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

 

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.

 

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.

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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 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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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. 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.

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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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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 Trees of Jaipur series, posting this for Thursday Tree Love by Parul

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.

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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?

 

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

  1. Wonderful well researched post! We have many Peepal trees in Pune. A majestic tree that looks great when in leaf, when leafless and with its reddish tender leaves. Unlike other fig species, it doesnt have aerial roots. Great photos too!
    In Pune, many people compost flowers from a pooja (we call it Nirmalya) or simply add them to the soil in the potted plants but many can be seen who simply throw it in the river or just any where which is really sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Archana. I pulled up all these pictures from my hard disk! I realized that we act on advice without thinking about the result. I found so much garbage around his tree.

      Composting is a great idea but I guess not everyone likes to do so much work. But if we can take the pain, it works well for everyone. I must appreciate all the efforts you guys have been taking.

      It is high time that we stop acting on advices without giving it a thought. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views, Archana.

      Like

  2. The custom may have had originally religious roots. Putting wilted flowers is one thing we might accept, as they are biodegradable. But unlike in the olden days modern man has more and more junk to get rid off, which should be disposed off properly. To accomplish this you need strictly enforced laws, which help protect not only the ficus religiosa, but also the environment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your thought, Pooja. True but the issue here is garbage. If the tree is sacred why should we make it a dumping ground? The surroundings look so shabby and once the flowers dry out they fly around creating a mess.

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  3. Very interesting topic Arv once again! Yes, they are majestic trees and they live forever! But dumping the religious stuff at the tree is shameful for the gods themselves. If anyone does not have the place to keep their idols or religious items they have no rights to buy them in the first place. I have even seen people dumping stuff in rivers and what not! The problem here is, there are no guidelines from the religious heads himself about such practices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The reason for not getting the guidelines from religious heads is because they themselves are not educated and clear. We are simply acting on what we have heard over the years without using our head. Polluting rivers and surrounding will never help us, only complicate our lives. If we respect trees and rivers, we should show the respect.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I too grew up hearing stories of ghosts living on Peepal trees. Superstitions apart (which are embedded in Indian psyche) this tree has medicinal values and anything that important needed conservation. When you link anything with religion in India, the enthusiasm of people doubles…so that could be its religious significance. Ghost stories too indicate that people should keep away and let these trees thrive.
    Garbage disposal has been the biggest challenge in India and needs to be addressed seriously. Keeping it under a tree means it would spread all around with wind or would be carried by children.
    Your post carries subtle messages arv. Thanks for highlighting a serious issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more. It is appalling to see religion playing a role in spreading garbage. It is common for temples to distribute Prasad in disposable plastic containers and we can find them strewn around carelessly. It is attitude of people that needs a change, at the same time temple authorities and leaders also need to do their part. I recently met a Italian traveller visiting India for the first time. He said India is beautiful but garbage and litter is something that they find is biggest problem.

      Every time I find a Peepal tree there is so much garbage strewn around as shown in the pictures. Our attitude needs a big change. I also feel that the essence of religion has been tampered with to suit personal interests and it is apparent everywhere. Since you mentioned that enthusiasm doubles wrt religion, I must mention that someone once joked that if there was a religious shrine on Everest, you can be sure that there will be a huge queue to seek blessings. Thanks for reading and sharing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely agree with your each word arv…religion has done more harm than good and there is no joke about the lines as you can see them for the sojourns pilgrims make for the temples on the mountains, trekking for miles to see the same God whom they can meet at the home of a destitute.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Everything and anything in the name of religion. It should serve our convenience. That’s the attitude, and it needs a change.

    We dispose the flowers in our pots and moving gradually towards idols that do not require to be discarded. Thankfully we don’t need to discard any currently and otherwise ✨

    Peepal tree and ghosts bit is known to most. Evening / Night especially to be avoided. Also had heard about strict no no for women sitting under it with open hair. 🙂🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! I agree with the last part of your comment, it has provided a setting for so many ghost stories and movies.

      Monika, I don’t think any of the religious scripture mentions this method of disposing flowers or idols. So I guess people have started following easy way out.

      Do you witness any change in our attitudes towards religion, Monika?

      Like

    1. Certainly, India is rich in culture, heritage and religion. This is fascinating for people from Europe and American continent. I’m sure it will be around for a long time to come. Is there anything specific which you liked about Indian culture, Cornelia?

