peepal-tree-jaipur-disposing-old-flowers-hindu-god-idols

Peepal, Truly A People’s Tree?

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.

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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.

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The peepal tree is sacred in Hinduism. Seen here, lit up Diyas and incense under one such tree in Jaipur.

Peepal Tree and Hindu Mythology

The 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.

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Lighting up Diya on Janmashtami under a Peepal tree in Jaipur

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.

Peepal Tree And Goddess Laxmi

Goddess Laxmi is said to inhabit the Peepal tree 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.

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Temple underneath a Peepal tree
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Temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman under a Peepal tree

The below picture is from Galta Ji which is popular as Monkey temple among the tourists.

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Sacred Fig tree at Galta Ji temple in Jaipur

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 husbands. Many women perform this ritual on a 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.

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Did you notice the Moli Dhaga on Peepul tree? From a temple in Pushkar.

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.

 

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Tall Ficus Religiosa tree

The 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. Here is a picture of the Peepal tree leaf.

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Is Peepal Tree And Banyan Tree Same?

The peepal tree and Banyan tree are not the same although they share many similarities. They both belong to the same tree family – Ficus or Fig which is why one may get confused owing to similarities. One of the easiest ways to identify a Peepal tree is with the heart shape of the leaf. Banyan trees can be easily recognized with aerial roots. Like the Banyan tree, it lives up to a few hundred years. The 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.

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Letterbox on a Peepal Tree.

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.

Why Some People Don’t Plant Peepal Tree?

Peepal 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.

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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?

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Only a few plants and trees can release oxygen during the night.  Peepal tree is one such tree.

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? 

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I found these discarded Hindu deities in a jungle under a Peepal tree

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This is a part of the Trees of Jaipur series.

I feel it has become a custom because people don’t want to be caught on the wrong side. On the other 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.

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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?

 

87 thoughts on “Peepal, Truly A People’s Tree?

  1. I would like to add two points here that you missed in the article. First it that Peepal has the unique distinction in that its leaves are the most efficient among all plants and trees in giving out oxygen per unit area. Not only that, they give out oxygen in night time also. That means, they are never asleep. There lies the origin of ghost stories. This was revealed in a lecture by a scientist from CDRI, Lucknow. Second point is, it is not without reason that the Bharat Ratna award is in fact in the form of a Peepal leaf. It convey a lot 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for adding. While I was aware that Peepul gives out oxygen even in night the other information is something new. I absolutely had no idea that Bharat Ratna award is in the form of Peepul leaf.

      Thanks for enlightening, Pradyot. How did you find this information?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There was a talk here at IIT Kanpur by a scientist Dr. Pradeep Kumar Srivastava from Central Drug Research Institute Lucknow. He is well known for merging his passion for arts with his work in science. He makes what are known as ‘scientoons’. Through these pieces, he makes cartoons based on science concepts and issues, esp. environment.

        I would write a detailed post on his work.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a genuine dilemma for most people. I’m sure if these are made from stone they can be put in a pit. Leaving them around especially the ones that are not bio-degradable is a big menace. A lot of information that we have is not correct and propagated by religious heads whose sole aim is to safeguard the religious sentiments.

      Like

  2. I am so happy to see a post on the tree I like. The foliage pattern is beautiful and the huge trunk of the full-grown tree with its huge shade is so comforting to watch and definitely to sit under. So thanks for a lovely post on this lovely tree.
    Apart from the medicinal benefits, this tree has huge religious significance in Hindu religion so it is generally revered but I do agree with you on the fact that we litter the place that we revere the most – just like immersing all idols and puja flowers and other items in the river or holy Ganga and when there is no river then these holy trees come to the rescue.
    I am strictly against such dumping of religious waste. I really wonder how come the Holy Ganges or these Holy trees be happy with so much of garbage and in turn bless the devotees who revere and worship them.
    I believe the wastes must be given off to the municipal waste collection team for proper disposal. If there is some religious sentiments associated to it then why not do an immersion in a bucket of water at home and then discard it after proper segregation of waste. When religious things are to be discarded that means they have no more requirement and hence it is a waste so needs proper disposal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Sarmitha. There has to be a better way of disposing unusable idols and flowers. One can’t just dump them at the base of a tree. Unfortunately, this is something that religious leaders and temple authorities must undertake. Invariably, one can find a garbage dumped near most temples here in the city. People organize “Prasadis” and use disposable plates etc. All this end up near temples. We need to re-wire our thinking.
      I also feel that leaves of Peepul tree looks refreshing with the glistening shine on its surface.
      Thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts on this tree and garbage, Sarmistha. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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