Arka Vothulu

Arka Wicks or Arka Vothulu or God Surya Strands
 (10 in one Box) Rs. 250/- only

Arka Wicks or Arka Vothulu or God Surya Wicks in Telugu అర్క వత్తులు
Arka Wicks or Arka Vothulu or God Surya Wicks in Tamil சூரிய திரி
Our Address : Bakthitoday Pavithra Saamagri Parisodhana Nilayam, Balabharathi Nilayam, New No. 49, Rangarajapuram Main Road, Kodambakkam, Chennai – 600024

Arka is an alternate name for Surya, the sun god.
Arakhs or Arkawanshi, an ancient Kshatriya Suryavanshi clan.
If one lights a deep with Arka Strands will be blessed with health, wealth and prosperity. For health benefits after the lamp is off if the remains of the arka strand is applied to the skin it cures Skin diseases, digestion problem, abdominal pain, tumors, joint pains, wounds etc.
Among the 21 leaves offered to Lord Ganesha during patra pooja. Arka is one of them. Pooja to Lord Hanuman is incomplete without the offering of a garland made with arka flowers or Arka leaves. Hindus worship the plant and the leaves are used while having a bath on Rathasapthami festival of Sun god.  In the ancient scripts of Ayurveda, Arka is mentioned as a healing herb.  There are two varieties of this plant, the plant with the white flowers is said to be more sacred and its botanical name is Calotropis Procera and the other with lilac coloured flowers is called as Calotropis Gigantean.

Arka means ''ray of light''  in sanskrit and the Arka plant is native to India. Many medicinal benefits have been derived from different parts of Arka plant.

Man has been fascinated by nature since he evolved from his primitive ancestors, the apes. No doubt, to start with he hunted for food mainly by killing the wild animals, but if there was anything on which he could depend with any confidence towards its availability, it was the plant. Not only the fact that a large number of plants provided him with food but also the fact that they provided him with curative medicine and shelter, were perhaps the reasons why he worshipped them rather then the animals which also gave him food. The reason for a large number of plants not having any commercial use

and still associated with myths and traditions are difficult to understand. The only explanation for their association with religious beliefs can be that these plants, perhaps because of the resemblance to the emblem of a particular deity or the name of a sage being associated with them, made the plants holy. For this reason alone a large number of plants are considered sacred in India. There are a large number of trees, popularly called the Bodhi trees, associated with the name of sages who received enlightenment under them, thus making the trees sacred. For instance Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) is the

bodhi tree of Sakya Muni or Buddha; Nyagrodha (Ficus bengalensis) of Kasyapa; Udumbara (Ficus glomerata) of Kanaka muni; Sirisa (Albizzia labbek) of Krakuchhanda; Asoka (Saraca indica) of Vipaswi; Pundarika (Nelumbium speciosum) of Sikhi. The availability of a plant can be another-reason for its traditional use. Yet there again reasons defy explanation. Rice for instance is ‘a fertility symbol. Its use at religious and marriage ceremonies can be understood in areas where rice is available in plenty. But what defies human understanding is the fact that rice is used for the same reason and purpose even in areas where it is not cultivated. The only explanation for such a cult can be that when the migration of the human race from one corner of the earth to another took place, men took their traditions with them even when those plants were not easily available and often had to be procured from great distances for the said purpose. There are a large number of plants which are used by people all over India for cures against witchcraft or to remove the effect of the evil eye but the reasons for faith and belief in them is lost in antiquity. For instance, Cheilanthes tenuifolia belonging to the Family Polypodiaceae and called Dodheri by the Santhals of India is highly valued, as the root of the plant is prescribed in a preparation given in sickness attributed to witch-craft or the evil eye. Similarly the nomadic tribes of Rajasthan tie the leaves of Pedilanthus to the neck of small children as an amulet to ward off the evil eye. Among the Oriyan tribe Saoras, an amulet made of bits of the bark of Trewia nudiflora is used as protection against Danunkisum. Also a necklace made of the bark of the tree is believed to protect the nursing mother.

Similarly Euphorbia antiquorum of Family Euphorbiaceae and called Tridhara in Hindi, is supposed to possess the power of warding off lightning strokes. Embelica officinalis is a tree sacred to the Hindus and is credited with magical properties by the tribesmen. Seeds of Peganum harmaia are burnt to drive away evil spirits or to avert the evil eye. The smoke emanating from the burning seeds cleanses the atmosphere of mosquitoes and germs.

Prisni-parni, identified as Hermiontis cordifolia, also as Glycine debelis is used as a protection against sorcerers indulging in bringing about abortion. Certain trees like Semicarpus anacardium, Diospyros melanoxyhn and Vitex negundox are believed to have magical potency and the branches of these trees are used by the Oroan tribes of India to avert the evil eye, repel evil spirits and other evil influences from standing crops. Aparmarga (Achyranthes aspera) is used in witchcraft and for medical purposes against

Ksetriyas. It is described in Atharvaveda as revertive. Because it has reverted leaves, it wards off a spell by causing it to recoil on its user. Though generally speaking, the idea of the identity of the plant with the deities belonged to the tradition of the Aryan immigration, such as the association of the Soma plant with the moon, yet a large number of plants that are associated with the deities belong to the traditional flora of India such as the association of Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) and Amalaka (Embelka myrobalam) with Vishnu; Bilva (Aegle marmelos) with Siva and the identification of Sri-Lakshmi with the lotus. In such cases the association of the plant with the deities would be pre-Aryan. The utility of trees in a hot country was recognised by people from very early times. The merit of planting trees is given in many old texts. In Matsya Purana a legend says that Parvati planted an Asokan sapling and the gods asked her the merit that would accrue from planting trees. To this Parvati replied: “A Vapi is equal in fruit to 10 wells, a pond to 10 Vapi’s; a son to 10 ponds and a tree is equal in merit to 10 sons. The merit for the performance of rite of consecration of trees and fruit gardens is also mentioned in Agni Purana.

To the Hindus, all plants having the trifoliate arrangement of its leaves, like Crataeva religiosa of Family Capparidaceae and called Varuna in Hindi are associated with the Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. In South India, its trifoliate leaves are offered to gods. Also Bilva (Aegle marmelos) and Mandara (Erythrina inciica) have trifoliate leaf arrangement and are offered to Siva. Apart from the above associations, a large number of plants are considered auspicious and their flowers are offered at temples or their wood used for the sacred fire ceremony Homa. Below are given the names of a few such plants. The flowers of Clitoris ternate of Family Papillionaceae, called Apacjit in Hindi are used in religious ceremonies. Flowers of Gudahul i.e. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis are the favourite flowers for offering to goddess Kali. Incidently this flower is also a favourite one for incantations in evil designs. The wood of Aak (Calatropis gigantea) of Family Asclepiadaceae is used in Homa and its flowers and those of Datura (Datura fastuosa) of Family Solanaceae are offered to Siva. The flowers of Euphorbia Hguhria; called Sehund or Sij in Hindi are considered sacred to Manasa, the goddess of snakes and are offered at the temple of Manasaji by the tribal and hill people where snake worship is prevalent, particularly in Bengal and South India. The leaves of Azadirachta indica or Margossa neem are used in the feast connected with the Lima rites after a death by certain tribes of Orissa. The inflorescence of Areca catechu is used in ceremonies on auspicious occasions like marriages in South India and Gujerat. Kusa ghas i.e. Eragrostis cynasuroides of Family Gramineae is sacred to the Hindus and is used in religious ceremonies all over India. The odorous roots of Dolomisea macroccphala or Dhup are used as incense and its flowers offered at shrines and temples. The sweet scented flowers of Daphne bholua of Family Thymelaceae are used as offerings in temples. Also of Leucas lavenduiaefolia. And may be because of the sweet scent alone and for no other reason, the wood of Chandana or Sandalwood i.e. Santalum album of Family Santalaceae is extensively used in religious ceremonies. The” paste made from the wood has a cooling effect and it is believed to remove sins, miseries and sorrows and to augument riches.

