Sacred Trees & Plants
For the Hindu, everything in the universe is sacred and whatever grows is more so. In Hinduism animistic beliefs find a place side by side with the highest philosophical and religious speculation and are often expressed mystically and esoterically. The tree deity has been found in the stamp seals of the Indus Valley civilization.
Sacred groves homes of mother goddesses abound and some types of trees have attained great importance in Hinduism. Plants such as the tulsi, a type of basil, are equally important. The spirits that inhabit trees are the yakshas feminine deities; male figures never appear in such a connection. Veneration of the tree is a form of Shaktism, the cult of the Great Mother.
A yaksha is propitiated with offerings such as food, bits of cloth tied to the branches and red-smeared stones put at the base of the tree. Some trees like the tulsi are worshipped daily, some every month, while some others are worshipped only during specific festivals.
Some of the important trees and plants are described below.
Pipal (Ficus religiosa) is one of the leading trees in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is also known as the bodhi tree because Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment under it. The tree is the object of universal worship throughout India. It is sacred to Vishnu. It is a very large tree with high raised roots which descend to the ground from the branches like additional trunks.
Other important trees sacred to Vishnu are: the Banyan or Indian Fig tree (Ficus indica), Chandra-mallika (chrysanthemum indicum), Naga Keshara (Mesuaferrea), etc.
Trees sacred to Shiva are the famous Ashoka (Saraca indica) with pointed leaves, Kesara (Mimusops Elengi), Champaka (Michela champaca), and Vata amongst others.
Lakshini has Kamala (Nelumbiuu speciosum) while Parvati has Sri-phala (Aegle Marmelos) as their representatives.
The Kaila or plantain is sacred to one of the forms of Kali. It is commonly used in marriages and during festivals a decorative doorway is made out of it, leading to the temple or the room where the prayers are to be held.
Tulsi (Ocynum sanctum) is a sacred plant of the basil family. Tulsi was one of Vishnu’s p amours. Out of jealousy his wife Lakshmi turned her into a plan, and the god became the salagrama stone to keep her company. In some versions of the story, Tulsi and Lakshmi are the same. The plant is about three fret in height. Everyday the ground near it is covered with a layer of cowdung and at night a lamp is lit near it. It is a common custom to place a sprig of tulsi near the head of a dying person. The aromatic leaves are taken as a digestive after meals.
In addition to the above, the Kusha Grass (Poa cynosuroides) and Durva Grass (Agrostis linearis) are also considered very sacred.
The kusha has the quality of warding oil evils. In all rituals, kusha is a must in sonic form or other. Durva is supposed to be very auspicious and is offered to Ganesha.