Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pipal: The celebrated Hindu tree

For Hindus, trees are living beings entirely permeated by the Divine. While Bargad, Amla, and Kadamb have immense spiritual significance, the Pipal (Ashvattha; Sacred Fig) is particularly distinguished. Because many Hindus see their Lord in the Pipal tree, they offer it lamps, flowers, and circumambulation (parikrama), treating the tree like a deity. This behavior demonstrates the magnitude of care that Sanatana Dharma nourishes towards the environment. Moreover, the Pipal gets admirable mention in the Bhagavat Gita, where Sri Krishna calls himself the Pipal among trees (10:26) and compares the world to an upside-down Pipal tree that is rooted in divinity.

Planting of trees near water bodies is labeled as an incomparable good deed by scriptures. The Padma Purana specifically tells us that planting a Pipal tree is as auspicious as thousands of yagnas. Because birds and other beings routinely feed on its fruits, this pious karma is considered as meritorious as feeding numerous humans. Even a single tree is said to provide heaven and eternal glory, if not salvation. In addition, Vedic culture understands that it is necessary to not only plant new trees but also protect existing ones. The Mahabharata, while imparting trees the status of our children, says that an individual should protect a tree as if it is his or her own son.

Even if we don’t plant a tree right away, seeing a Pipal tree grow through a cemented brick wall (commonly observable in rural India) can give us an important message: Like the Pipal tree, we too should steadily overcome all impediments that try to slow us down as we develop our virtuous side and prepare to renounce the world.

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