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      1. Well, Arv, there are several things I really loved about the Indian culture, first of all it’s the absolute devotion to their religious tradition, what I had observed in Haridwar. I love the Art of India and of course the colorful food with just simple ingredients, since I am vegetarian, it was in heaven in India, so much farm grown. What I really love about Indian people is their dignity in life, there is much to learn from. Have a great week, Arv.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Cornelia for sharing. While I think that there are other religions and countries too who are devoted to their traditions, what is unique is the willingness to accept others and assimilate. On food, there are many people who feel that their attitude towards vegetarian food changed when they tasted it in India. Previously, they thought vegetarian food was the most boring food around but after sampling so much variety they started loving it. It has a huge variety to choose from. I have heard a similar opinion from others on your observation about people. I hope you do get to travel again to India, sometime soon. 🙂

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      3. Thank you Arv. I have seen so much beauty in Indian faces, which I haven’t seen before in all my extended travels around the globe. Well I hope to go to India sometime again, as I had been deeply affected by the country. Next time Dharamsala and Srinagar will be my destinations, I know they are at the opposite of the country.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Cornelia, I will suggest you to visit North-East especially, Arunachal and Meghalaya apart from Dharamshala. Probably, you are in better position to decipher the reasons for happiness! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The look at the positive side, I’ve not seen people littering other wastes than flowers and pictures of God near peepal tree. No. 2- in many cases, even the govt. authorities are hesitant to cut this tree. There’s an old peepal tree beside my building which is the only one that has survived so long. All the other trees have been cut down to widen the roads and replaced with the few, attractive-looking trees.

    But, I agree with your point that it still makes the place dirty and I dont know if there is any solution to this unless we ourselves learn to apply more radical approach towards the maintenance and cleanliness of the surrounding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Hariom that people usually don’t dump anything else other than flowers and idols but once flowers dry up they fly around. People are afraid of cutting these trees because they feel it will invite trouble and bad luck. Cutting a healthy tree is never a good idea, in the first place. I’m sure there are better options to dispose of flowers. Digging up a pit in the soil near the tree to dispose them can be a good option. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Like

  7. Ture that! If its sacred why litter it. Actually many people in India have no clue about biodegradable and not. If they understand the implications, perhaps they would do better. Even the haunted tag of the tree has not spared it! In Bangalore, I see the same situation with lakes and water bodies. However being associated with religion has spared the axe for this tree! Also agree about planting more of these than other random non-indigenous trees.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree the awareness for waste/litter classification is low in India. It is a simple theory that local trees and plants are best suited for any geographic area and therefore they need less care. The chances for their survival are greater, they support local fauna too. I have heard about one particular lake in Bangalore which has become “infamous”. BTW, I love tall Gulmohar trees in Bangalore which looks absolutely beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I always thought vat Poornima meant going round the banyan tree another Ficus … in our building all Pooja waste is kept near the banyan tree. I feel sorry for this poor tree who has to suffer milk baths, crushed flowers , bits of ghee and what not …. we Indians have some weird customs . The Pooja waste is disposed off in Nirmalyas provided by the municipality but I still feel sad . I have stopped offering flowers to my Gods . I have also stopped ritual baths – cleaning them only once in a while . I don’t light diyas or agarbattis except on special days .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sunita, customs are based on some logic but over the years situations changed but we kept doing the same things again and again. I’m glad you are sensitive to all these and have taken a step in the right direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. very interesting post, it was nice to read a well thought out an researched post. I liked the pictures too – I always felt strange and wondered why people are using the tree as a dumping ground…last few days I saw in few diyas lit near these trees in my locality and also found the place cleaned up… felt good things are changing… thanks for sharing so much information.. . I had a trip to Jaipur:)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is the first time I’m hearing of the Peepal tree and its significance in Indian culture. Sounds like a tree that is rooted in history and culture, and a kind of tree you just don’t go cutting down. In Chinese culture we are fond of the bamboo tree. Though it does not have massive roots like the Peepal tree, it can be very tall and mighty. It was interesting to read you are planning a walk for students. I hope that goes well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The heritage walk went very well and it was a specific one wrt to the built heritage and how the use of buildings change over the years.

