VRIKSHA (TREE) – ANCIENT SCIENCE

“Brahman tat vanam, Brahma sa vrikaha asa”

(Rig Veda)

The term Brahman denotes as “Divine Forest or Trees”. The Brahman is considered as the ultimate energy and sustainers of the Universe and hence the ancient Indians worshipped plants/trees by chanting “Oushadhisooktha”-

“Oh! Devine plants!

You are so fertile in nature

You are blessed with all

Kindness and happiness”

“Oh! Devine plants!

Always be kind to us

Pour happiness over us”

“You have the power of the horse

You are the destroyer of fatal diseases

You are the guardian of mankind

Save and protect us from all kind of illnesses”

(Rig Veda)

The term Vriksha is derived from the term Vishura, means spreading in nature or widely distributed. According to Indian Mythology, the term Vishnu also denotes the same meaning; hence, it is believed that Lord Vishnu is omnipresent in the whole life system of our planet including plant life. Tree worship was a practice found in almost all ancient cultures of the world especially in India. In the ancient literature, there is mention about Kalpa vriksha (tree that fulfil all wishes) and Chaitya Vriksha (tree that protect like an umbrella) which are examples for the tree worship in Indian tradition. The evidences are available in monumental art forms. It is also worthy to observe that several deities, Buddha’s and Trithankaras (Jains) were associated with trees and plants. According to Sri Budha “trees, plants and animals are human’s close relatives”.

In India, sacred trees are usually worshipped in the temple premises, villages, nearby ponds, forest areas by the different religious and tribal communities. As part of the ‘in-situ’ and ‘ex-situ’ conservation practice, they erected shrines or deities under the sacred trees popularly known as ‘Sthalavrikshas’ (tree of sacred place) in Tamil Nadu. Some of the examples are Mango trees (Mangifera indica) of Kanchi, Jambu (Syzygium cumini) of Jumbukeswaram near Tirichirappalli, Jasmine (Jasminum sambac) of Tirumullaivayil, Panai (Borassus flabellifer) of Tirupaniyur and Nelli (Phyllanthus emblica) of Tirunellikkara. It is believed that, in India sacred trees are associated with worship of Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Muruga, Goddess of Sathi, Snake God and Goddess and Hill deities of Tribal communities.

In the ancient Indian epic literature, the importance and aesthetic beauty of trees has been mentioned in many occasions and highlighted its linkages with the cultural expressions of the people who lived those days. In Ramayana it is mentioned that Seetha circumambulated the large banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) located on the banks of Kalindi to fulfil her husband Sri Rama’s covenant. In Ramayana, one of chapter titled as;

‘Aranyakandam’ is fully devoted to explain the forest ecosystem where Sree Rama and his family resided. In this chapter several trees, shrubs, climbers and herbs distributed in the forest known as ‘Dandakaranyam’ has been elaborately described with a view of its ecological, medicinal and food value.

Similarly, during the Mahabharata period, plants/trees were worshipped by the people, in view of divinity of species like Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum), Ashvatha (Ficus religiosa), Nelli (Phyllanthus emblica), Vatavriksham (Ficus benghalensis) etc.

Description of the Chaitya vrikshas has been mentioned in the ancient Indian manuscripts. Because of its dense foliage and fruits which provide protection like an umbrella and act as a shelter for human being, birds, animals, and insects. Chaithya vrikshas are often referred as protector of the village and its shade is used for conducting rituals, sacrifices or offerings to deity.

In Vamanapurana, some of the trees are specifically mentioned to reveal the relationship between the Gods and Goddess. For example, Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) which rose from the navel of Lord Vishnu, the Kadamba (Neolamarckia cadamba) a tree formed from the hand of Kandaripa, the Vata (Ficus benghalensis) a tree created by the chief of the yakshas, Datura (Datura metal) which rose from the chest of Shiva, the Khadira (Acacia chundra) from the middle of Bhramha, the Vrikshambla (Garcinia-gummi-gutta) created from the palm of Parvathi, the Sinduvara (Vitex negundo) from the forehead of Ganesha, Palasa (Beutea monosperma) from the right side of Yama, Vamsa (Bambusa bamboo) from Skanda, Pipal (Ficus religiose) from the Surya, Shami (Prosopis cineraria) from Katyayani, Vilva (Aegle marmelos) from Lakshmi, reeds (Ochlandra travancorica) from the Nataraja (the lord of serpents), the Dharba (Imperata cylindrica) from the snake king Vasuki.

Interestingly it can be noted that the Vriksha Mahotsava (Tree planting festival) was organized by the ancient Indians, according to Matsya Purana and Padma Purana. Evaluating the aquatic biodiversity, ancient Indian scholars arrived at the conclusion that trees are the most living thing on Earth. In the Matsya Purana planting of a tree is equated with ten sons.

“Ten wells are equivalent to one pond

Ten ponds are equivalent to one lake

Ten lakes are equivalent to one son

Ten sons are equivalent to one tree”

(Matsya purananam)   

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