After completing Laxmi Puja on Diwali, someone suggested me to discard used flowers at the base of the trunk of a Peepal tree. I recollected having seen used flowers, garlands, idols & images of Hindu god and goddesses many times over the last few years under the Peepal tree; I never questioned the practice.
I found this Peepal tree many days ago in the walled city area of Jaipur; I was curating a customized heritage walk in Jaipur for an upcoming student trip to the city.
Peepal tree is revered in Hinduism and tied with many mythological references and Hindu customs. The scientific name of the Peepal tree is Ficus Religiosa and popular as Sacred Fig since it belongs to the Fig or Ficus genus. In Buddhism and in many regions, it is popular as a Bodhi tree whereas, in Indian mythology and Sanskrit (language), it is called Ashvattha. Many medicinal uses of its bark and leaves have been listed in the ancient Indian medicine system.
It is believed that the Peepal tree represents the trinity of Hinduism – the roots of this tree represent Lord Brahma, the trunk Lord Vishnu, and the leaves Lord Shiva. Many believe that Hindu gods hold their council under this tree. The Puranas associate this tree with Lord Vishnu and therefore Peepal is substituted for an idol of Lord Vishnu. According to legends once, demons defeated gods and goddesses during which Lord Vishnu took refuge in this tree.
Goddess Laxmi is said to inhabit Peepal tree on every Saturday. I’m not sure if this is a reason for people using Peepal leaf during Laxmi Puja on Diwali. There are so many Hindu mythological stories surrounding this tree that it is difficult to mention it all here. It is common to come across a Peepal tree in temples. Likewise, people build small temples under this tree. Here are a few pictures from Jaipur.
The below picture is from Galta Ji which is popular as Monkey temple among the tourists.
Indian married women perform circumambulation around Peepal called Vat Savitri or Vat Poornima. It is a tradition followed by married Hindu women praying for the long life of their husband. Many women perform this ritual on Banyan tree instead of the Peepal. I saw this ritual many years ago and can’t recall having seen it lately. You can find Moli Dhaga (holy thread) tied on a Peepal tree in temples. The leaf of this tree is an important part of the sacred thread ceremony in Hinduism.
Peepal is a robust tree that can survive in difficult conditions and can be found in dry tropical climatic conditions. Its leaves fall in January growing back by March end; it is a semi-evergreen tree. The new leaves have an ochre-reddish tint which after a few days fades away leaving a dark green color.
Peepal tree grows tall often up to 100 feet. Its leaves are heart-shaped having an extended tip and a shiny texture. It is accepted that its origin is in the Indian subcontinent even though it is found in many South-East Asian countries.
Like Banyan tree, it lives up to a few hundred years. Bodhi tree at Maha Bodhi temple in Gaya is very old. The one in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka is supposedly more than 2000 years old. Since Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree, it is sacred among the Buddhists as well.
Peepal tree can be easily found in Jaipur. I’m not sure if the Indian forest department is actively planting Peepal trees. There is a need for planting more Indian trees rather than imported fancy trees which the department has been planting over the last few years. I have already covered this aspect in World Forestry Arboretum. This tree can survive in difficult conditions & it often grows on a wall. The tree is considered as a nuisance, its roots can travel far & deep cutting through the walls and masonry structures.
I grew up hearing stories of ghosts residing in the Peepal tree. Many people still associate it with ghosts, I’m not sure why? Can this be a reason that its leaves create clattering noise with the slightest wind and adds to the scare factor?
Coming back to where we started, it has become a custom to dispose of flowers, garlands, broken idols & pictures of Hindu god and goddesses under a Peepal tree. People feel that this is the right way to discard them. But is this recommendation rightful? What is the best way to discard old flowers after using them in Puja?
I feel it has become a custom because people don’t want to be caught on the wrong side. On the hand, many of these items are not biodegradable and leaving them under a tree is not the right thing because it only piles up. I have heard of a clean-up drive in Kerala where the volunteers collected all such items lying under the Peepal trees.
If the Peepal tree is sacred why do we leave the litter around? What do you think about this issue? Do you feel it is rightful? How do you dispose of old Hindu idols and pictures?