      Mabel, there are some trees that are well entrenched with culture and religion. Peepal is one such tree. I have already explained the rituals associated with this tree in the write-up. I hope we can relook at age-old customs from a fresh perspective. Peepal tree can be massive and it can live up to hundreds of years outliving people and cities. Do you also have rituals and customs associated with the bamboo tree?

      Like

      1. So glad you found the comment, Arv 😀 Lovely to hear the heritage walk went very well, and I hope the students learned heaps from you 😀

        I’m not too familiar with the rituals surrounding the bamboo tree, but they represent wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture. It is also symbolic of virtue and emotions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m hoping they did, Mabel! I just showed them around with what they wanted. 🙂

        I’m sure Chinese culture is rich with traditions and culture, Mabel, after all, it was one of the important civilizations!

        Like

      3. Thanks, Mabel. I don’t think I will ever take up tour guide as a profession (for many reasons) but I surely love the idea of rummaging through the city to customize a walking tour for someone! I’ll be happy to put my knowledge for a good use! 🙂

        Like

    1. Hi Kurt! I understand your concern. Watermark is a unnecessary evil because people use pictures without permission and this dissuade some people (technologically challenged ones). Thanks for highlighting, I will look at options to reduce the watermark size. Thanks for the suggestion, Kurt!

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      1. I understand the use of the watermark makes you feel like you are protecting your art. Much has been written on this topic and it seems like most professional photographers don’t use watermarks.

        In any case, my comment was really about the size of the watermaker. If the point of posting your images is for people to see and appreciate them, then a smaller and less distracting watermark might be more appropriate. When I look at your images all I can notice is that huge “Arv!”.

        Some advice on watermarks.

        https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/pros-and-cons-watermarks-photographs

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Kurt. I have read quite a bit about watermark before I began doing so. I appreciate your suggestion for a smaller watermark. Henceforth, I will incorporate the same.

        I do understand that it is possible to remove watermark and for this reason many photographers have decided to do away with them altogether. My analogy is simple. We all know that a professional burglar will break the lock in most situations but still we keep the doors and bikes locked. Anyways, I will be implementing your suggestion. Thanks for stopping & highlighting this, Kurt and also for the link. 🙂

        Like

  11. every mandir around my palace have at least one peepal tree and nobody except govt. cut them bcoz of religious belief and the tree provide us 24 hour oxizen. great shot and some fresh thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I like the topic you have chosen. In Hinduism everything is sacred, everything is a manifestation of consciousness. Some more some less, but everything is consciousness nevertheless. Tree is no exception. In my childhood, my grandmother would tell stories that a banyan tree would split to hide an prince or princess from bad people. Those may be mythology, but we know trees are living beings and we must respect anything that is living. So many stories around tees, yet we spoil the surrounding of trees with rubbish. May be it is ingrained in our character that we do not really think twice before dirtying our external environment. Well, municipality should provide big garbage dumps and hire a few volunteers to keep the city and heritage sites clean.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you that everything is a manifestation. I think the whole idea of doing so is also to respect what we have and appreciate for what it provides us. In my opinion, this is how it becomes sacred. I’m sure that the practice of disposing flowers must have started in rural areas where the petals decomose in soil. In urban areas where everything is either covered with tar, stone or concrete, there is no way that flowers will decompose in soil. So, the practice must have been scientific but over the years the situations have changed & we have stopped applying our brains. There are enough garbage bins but we need to change ourselves. I feel sad on seeing so much garbage underneath a tree we consider sacred. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I hope we show our respect by keeping the surroundings clean. 🙂

      Like

  13. Waste management is a big issue and I am with you that dumping everything under a tree is not the right thing to do. I see this as a dual responsibility. While people need to take care of disposal, there should be education on how to manage all the garbage that families generate. Recyclable or not – all waste needs to be segregated not only as source but at the final destination. You have raised am important issue.

    Peepal trees are beautiful. Have you noticed the veins on the leaves? I loved your pictures and when I visited Jaipur, I also saw a lot of these trees 🙂 Thanks for joining!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right, Parul. It is high time that we separate the wheat from the chaff. While age-old practices have logic, the context has changed. We generate far too much waste and there’s no soil for flowers to decompose. We definitely need to clean up our surroundings.

      You are right Peepul tree is very common in Jaipur. All these pictures were captured over the last few years unintentionally. Happy to join you, Parul

      Liked by 1 person

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