In ancient India, an elaborate ritual was laid for each sacred ceremony and plants formed an important niche in the ceremony. Thus for instance at the coronation of Yudhishthira after the battle of Mahabharata there were “Golden jars full to the brim with water, and those made of copper and silver and earth, and flowers, and fried paddy, and Kusa ghas (Eragrosds cynasuroides), and cows milk, and sacrificial fuel consisting of the wood of Sami (Acacia suma) Pippala (Piper lorigum), Palasa (Butea frondosa), and honey and clarified butter and sacrificial ladles made of Adumvara (Ficus glomerata) and conches adorned with gold”. In Garuda Purana also there is a mention of the ritual use of plants: The twigs of such sacrificial trees or plants e.g. Arka (Calatropis gigantea), Palasa (Butea monosperma), Khadira (Acacia catechu), Aparmarga (Achryanthese aspera), Pippala (Piper longum), Udumvara (Ficus glomerata), Sami (Acacia suma), blades of Durva (Pao cynasuroides) and Kusa ghas (Eragrostis cynasuroides), soaked with curd, honey, clarified butter should be repeatedly cast in the sacrificial fire, in Homa ceremonies celebrated for the propitiation of the planets, such as the Sun.”

Plants are repeatedly mentioned in connection with customs, traditions and beliefs. In fact no ceremony was complete without some sacred plant being used. For instance in the Mahabharata, Sakra says: ‘Rubbed with the astringent powder of the hanging roots of the Banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) and anointed with the oil of Priyangu (Panicum italicum), one should eat the Shashiika paddy mixed with milk. By so doing one gets cleansed of all sins.” The merit of offering flowers, incense and lamps to deities was given to the Daitya king Vali, son of Virochanu, by Sukra of niirign’s race when he was the priest of the Daityas. “Flowers gladden the mind, and confer prosperity. The man, who in a state of purity offers flowers unto the deities, finds that the deities become gratified with him and bestow prosperity upon him”.

The flowers offered in various months of the year to the various deities are mentioned in Garuda Parana. The vow of Ananga-Trayodashi falls on the 13th day of the moon’s increase in the month of Marga’sirsha (January). Yoges-vara (Siva) should be worshipped on this day with offerings of Datura (Datura stominium), twigs of Mallika (Jasminium arborescens), Vilva leaves (Aegle marmelos), twigs of Kadamba (Anthocephallus cadamba), sandal paste (Santalum. album); god Nateshwara with Kunda flowers (Jasminium pubescens) and Plaksha twigs (Butea monosperma). In the month of Phalguna (February-March) god Vivesvara is to be worshipped with Muruvaka flowers (Vedala cadai), pot herbs and Chuta trees (Mangifera indica), twigs of Vata (Ficus bengalensis); in Vaisakh (April) god Sambhu to be offered flowers of Asoka (Saraca indica), twigs of Udumbara (Ficus glomerata) and nutmeg. In the month of Jaistha (May), Pradyumna who is an incarnation of Kama, the god of love, is to be worshipped with Champaka flowers (Michelia champaca) Vilva twigs_ (Aegle marmelos). In Ashada (June) gods are worshipped with flowers of Aparmarga (Achryanthes aspera) and Agaru twigs (Aquilaria agallocha). In Sravana (July) with Karavira flowers (Nerium oleander). In Asvins (Sept.-Oct.) god Suradhipa, lord of celestials is worshipped with flowers of Vakusa (Mimusops elangii), twigs of Madhavi (Hiptage madhoblata); in Aswina (September) with Champaka flowers (Michelia champaca) and twigs of Khadira (Acacia catechu). In Kartika (October-November), Rudra is worshipped with twigs of Vadari (Zizyphus jujuba). At the year’s end Puja is done with milk, pot herbs and lotus flowers (Nelumbium speciosum) are offered to deities. In the Puranas it is said that he who gives libations-of first fruits in the vessels of Palasa (Butea monosperma), Aswattlia (Ficus reiigiosa), Plaksha (Ficus lacor), Nyagrodha (Ficus bengalensis), Kasmari (Gmelina arborea), Madhuka (Jonesia asoka), Phalgu (Ficus oppositifolia), Bilva (Aegle marmelos), Venn (Bamboo) get the benefit of all Yajnas.

Flowers are classified: is fierce, mild and powerful and the flowers that are acceptable to the different deities are of diverse kinds. There is a detailed account in the Mahabharata about the types of flowers that ought to be offered to the deities and how. “Those flowers that have an agreeable scent should be offered to the deities; flowers destitute of thorns and white in colour are most acceptable. Garlands of aquatic flowers like the lotus should be offered to Gandharvas, Nagas and Yakshas. Red flowers possessed of keen energy, painful to touch, growing on thorny plants, deep red or black in colour should be offered to evil spirits and unearthly beings. Flowers which gladden the mind and heart, of a beautiful form and agreeable when pressed are worthy of being offered to human beings. Flowers growing on mountains and valleys, beautiful to look at and with an agreeable scent should be offered to the deities. The deities become gratified with the scent of the flowers; the Yakshas and the Rakshasas with their sight; the Nagas with their touch; the human beings with all three, viz scent, sight and touch.”

All exudations except that of Boswellia serrate are agreeable to the deities. The best exudation that is made into Dhup or incense is of Balsamodendron Mukul and of Aquilaria agallocha. It is agreeable to the Yakshas, the Rakshasas and the Nagas. The exudation of Boswellia serrate is desired by the Daityas. Dhups made of the exudation of Shorea robusta and Pinus deodars are ordained for human beings”. About the offering of lamps: “Light is said to be energy and flame has an upward motion. Hence the gift of light, which is energy, enhances the energy of man”. Bhishma advised Yudhishthira: “It is recommended that a man of intelligence should smear his limbs with unguents made of Priyangu {Panicum italicum), Vilva (Aegle marmelos), Tagara (Tabernae montane-coronaria) and Kesara {Eclipta alba).” It is interesting to note that most of these plants are highly medicinal. It is well known that the science of medicinal plants was very well developed in ancient India.

Just as there are religions prejudices in favour of some plants, there are also prejudices against their use. Flowers growing in cemeteries or in places dedicated to the deities are not used in marriages or in rites for prosperity or for acts of dalliance. There is a taboo attached to -wearing-of-garlands-of- red-flowers and -instead flowers of white colour are recommended. Red flowers, however, can be worn in the hair. Acacia arabica var. Telia cupiess of Family Mimosaceae is never used in any ceremony connected with an auspicious occasion. Its common name being Ram Kanta or Ram Kati, it is symbolic of Ram’s ward and is therefore not considered auspicious.

