Called ashvattha in Sanskrit, the peepal (Ficus religiosa)
During the Vedic period, its wood was used to make fire by friction. The peepal is also closely linked to Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita, he says: “Among trees, I am the ashvattha.”
The word ‘Ashvattha’ is derived from the Sanskrit roots…
A = not + Shwa = tomorrow + tha = stands/remains (The Hindu philosopher Shankaracharya interprets the name to indicate “One which does not remain the same tomorrow”, such as the universe itself.)
Once, all the gods decided to visit shiva. However, narad informed them that it was an inappropriate time for a visit as shiva and parvati were in solitude. But Indra did not heed the advice and assured the gods that there was nothing to fear when he was there to protect them. Narad reported Indra’s arrogance to goddess parvati. She cursed the gods that they, along with their wives, would turn into trees. When the gods asked for forgiveness, she promised that as trees, they would attain fame. Thus indra turned into a mango tree, brahma became a palash tree and vishnu turned into a peepal tree.
Once, Agni (the fire god) left the land of the gods, took the form of ashwattha and resided on the peepal tree for a year. Since then, peepal is also known as ashwattha.
Tribals in bengal call the peepal tree as vasudev. They water the plant in the month of vaishakh and at times of difficulty. In Bengal, peepal and banyan trees are married.
A peepal tree is planted to the east of the house or temple. Eight or 11 or 12 years after the tree has been planted, the upanayan ceremony is performed for the tree. A round platform is constructed around the tree. Different gods like Narayan, Vasudev, Rrukmini, Satyabhama are invoked and worshipped. All the rituals of the upanayan ceremony are performed and then the tree is married to the basil plant.
In the ancient Puranas, an incident has been described in which the demons defeated the deities and Lord Vishnu hid in the Peepal tree. Since, the Lord resided in the tree for some time; the tree holds great importance for people. Thus, people began worshipping the tree, considering it to be a means of offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. There are a few legends, which suggest that Lord Vishnu was born under the peepal tree. There are a couple of stories, which say that the tree is home to the trinity of Gods, the root being Brahma, the trunk is Vishnu and leaves represent Lord Shiva. Another popular belief is that Lord Krishna wounded his pastimes under the Peepal tree.
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”.
Upanishads have also made a mention about the Peepal tree. To clearly define the difference between the body and soul, the fruit of peepal is used as a classic example. According to the Skanda purana, a person who does not have a son should consider the peepal tree as his own child. It says that the family will prosper and have a good name, till the peepal tree survives. Cutting a peepal tree is regarded as a big sin, which is almost equivalent to murdering a Brahmin. Skanda Puranas say that a person who cuts the tree surely goes to hell.
It is preferred to touch the peepal tree only on Saturdays. It is said that once upon a time, there were two demons, namely Ashvattha and Peepala, who used to torture and harass people. Ashvattha took the form of peepal and the Peepala disguised as Brahmin. The Brahmin used to recommend people to touch the peepal tree and as soon as they did so, they were killed by the demon Ashvattha. Both the demons were killed by Shani devta. It is due to the strong influence of Shani Maharaj that it is considered safe to touch the peepal tree on Saturdays. People are of the belief that even Goddess Lakshmi dwells in the tree on Saturdays. Women who are not blessed with a son tie a red thread around the trunk or on its branches asking the deities to bless her and fulfill her desire.
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.
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.
Ascetics still meditate beneath sacred fig trees, and Hindus do circumambulation around the sacred fig tree as a mark of worship. Usually seven pradakshinas are done around the tree in the morning time chanting “Vriksha Rajaya Namah”, meaning “salutation to the king of trees.”
In Awadh, if a girl’s horoscope predicts widowhood, she is first married to a peepal tree on chaitra Krishna or ashwin Krishna tritiya. In olden days, when remarriage was forbidden for girls, young widows were married to the peepal tree and then allowed to remarry.
Health benefits of Peepal-Stammering Speech disorder
Scientific research has revealed that among tress, Peepal is the only tree that produces oxygen in abundant quantity day and night, which is so essential for life. Peepal provides life sustaining oxygen, which proves it to be a life sustainer. Continuously research has also proved that the sound and interacting flow of wind, with peepal leaves, slowly but surely kills infection bacteria as well. According to the book of ayurveda, peepal leaves, fruits and bark are killers of diseases. People tree has both sweet and bitter taste and has a cooling property.
Licking honey placed on peepal leaves is believed to cure speech irregularities.
Its bark yields the tannin used in treating leather. Its leaves, when heated in ghee, are applied to cure wounds. Ingesting the bark, fruit and buds with different combination of things cures diseases related with phlegm, bile, inflammation swelling and indisposition etc.
The soft bark and the bud of this tree cure ‘Prameha’ (a disease in which sperms emanate through urine). The powdered form of the fruit of this tree increases appetite and cures numerous diseases.