdays. Lakshmi is also believed to inhabit the tree on Saturdays. Therefore it is considered auspicious to worship it then. Women ask the tree to bless them with a son by tying red thread or red cloth around its trunk or on its branches On Amavasya, villagers perform a symbolic marriage between the neem and the peepal, which are usually grown near each other. Although this practice is not prescribed by any religious text, there are various beliefs on the significance of ‘marrying’ these trees. In one such belief, the fruit of the neem represents the Shivalinga and so, the male. The leaf of the peepal represents the yoni, the power of the female. The fruit of the neem is placed on a peepal leaf to depict the Shivalinga, which symbolises creation through sexual union, and so the two trees are ‘married’. After the ceremony, villagers circle the trees to rid themselves of their sins. The peepal is also sacred to Buddhists, because the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment under it. Hence it is also called the Bodhi tree or ‘tree of enlightenment’.

PALM

Palm is a group of trees, vines and shrubs that typically grow in water and wet climates, especially in the tropics. Some palms live for more than 100 years They are the ancient plants that dates back to the age of reptiles. There are more than 2800 kinds of palms and they vary greatly in size, leaves, flowers and fruits they produce. Most Palms grow straight and tall. Palms provide ornament, shade, building materials like timber and fuel. Fibres for making ropes and brooms and and for making watertight ships are made from the palm. Strips of leaves are woven into mats, hats and baskets. The oil palm provides oil for food and lighting. The palymra palm sugary sap can be made into food, drinks and intoxicating beverages. The seeds are used to make buttons and carvings. The seeds of betel palms are chewed as a stimulant. There are a few palms which have poisonous seeds. The coconut palm gives a rich fruit and the dried oil meat of the coconut is used to flavour cakes, soap, salad oils and so on. Among the other trees are cabbage palm, date palm, ivory palm etc. Palm tree is sacred since the Christians of Jerusalem spread the palm branches before Jesus during the last event days of Crucifixion.

Pic courtesy: Tulsi 

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