Similarly, the Tamarind tree, inspite of there being many legends connected with it, is never used for auspicious ceremonies as its fruit being very sour, it is believed that the ceremony will turn ‘sour’ and thus become fruitless and lose its meaning. Characters and situations are often compared poetically to flowers and plants in Hindu Mythology. For example Kama, badly wounded in the battle of Mahabharata is described as such: “Pierced with those arrows equipped with heads like the calf’s tooth, Adiratha’s son of broad chest looked resplendent like an Asoka (Saraca indica) or Palasa (Butea monosperma) or Salmali (Salmalia malabaricum) decked with its flowery load or a mountain overgrown with a forest of Sandal trees (Santalum album). Indeed with those
numerous-arrows sticking to his body, Kama, o Monarch, looked resplendent like the prince of mountains with its top and glens over grown with trees or decked with flowering Karnikaras (Pterospermum accrifolium) or Kimsuka flowers (Butea monosperma). Sometimes more then one plant has the same common name and it is difficult to find out the right plant to which a particular myth is attributed. For instance, Mandara, Parijata, Durva and Kusa ghas and Soma-lata are the common names of more than one plant. Often the plants are mythical and difficult to identify and confusion increases when they are mixed with plants which exist in the present times. For instance, Kustha identified as
Costus speciosus or ambicus is a plant that grew “in the third heaven under the Aswattha tree (Ficus religiosa), along with Soma”. May be some of the plants mentioned are extinct but the description given of the said plants is too meagre for them to be identified with fossil plants. For instance, in the Bhagavata Purana, there is a story of Priyavrata who married Visva-karma’s daughter Barhtsmati and by her had ten sons who are all named after Agni.

Priya-vrata reigned 400,000,000 years. The Sun-god Aditya moves round the Sumeru Mountain and sends his rays up to the Loka-loka range, illumining half the regions while the other half remains dark. Priya-vrata who possessed high spiritual powers determined to illuminate the dark regions, so that there was perpetual day-light. To effect this, he followed the Sun-god seven times in his chariot till Brahma appeared before him and said, “Desist, O son, this is not thy assigned duty in the Universe”. But since Priya-vrata had already gone round the Sumeru mt the ruts caused by the wheel of his chariot formed the seven oceans which gave rise to the seven Dvipa’s: Jambu, Plaksha, Salmali, Kusa, Kraunca, Saka and Pushkara. Each succeeding Dvipa is twice as large as the preceding one. Most of these are named after a sacred tree that grows there.

According to the Mahabharata, the eastern side of Meru has a large forest of Bhadra salas (identified both as Anthocephalius cadamba ‘and Cedrus deodara), and a huge tree called Kalamra (Mangifera indica). This Kalamra is always graced with fruits and flowers. It is a Yojana in height and adored by Siddhas and Charanas. People who live on this mountain are good looking, of fair complexion and live up to 10,000 years. Drinking the juice of Kalamra, they continue youthful for ever. On the south of the Nila and north of the Nishadha, there is a huge Jamvu tree ‘(Syzgium cumini, syn. Eugena Jambolena) that is eternal and wish ful-filling. The Dvipa is named Jamvudvipa after the tree Jamvu. The height of the tree is a thousand and hundred Yojanas. Two thousand and five hundred cubit measure the circumference of a fruit of that tree. When the, fruit is ripe, it bursts and falls on the ground making a loud noise and a silvery juice pours out of it. This juice becomes a river which passing circuitously round Meru, comes to the region of the Northern Kurus. Drinking that juice, one gets peace of mind, does not feel thirsty again and decrepitude never weakens one. Sometimes cities are compared to flowers. According to the Bhagavata Parana the lotus floats on’the lake, Madhura (Mathura) rares itself on the earth, protected by the Cakra, the disc of Vishnu. Hence it is called Gopala-puri. This Puri is surrounded by twelve forests. 1. Brhad-vana from Brhad or large 2. Madhu-vana from Madhu, a tree (Bassia latifoiia) 3. Tala-vana from Tala, palm tree (Borassus flabbifera) 4. Bahula-vana from Bahula, a tree (Cardamon) (Amomum subulatum or Elettaria cardamornum) 5. Kumuda-vana from Kurnuda, lotus (Nelumbium speciosum) 6. Khadira-vana from Khadira (Acacia catechu) 7. Bhadra-vana from Bhadra (Gmelina asiatica) 8. Bhandlra-vana from Bhandra (Ficus bengalensis) 9. Sri-vana from Sri or Lakshmi. Sribriksha (Aegle marmelos) 10. Loha-vana from Loha, a plant (Aloe agallochum) 11. Brada-vana from Brnda or Tulasi (Ocimum sanctum) These forests are presided over by 12 Adityas, 11 Rudras, 8 Vasus, 7 Rsis, Brahma, Nanada, the five Vinayakas (Moda, Pramoda, Amoda, Sumukha and Durmukha), Viresvara, Rudresvara, Vises-vara, Gopalas-vara, Bhadres’ vara and 24 Siva-Lingas.

Since very early times Deva Daru or the Deodar (Cedrus deodara) is considered as the abode of gods, may be because of the lofty, awe inspiring height the tree attains. In the Western Himalayas, particularly in the Kumaon hills and the Kulu valley, people hold the tree sacred and offer iron pieces as their offering to the gods dwelling in the trees. One often comes across trees studded with iron nails as a form of worship mainly to ward off illness, death and destruction of cattle, sheep and crops. Like the worship of Deodars, many trees are worshipped mainly because of the belief that spirits and deities dwell in them. Why iron nails are made as an offering can only be explained from a common Indian belief that iron keeps the evil away. And may be, to the people worshipping the tree, it was not just the gods dwelling in the tree that were important but also the tree itself as it brought rain which was important in an agricultural country.

Trees are worshipped for-various reasons. In-the Pun district of Orissa, a Tamala tree (Cinnamomum tamala) growing in the compound of the Sakhigopal temple is worshipped as an incarnation of Krishna. Jhand (Prosopis spicigera) is revered in the Punjab. Very often a temple is erected near it or a stone deity placed under the tree with flags and steamers adorning its branches. The tree is believed to have the gift of giving children and women worship it for that. Often even the marriage processions go to the tree before proceeding to the bride’s house or the doli procession goes first to the Jhand tree before the bride enters her new home. Offerings are also made to the tree by smallpox patients. Just as all animals are believed to possess a soul, similarly the belief that all plants possess a soul is very strong. There are gods and goddesses of trees, shrubs and creepers. They even have a mother called Ira. Ira, a daughter of Daksa and one of the wives of Kashyapa, was the mother of three daughters. Lata (creeper), Valli (creeping plants) and Virudha. They became in turn mothers of trees, plants and shrubs. Lata created flowerless - wild plants standing in sandy regions and also trees with flowers and fruits.

Valli created bushes and grass of all kinds. Ira means water and since the vegetable kingdom cannot subsist without water, Ira was the right choice of a mother for the plants. The association of the vegetation with a goddess is an old one dating back to the Harappa civilization where terracotta figurines of naked female figures have been found with their legs wide apart and a plant issuing from their womb. Quoting from Banerjee the association of the
vegetation with the goddess is very well worked out in her Sakambhari aspect (Markandya Purana, Devi Mahatmya. This association is still emphasised in the Navapatrika ceremony of the autumn Durga worship in Bengal which shows that the Devi was in a way the personification of the vegetation spirit According to the Markendeya Purana plants and trees were created from the hair of Brahma’s body. The Navapatrika or ‘nine planets’, are Rambha associated with the Plantain (Musa sapient); Kacvi (Arum colocasia); Haridra, the tumeric plant (Curcuma longa); Jayanti or Barley (Hordeum vulgare); Vilva (Aegle .marmelos); Dadima or pomegranate (Punica granatum); Asoka (Saraca indica); Mana or Dhanya called paddy (Oryza sativa). The nine goddesses presiding over the Individual plants are Brahmani, Kalika, Durga, Karttiki, Siva, Raktadantika, Sokarahita, Camunda, and Lakshmi respectively. These nine forms of the Devi can be described as comprising a variety of the Navadurgas.

A reference to the vanadevattas or the tree spirits is made in Kalidasa’s world renowned play Sakuntala where the vanadevatta blesses Sakuntala as she leaves for her husband’s home. There is a sculpture piece of the Banyun tree (Ficus bengalensis) at Mahabodhi near Gaya which shows two human arms extended from the tree, one holding a plate full of food and the other containing a vessel with a drink, towards a man who is ready to receive then. But this is not only a belief held by the Hindus, the presence of tree-spirits is also a very strong Buddhist belief as seen from the Jataka stories.

Marriage of boys and girls to trees is still being practised by certain tribes in India. This is a relic of the primitive age. Among boys such a marriage is usually performed if the prediction is that his first marriage will break. By marrying him to a tree which is considered to be female, the tragedy is averted and later he is married to a girl and she is considered his second wife. In Orissa if a man loses two wives in succession, before he can be married for the third time, he is first married to a tree of Stribulus asper or Morus indica before he is considered free of the curse of becoming a widower again, as the ill-luck is now carried by the tree he is married to. The same custom for girls, however, has a different basis. An unmarried girl’s body cannot be consecrated to the fire. In other words, a virgin cannot be cremated and it is the sacred duty of her parents to marry her at the appropriate time to a boy of their own caste. But if for any reason, the father fails to get her married, a marriage is solemnised between her and a tree after which the girl can be given away informally to any boy or to a boy of an inferior caste. For instance, among the Kunbirs of Gujerat, if a man fails to provide a husband for his daughter, she is married to a bunch of flowers and the flowers are later thrown into a well after which the girl can marry anyone or she is simply given away to any man who is prepared to accept her. In some cases a girl is first married to a tree with a belief that she will imbibe some of the fertility of the tree, before she is married in the normal way to a man. Among the Gauras of Orissa, a girl who fails to get a husband is taken

to a forest married to a tree and left tied to it. She is rescued by the first man who comes that way and she becomes his wife informally. Mostly a youth of a lower caste is waiting for the family to depart before he takes her to his home.

So much importance was given to plants, particularly to trees that a whole ritual was laid for the felling of the ‘trees and for image making for purposes of worship. Not every wood was used for image making, nor could anyone worship an image unless it was sanctioned by the scriptures. For instance, the images for worship by the Brahmanas are made from Deodar (Cedrus deodar), Candana (Santalum album), Sami (Acacia suma) and Madhuka (Bassia latifolia, also identified as Glycyrrhiza glabra); for kshatriyas images are made out of Arishta (Sapindus mukorossi), Aswattha (Ficus religiosa), Khadira (Acacia catechu), Vilva (Aegle marmelos); for Vaishas from Jivaka (Putranjiva roxburghn), Khadira (Acacia catechu), Sindhuka (Hibiscus rosa- Sinensis), Syandana (Delbergia sissoo); for the Sudras out of Tinduka (Diospyros peregrina), Kesara (Eclipta alba), Salya (Aegle marmelos or Vanguinieria spinosa), Arjuna (Terminalia Arjuna), Amra (Mangifera indica), and Sala (Shorea robusta). The prescribed ritual for felling the selected tree was an elaborate one. The sculptor had to perform certain rites such as the marking off on its trunk the various sections of the image to be made. Next he had to propitiate the tree with various offerings and to worship at night the gods, manes, Rakshasas, Nagas, Asuras, Ganas and Vinayakas. In the morning, after sprinkling water on the tree and smearing the blade of his axe with honey and clarified butter, he would cut round the tree rightwards, beginning from the north-east corner.

Just as most gods and goddesses in India are associated with some tree, shrub or creeper, similarly all the nine planets which are believed to control the destiny of man are associated with plants. Planet Ravi (the Sun) after whom Ravivara or Sunday is named is offered the burnt offerings of Aak plant (Calatropis gigantea). Butea monospermir or Palasa is-sacred to planet Soma (the moon) after whom Somavara or Monday is named. Planet Mangla (Mars) hence Manglavara or Tuesday is identified with Karttikeya and the plant Khadira (Acacia catechu) is sacred to him. Planet Buddha (Mercury), hence Budhavara or Wednesday has Aparmargu (Achryanthes aspera) as its sacred plant. Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) is sacred to Planet Brihaspati (Jupiter) after whom Brihaspativara or Thursday is named. The plant Urumbasa (cannot be identified botanically) is sacred to the planet Sukra (Venus) and’ Sukravara or Friday is named after him. Saturday or Sanivara is named after the Planet Sani (Saturn) and the plant sacred to it is Sami (Acacia suma). Dharbha ghas (Pao cynasuroides) is sacred to the Planet Rahu and blades of Kusa ghas (Eragrostis cynasuroides) to the Planet Ketu. Though generally speaking the Sikhs in India do not worship trees, yet a few specimens are held sacred by them. One is a tree of Ber (Zizyphus jujuba) growing in the compound of the Golden Temple at Amritsar which is believed by the Sikhs to be a tree which removes sorrow. Similarly, a tree of Carissa spinosa or the sacred Gama, growing in a village called Badal in the Hoshiarpur dis’trict of Punjab, is a tree of great antiquity and is held in great reverence by the Sikhs. Near Bareilly in Uttara Pradesh there is a tree of Amla (Embelica officinalis) one branch of which bears sweet fruits and the rest of the tree bears bitter-sour fruits. No doubt a case of mutation in the plant but the Sikhs hold the tree sacred under the belief that one of their Gurus once rested under this tree and the branch which gave him shade, since that time bears sweet fruits.

There is a mention of the birth of plants in Matsya Purana. The legend says that by the power of their penances, Rishis Prachetasa (ten brothers), had protected the plants but Agni burnt them. So the Rishis married Soma-Kanya, Marisha, the daughter of Soma and from this union was born Daksha. Daksha in turn produced on her innumerable plants and trees.

According, to the Vamana Purana the following plants arose as listed below;
1. Lotus (Neiumbium speciosum) from Vishnu’s navel.
2. Kadamba (Anthocephallus cadamba) from the forepart of the hand of Kandaripa.
3. Banyan (Ficus bcngalensis) from Manibhadra, the chief of the Yakshas.
4. Datura (Datura fastuosa) from the chest of Siva.
5. Khadira (Acacia catechu) from the middle body of Brahma.
6. Bread fruit (Adansonia digitata) from the body of Visvavarman.
7. Kurchi flowers (Jasminium pubescens) from the palm of Parvati.
8. Sindhuvaraka (Vitex negundo) from the temple of Ganesha.
9 Palasa (Butea frondosa) from the right side of Yama.
10. Udumbara (Ficus glomerata) from the north-south side of Yama.
11. Vrsa drig (Banduvija pentapates) from Rudra.
12. Bamboo (Banduvija pentapates) from Skanda. 13- Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) from Ravi.
14. Sami (Acacia suma) from Katyani.
15. Bilva (Aegle marmelos) from Lakshmi.
16. Reeds (Arundo donax) from the lord of serpents.
17. Durbha {Pao cynasuroides) from Vasuki.

The cult of tree worship is as old or older than civilization, in fact almost the first objects to be worshipped were trees. In India this is borne out by a seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, now in Pakistan, which depicts Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) being worshipped. This seal dates back to the 3rd or 4th millennium B.C. The worship of trees in India is understandable as the trees not only provided shade in the hot scorching summers, food, and medicine and fuel but the forests ‘Meant rain which was essential for a purely agricultural economy. The trees being beneficial to humanity, to protect them became a religion for men and the trees were converted into the abode of spirits, the vanadevattas. To cut down a tree meant depriving the spirit of its home and very often if it became imperative to cut down any tree, special prayers for forgiveness of the tree spirit were performed before a tree was cut down or another abode offered to the Vaimdevatta. Invariably it is not the tree that is worshipped but the spirits residing in them.

The identification of the plant at times gets difficult as a large ‘number of plants have the same common name. In a country like India with many regional languages, a particular common name of a plant is applied to different plants. Also plants that are associated with various gods and goddesses change from one part of India to another. Not only that, but the

names of gods and goddesses also differ in different parts of India thus making accurate assessment and Identification of plants at times impossible. Where the Sanskrit name of the plant belongs to more than one plant, only those plants have been identified, the synonym of which suites in a particular reference. To make matters more confusing, myths in various districts overlap. If in one district a particular deity is worshipped with a certain plant, in the next district, either the same plant is offered to a different deity or some other flowers are considered sacred to the same deity.


Family Leguminoseae

Sanskrit: Khadira

Hindi: Katha

English: Cutch tree
Khadira wood is considered sacred both by the Hindus and the Buddhists. There is a mention of the plant in the Bhagavata Purana and other ancient Indian texts. It also finds a mention in the Buddhists Jataka stories. When Brahmadatta was king of Benares, Bodhisatta was born as a wood-pecker and since he lived in a forest of Acacia trees i.e. Khadirj-vana, he was called Khadiravaniya. He had a friend called Kandagulaka, who used to get his food from soft, good fruit. Once Kandagalaka visited Khadiravaniya and the latter took him into the Acacia woods and pecked at the tree trunks until the insects came out and these he gave to his friend to eat. Kundagalaka was an arrogant bird and thought that he could himself get the insects to eat, why should he be obliged to Khadiravaniya for them. When he told his intentions to his friend, Khadiravaniya said: “You are used to take your food from pithless silk-cotton trees and trees that bear abundant soft fruit. But Khadira is full of pith and is hard. You should not peck at it”. But Kandagalaka did not heed the warning given by his friend and pecked at the hard Khadira wood. The wood being hard, his beak snapped, his head split and he could not hold fast to the tree. He fell to the ground arid died.  Bodhisatts identified the Birth and said: “Devadutta was Kandag-abka and Khadiravaniya was myself. This was not the first time that Devadutta had destroyed himself by imitating me”. The dried pulp extracted from the wood of Acacia catechu is used as a paste for the betel leaves. It has digestive and other medicinal properties. The inflorescence of Khadira is essential in marriage ceremonies in certain parts of India. The sacrificial post is made of Khadira wood, also the sacrificial fire, as it produces very hot embers. The Sruva or sacrificial ladle is also made fromits^woodperhaps because the wood is very hard.

Family Leguminoseae
Sanskrit & Hindi: Sami
English: Acacia
In the krita age all the celestials approached Varuna and said: “As Sakra, the lord of the celestials always protects us from every fear, similarly be thou the lord of all rivers. Thou always residest, O god, in the Ocean, that home of Makaras. This Ocean, the Lord of rivers, will then be under thy dominion. Thou shalt then wax and wane with Soma.’ Thus addressed, Varuna answered: “Let it be so”. Then according to the rites laid down in the scriptures, Varuna took his abode in the Ocean. The illustrious Varuna began to duly protect seas and lakes, rivers and other receptacles of water and all aquatic creatures. Because of Varuna haying his abode in the waters, these became a place of pilgrimage or Tirtha. Baladeva, the slayer of Pralamba and possessor ot great wisdom, after having bathed in the abode of Varuna i.e. the river, proceeded to the Agni Tirtha which was the spot where the god of fire, Agni, the eater of clarified butter, frightened at the curse of Bhrigu, had concealed
himself within the entrails of the Sami wood. At this disappearance of the light of the world, the gods repaired to the Grandsire of the Universe and said: The odorable Agni has disappeared for reasons unknown to us. Let not all creatures be destroyed, create fire, O Lord”. Upon the disappearance of Agni, all the gods with Vasava or Vrihaspati at their head, searched for the missing god and found him in the entrails of the Sami wood. Having found Agni, the gods returned to their respective homes. Agni, henceforth, because of Bhrigu’s curse became an eater of everything. Balarama, after having bathed at Agni Tirtha the spot where Agni had entered the Sami wood, then proceeded to Brahmayoni where Brahma had exercised his functions of creation.

Another story regarding the sacredness of the Sami wood is told in the Mahabharata. An Asura called Taraka was afflicting the deities and the Rishis. To get him killed, the deities and the Rishis approached Brahma. Brahma gave them his word that the vedas and the eternal duties “will not be exterminated and he promised to do something to get rid of Taraka. The deities then reminded Brahma that because of his boon to Taraka, Taraka was incapable of being slain by the deities, Asuras or Rakshasas. For having tried to stop propagation in earlier days, the deities had also been cursed by Uma, the consort of Siva. As a result of that curse, they could not have any offspring. Brahma told the assembled company that at the time the curse was pronounced by Uma, Agni was not present and therefore he was free from the curse. Agni would begat an offspring who, transcending all the deities, Danavas, Rakshasas, Gandharvas, Nagas and the feathery creatures will slay Taraka. Continuing, he said: “Kama is identical with Rudra’s seed, a portion of which fell into the blazing form of Agni. That blazing substance will be cast by Agni into Gangs for producing an offspring upon her in order to effect the destruction of the enemies of the gods. Let the eater of sacrificial libations, who alone is Capable of killing Taraka, being free of Uma’s curse, be sought. Agni is the Lord of the universe. Will or desire is identified with Agni”. The deities and the Rishis then searched for Agni in all corners of the three worlds but could not find him as Agni had merged himself into self i.e. water, for water is identified with Agni. Agni having entered the waters, the aquatic animals were scorched by the heat thus produced. A frog living in the water could not bear the heat anymore. As the deities were searching for Agni, the frog came above the water surface and informed them of Agni’s whereabouts. When Agni came to know of frog’s treachery, he cursed him by depriving “is entire race of their organs of taste. Seeing the plight to which the frogs were reduced for having done them a service, the deities showed them a favour and said that inspire of all the inconveniences caused  to them by the lack of tongues, the Earth would still hold them and they will no: starve. After bestowing this boon on the frogs, the deities went about searching for Agni but failed to find him. An elephant told them that Agni was hiding in the Aswattha tree (Ficus digiosa). Incensed by the betrayal of the elephants, Agni cursed them and said that their tongues would be bent backwards. The deities then said to the elephants that even with tongues bent inwards, they would be able to eat and make incoherent sounds. Having thus blessed the elephants, the deities resumed their search for Agni. Having issued out of the Aswattha, the deity of fire had entered the heart of Sami tree. His new abode was divulged by a parrot. Enraged with the conduct of the parrot, Agni cursed the whole parrot race and deprived them of the power of speech. The deities feeling compassion for the parrot blessed them and said that though their tongues had been turned back, they will still have speech, sweet and indistinct and confined to the letter K. Then beholding the deity of fire within the heart of the Sami wood, the deities made Sami a sacred fuel fit for producing fire in all religious rites. From that time onwards, Agni is believed to reside in the heart of 5am; and men came to regard Sam; as the right wood for producing fire in sacrifices and to this day, the sacrificial fire is produced by rubbing together two sticks of Sami wood.

In ancient times, Kings sometimes performed sacrifices causing altars’ to be raised at small distances from one another. Those distances were measured by hurling a heavy piece of Sami wood from an altar. The site for the next altar was chosen at the spot the piece of Sami had fallen. Since the time that Agni devatta concealed himself in the Sami wood, the tree became sacred. Sami is a Very inflammable wood and is therefore, used in all sacred rites where the holy fire Homa is kindled. Sami is also considered as the goddess-incarnate. Since Sami has fire inside it and Kudra is an embodiment of fire, Siva or Rudra is conceived as a yupa post made of Sami wood. An evil spirit resides in it but he works evil only if a bed is made or repaired from Acacia wood. Such a bed can not be slept in.

Family Rutacese
Sanskrit: Bilva, Vilva
Hindi : Bel, Bael
English: Wood Apple
Bilva is a scraggy tree with three leaves and with a crust of thick thorns. The three leaves together, look like Trishul, or the Trident, the emblem of Siva. These tri-foliate leaves signify the three functions of Siva i.e. Creation, Preservation and Destruction. They also represent his three eyes. That is why Bilva leaves are considered effective in removing the sins of three births. The tree is sacred to Siva and is worshipped by his followers on the 14th phase of the moon’s wane between the months of Magha and Phalguna. On Sivaratri day is celebrated Siva’s first manifestation of himself in phallic form. The Linga is bathed in milk, decorated and wrapped with Bilva leaves. Bilva is considered as one of the important sacred trees and keeps on recurring in Hindu Mythology. The following story is from Brihaddharma Purana as quoted by Gupta in his article on Tree symbol worship in Bengal’. Lakshmi, while worshipping Siva used to make a daily offering of one thousand lotus buds. One day when she was going to worship Siva, she found that the lotus flowers were short by two. She was in a quandry as to what to do when she remembered that her husband, Vishnu had always compared her breasts to lotus buds. So she decided to cut off her breasts, and substitute them in place of the lotus flowers that were missing. As she cut off one breast, Siva satisfied with her worship of him and at her sacrifice appeared before her and said that her cut breast (which was not placed on the ground and therefore did not become unclean) would be the wood apple i.e. the Bilva tree.

According to Banihipurana and Tantrik folklore, Lakshmi was born as a sacred cow and from her dung arose the Bilva tree and therefore it is considered sacred. The tree being associated with lakshmi, it is also called Sribiksha, the tree of prosperity and good fortune. Another legend says that Lakshmi and Saraswati were both wives of Vishnu but Vishnu loved Saraswati more than he loved Lakshmi. Enraged, Lakshmi started the worship of Siva and was engaged in meditation of Siva for a very long time but Siva did not appear before her. After a while, Lakshmi became the Bilva tree and now Siva dwells in the tree. According to one legend, a hunter was trying to shoot a deer. He climbed the Bilva tree and getting bored in his hours of waiting, to kill time he started plucking the leaves of the tree and throwing them down. Under the tree was an image of Siva. After a while, Siva himself appeared to the hunter in a vision and said, “I make myself visible to you for it is not the way you worship that is important but the worship itself. Even the accidental fall of leaves on the image of Siva, gave the hunter his vision. From that day onwards, the tree and its trifoliate arrangement of leaves became sacred.

Another version of the same story is given by Dubois. A slightly different version of the story is: Sundara Sena, the vicious king of Arunda went out hunting. Getting tired he took rest in a bower of Bilva trees. There was a phallic emblem in the bower and Bilva leaves fell on it because the king plucked them from the tree. Plucking Bilva leaves made the dust rise and to lay down the dust, the king brought water from the near by river and sprinkled it on the tree. Some water dribbled down on the head of the emblem. Then a shaft fell down from the king’s quiver and he went to fetch it. As he bent down to pick it up, his chest touched the emblem. Having touched, bathed and worshipped the emblem of Siva with Bilva leaves on the night of the Vratam, the king got his vision of Mahadeva. Another interesting legend is as follows: Once in the city of Pataliputra ruled a king called Vikramatunga. He had the reputation of never turning his back on a suppliant, nor in fighting on an enemy. The king one day entered a forest to hunt and saw a Brahman offering a sacrifice of Bilva fruits. The king did not disturb him and went ahead with his chase. Hours later, on his return from the chase; he found the Brahman still intent on his sacrifice as before. The king got curious and going upto the Brahman asked him what merit he was going to gain by offering Bilva fruits. The Brahman named Nagasarman answered, “When the God of Fire is pleased with this Bilva for sacrifice, and then Bilva fruits of gold will come out of the fire. The God of Fire will appear in bodily form and grant me a boon; and so I have spent much time in offering Bilva fruits. But so little is my merit that even now the God of Fire is not propitiated”. The king then said, “Give me a Bilva fruit that I may offer it, and I will today, O Brahman, and render the God of Fire propitious to you”. The Brahman answered, “How will you, unchastened and impure, propitiate that God of Fire, who is not satisfied with me, who remain faithful to my vow and am chastened”? The king answered, “Never mind, give me a Bilva fruit and in a moment you shall behold a wonder”. The Brahman, full of wonder and curiosity, gave a Bilva fruit to the king. The king meditated for a while and offering the Bilva fruit to the fire, said, “If thou art not satisfied with this Bilva fruit, O God of Fire, then I will offer thee my own head”. Arising from the sacrificial fire, the seven-rayed god appeared before the king, bringing him a golden Bilva fruit, as the fruit of his valour and addressing the king said, “I am pleased with thy courage, so receive a boon, O king”. The king bowed before the God of Fire and said, “Grant this Brahman his wish. What other boon do I require”. The God of Fire answered, “O king, this Brahman shall become a great lord of wealth and thou shall also by my favour have the prosperity of thy treasury remain ever undiminished”. The Brahman then addressed the God of Fire and said, Thou hast appeared swiftly to a king that acts according to his own will, but not to me that am under vows, why is this, O revered one?” Then the God of Fire, the giver of boons answered, “If I had not granted him an interview, this king of fierce courage would have offered his head in sacrifice to me. In this world successes quickly befall those of fierce spirit, but they come slowly, O Brahman, to those of dull spirit like thee”. Thus
spoke the God of Fire and vanished. The Brahman Nagasarman took leave of the king and because of the boon given him by the God of Fire, became very rich.

According to certain tribes of India, the tree sprang from the testes of a pig which is considered an unclean animal, thus revealing the great gap that exists between the orthodox Hindu thought and that of the tribes. Naturally therefore, most tribal people do not consider the pig sacred. The Gauria snake-charmers of Central India are believed to cure snake bites by an appeal to the Bilva tree and to Dhanwantri, the Physician of gods. Before the start of the war between Ramachandra and Ravana, Brahma took Rama to a Bilva tree on the sea shore to invoke Devi on the Krishna navami Tithi. Rama approached the Bilva tree and eugolised Devi and the latter assured him with a voice from heaven that he would attain victory over the Rakshasas. A fallen tree is never used for firewood and though its fruit is highly valued by people, the people of Kerala never eat it, as it signifies the head of Siva.

Bilva leaves are offered to Siva on Mondays in the month of Shrawan (July). Its wood is included in Homa and the fruit is believed to promote fertility. Bilva tree is highly medicinal, particularly useful in curing diseases of the skin by purifying the blood. The fruit, believed to have come from the milk of Sri, is a remedy for dysentery. The tree is planted on the north side of the house.


Family Rubiaceae

Sanskrit: Kadamba

Hindi: Kadam
English: Kadamb
This is the famous Kadamba tree popularly associated with Krishna. Krisnha dancing with Radha and his favourite gopies under this tree is a favourite theme of the Krsna-Radha legend and is often represented in miniature paintings. Till’today, the tree is held sacred by the followers of Krsna and in memory of his swinging from its branches and delighting with the milkmaids of Brndavana; its flowers are offered at the temples dedicated to him.

According to a Puranic legend, the distillation of liquor is associated with the Kadamba tree. Sheshnag, the great serpent who supports the earth, was on his wanderings in the forest with his companions in the guise of a mortal. Lord Varuna wanted to provide him with recreation and ordered his wife Varuni, the goddess of wine to go and regale the powerful Ananta or Sheshnag and make him happy. Obeying the commands of her husband, Varuni as Madira or wine, went and hid herself in the hollow of a Kadamba tree in the, Brndavana. Krsna, as Baladeva who was roaming in the forest, smelled the pleasant fragrance of liquor and his old passion for strong drink was resumed. Seeing drops of liquor come from the Kadamba tree, he was delighted and gathering them, drunk it with his herdsmen and the gopies, the latter then sang and danced praising Krsna. Krsna got drunk with wine and in his drunken state called upon the river Jamuna to come near him as he wished to bathe. The river disregarded the wishes of a man who was drunk, at which Krsna got enraged at the audacity of Jamuna and plunged his ploughshare into the river and dragged her to him and further compelled the river to follow him wherever he went in his wanderings in the forest Since that day Krsna and the Kadamba tree which provided him with liquor have come to be associated together.

Assuming a mortal figure, Jamuna with distracted looks approached Balabhadra, another aspect of Krsna and entreated him to pardon her. Appeased by her reiterated prayers, Krsna let her go but only after she had watered the whole country. Then Balarama bathed in the river Jamuna and Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty gave him a lotus flower to put in his car and a garland of lotus flowers to wear.

In the Vishnu Purana there is a mention of the four sacred mountains: Mandara, Gandhamandara, Vipula and Supars.a and on each one of them stands severally a Kadamba tree, a jambu tree (Syzgium cumini, syn. Eugenia jambolena), a Peepul (Ficus religiosa) and a Vata (Ficus bengalensis) tree, each spreading over 1100 yojanas and towering aloft like banners. In the Bhagavata Purana, Mango tree is present on mount Mandara; Jambu tree on Merumandara; Vata on the Kamuda and Kadamba on mount Suparsva. Though the Kadamba tree is associated with the exudation of liquor drops, in fact wine does not exude from the Kadamba tree but its flowers are said to yield a spirit on distillation. The name Kadambari is a synonym of wine. The original Kadamba tree is believed to have grown on the Gomantha Mountain, one of the mythical sacred mountains of Hindu Mythology. Gohitayani, the nurse of Skanda, is worshipped under a Kadamba tree.

Family Gramineae
Sanskrit: Nalaka
Hindi : Bari-nari
English: Cane-sticks, Great Reed, Spanish Cane
Buddha, the Master, while on an alms pilgrimage with his disciples through Kosala came to the village of Nalaka-pana. They were dwelling in the Ketaka-vana (Pandanus odoratissimus) near the pool of Nalaka-pana where grew the cane-sticks. The cane sticks those days were solid and the novices used to gather them to make needle cases out of them. Seeing the forest of Nalaka-pana, Buddha narrated the following story, an event which
had occured in a previous birth.

Once Bodhisatta was born as the king of the monkeys and lived in the forest near this pool with his 80,000 followers. One day the monkeys came to a spot that they had not visited before. They were thirsty but instead of drinking the water of the lake, they waited for Bodhisatta, their king to come. Bodhisatta, on arrival made a circuit of the lake and scrutinized the foot prints round it and noticed that footsteps led down into the water but none came out of it. He then realised that the lake was the haunt of an Ogre and was glad that none of his followers had gone down to the lake to drink water, When the Ogre realised that the monkeys were not coming down to the lake he came but of the water and finding ail of them sitting on the banks of the lake, addressed their Master and asked him why the monkeys were not going down to the lake to drink water. Bodhisatta, the Master, asked him in return if he was the Ogre who] ate up the animals that went to drink water at the lake. The Ogre replied in the affirmative and also disclosed his intentions of eating all the monkeys when they went to the lake. The Bodhisatta told him that the monkeys would drink the water of the lake but without going down to it, and that the Ogre would not be able to eat them. The Bodhisatta had a cane brought-to him and after calling to mind the Ten Perfections, he recited them and blew down the cane. The cane became hollow without a single knot being left in all its length. He then made a round of the lake and commanded all canes to become hollow. After the canes became hollow, he and the 80,000 monkeys each took a hollow cane in their hands and sucked the water up through them and the Ogre could not catch them.

The Ogre in the story was Devadutta; the 80,000 monkeys were the disciples of Buddha and the monkey king was Bodhisatta himself. The cane-sticks are tall, stout, perennial grasses with a hollow stem. They are common all over India and are distributed westwards to Europe, N.Africa and N.Asia.

Family Asclepiadaceae
Sanskrit: Soma
Hindi: Somalata
English: Sour creeper
Soma is variously described as a God, as a drink and as a plant. As a drink it is considered to be a drought of immortality, soma, which also has great, curative powers. As a deity, he is considered to be a wise seer who inspires good thoughts and poetry, Soma is also considered as Vanaspati, the lord of plants and woods. In a few hymns in the Rg-veda, he is identified with the moon. The ninth chapter of the Rg-veda is devoted to the Soma deity. Soma plant which grew on the hills, corresponds to Haoma of Avesta and like the fire-cult, the soma-cult is also identical to the Iranian custom where Soma, under the name of Haoma, plays exactly the same role in the worship and sacrifice of the followers of Avesta. In the Rg-veda, the Soma deity is referred as a plant which yields intoxicating beverages. This liquor is offered at sacrifices, partaken by the worshipper and poured into the sacred flame on the altar of sacrifice. The Soma draught is said to dispel sin from the heart, to destroy falsehood and to promote truth. The ninth chapter of the Gita mentions Soma as: Those who are devoted to the three wisdoms i.e. Dharam, Arath, Kama, drink Soma, become similar and pray for paradise. According to the Rg-veda, Soma deity which is mountain born, comes after Agni and Indra in importance. It is said that Varuna who placed the Sun in the heaven and fire in the water, placed Soma on the mountains. Like fire, Soma is brought to men by superhuman agency. Whereas Fire was brought to earth from Heaven by Matarishvan, Soma was brought from the mountains by a falcon. The original Soma plant grew in the Heavens.

Parallels were recognised between the celestial and the earthly spheres. Soma, King moon; dwells in the Soma plant, the stalks of which yield an intoxicating drink. This drink was considered as the terrestrial counterpart of the elixir of immortality, the amrta which was contained in the cup of the moon and, the gods imbibed it on mount Sumeru. To attract Indra and other gods to the diurnal rituals of the Vedic times, counterpart of the amrta i.e. the juice of a terrestrial plant was offered at sacrifices. The plant associated with the soma-cult grew on the Himalayan highlands of Kashmir, in the deep valleys of which the Aryan tribes dwelt from very early times probably even before the Rg-veda hymns were compiled and the complicated priestly ritual with regard to their use was rigidly instituted. The cult of the Soma sacrifice started in the north mountainous region from where it spread geographically south eastwards with the spread of the race. But since very likely the Soma plant did not flourish well in these hotter regions, immense quantities of the plant needed for consumption of the increasing Aryan settlements had to be got from the mountains, which practice being highly inconvenient because of the distance involved, the real Soma plant was ultimately substituted by another plant which also yielded an intoxicating beverage, a plant which answered at least to a partial morphological description of the original Soma plant. This plant is Sarcostemma acidum known as Soma or Somalata in Hindi. This plant also belongs to the family Asclepiadaceae. According to some historians, there were five plants from which the juice was extracted. According to others, the Soma plant was Ephednt pachyclade (Hindi: Hum, Huma) or Ephedra distachya which grows from Siberia to the North Himalayan region. This theory is plausiole if we accept the Arctic home for the vedas.” The other two plants associated with it are Asclepia acida and Sarcostemma viminale or Sarcostemma aqjdum (English: Moon plant) both belonging to the family Asclepiadaceae. The description of the Soma plant is: “with hanging bough, bare of leaves and of a light brown colour; knotty joints containing an abundance of slightly astringent, milky juice in a fibrous cane like outer rind.”

Adara is a plant prescribed as a substitute for Soma. It is identified in the Satapatha Brahrnana as Putika (Guilandina Bonduc or Baselfa cordifolia).” For the extraction of the juice a regular trade started between certain mountain tribes who used to gather the plant and sell it to the Aryans. The Aryans considered the tribes contemptible for trading in a divine plant and did not allow them to-either extract the Soma-rus or to partake of it. The price the Aryans paid to these mountain tribes for the plant was a reddish-brown cow with light brown eyes, in allusion perhaps to the colour of the Soma plant. This cow was not allowed to be roughly handled. The juice was pressed out of the plant with various attendant rituals. It was then mixed with other ingredients and fermented to make the intoxicating sacrificial beverage which was the holiest offering in ancient Indian worship. There were rituals attendant at every step of the Soma-rus extraction. The plant had to be collected by uprooting it during moonlight and carried to the sacrificial altar on a carriage drawn by two goats. The altar or the vedi was prepared from Kusa ghas (Eragrostis cynasuroides), where the gods ultimately came and took their seat. The Soma plant was laid on the consecrated spot before being pressed. Pravargya was a special preliminary rite performed in the sacrifice. Abhishava was the extraction of the juice of the Soma plant and its consecration with mantras. The vessels were made of the Aswattha (Ficus religiosa) wood.

This unadulterated clear, shining juice was called Sukra, Suchi or Suddaha. The filtered juice was then put into jars i.e. Kalasa or vats called drona. In the jars the juice was mixed with milk or water to sweeten it The Soma admixture called asir was of three different kinds. Mixed with milk it was called Go, with sour milk dadhi and with barley, yava. This admixture was referred as a bright robe. Soma-rus was pressed three times a day i.e. morning, mid-day and evening. The first two extractions were offered to Indra and the one pressed in the evening was meant for the Ribbus. Soma-rus was drunk by the gods at the ceremonial offering made to them by the priests. The drink nourished them and threw them into a joyous intoxication. The divine beverage was supposed to purify the drinker, give health and immortality and pave the entry of the drinker to heaven and destroy his enemies. The drink produced enthusiastic and exhilarating; effect and a consciousness of something divine. The drink was considered as the earthly form of the celestial soms.

Symbolically, the stones on which the plants were pressed were the clouds; the stones used for pressing the plants were the thunderbolts; the sieve was the sky; the liquor that fell through the sieve was the rain and the kalasa or vessel holding the juice was the Samundra, the celestial sea that holds all the atmospheric waters.

According to the Upanishads the moon is King Soma. He is also known as a warrior god when he is depicted as vigorous and well armed, equipped to battle against the demons who abide Jn the dark. Soma deity is also considered as the Lord of streams and the admixture of the juice has a special relation with the waters. According to one myth, Soma is married to
Surya, the Sun maiden. According to another story, he is the son of Rishi Atri and Anasuya and married twentyseven daughters of Daksha who are personified as twentyseven lunar asterisms. The inspiring effect of intoxication seemed to be due to the inherent divinity of the plant that produced it, the plant was, therefore, regarded as divine and the preparation of the draught was looked upon as a sacred ceremony.

According to Mackenzie, “Soma worship appears to be connected with the belief that life was in the blood; literally ‘the life blood’... the blood of trees was the name for the sap; sap was water impregnated or vitalised by Soma, the essence of life. Water worship and Soma worship were probably identical, the moon which was believed to be the source of growth and moisture, being the fountain head of ‘the water of life’.”

Family Papillionaceae
Sanskrit: Kimshuka, Plaksha
Hindi: Palas, Dhak, Teysu
English: Flame of the forest, Parrot tree, Judas tree
The tree is considered sacred by both the Hindus and the Buddhists. The Hindus consider it sacred because of the tri-foliate formation of its leaves which represents the Holy trinity with Vishnu, the Preserver in the middle, Brahma, the Creator on the left and Siva, the Destroyer on the right. The tree is associated with moon as it is believed to have sprung from the feather of a falcon imbued with Soma, the intoxicating drink of the gods and is thus immortalised. It is a common practice to use the leaves of the tree in ceremonies connected with the blessing of the calves to ensure their becoming good milkers. Dry twigs of the plant are used in the sacred fire Homa. Its wood is sacrificial and is mentioned in the vedas. From the wood are made utensils used for sacred purposes. The staff placed in the hands of a Brahmin boy at the time of the thread ceremony is made from the Plaksha wood. When a Brahmin boy renounces the worldly life and becomes a sadhu and his hair are being shorn, he is given the Plaksha leaf to eat or else he must eat off Plaksha leaves.

The orange red flowers of the tree are offered to the gods, especially to goddess Kali. In the spring festival of Holi, a dye made from the flowers is used to sprinkle the passers by. Since Holi is associated with Krsna, the tree has come to be associated with him. Red being the colour of passion, a young man smearing the face of a maiden with the dye made from the flowers of Plaksha is supposed to have great erotic significance. Amir Khusru, a Turkoman poet, compares the flowers of the tree to a lion’s claw stained with blood. In Indian poetry the flowers are compared to the new nail marks on the body of the beloved. A Rg-vedic hymn describes the bridal car as adorned with its blossoms (Su-Kimsuka). Palasa patram or a vessel of Palasa wood was used by the trees for milking the cow earth. Its wood is used in ceremonies connected with Krsnastamivratam and the digging of tanks.

The Plaksha tree is associated with Brahma also because of the following legend. Once Siva and Parvati were engaged in amorous dalliance. The gods and deities ordered Agni devatta to go there in the guise of a Brahmana. Seeing Agni intrude on their privacy, Parvati cursed the whole host of gods and deities to be born as trees. Because of the curse, Brahma was converted into the Plaksha tree, Vishnu into the Aswattha (Ficus religiosa), and Rudra into the Vata (Ficus indica syn. F. bengalensis.) tree. Buddhists associate the tree in flower to penitents dressed in orange red. Orange red being the colour of flame, it is worn symbolically by those who have burnt all their desires. The tree often figures in Buddhist Jataka stories. One of the stories relate: King Brahmadatta of Benares had four sons. Once they sent for their charioteer and expressed a desire to see the Kimshuka tree. The charioteer, instead of taking the four sons of the king together to see the Kimshuka tree, showed them the tree separately and at different times of the season. One son saw the tree when buds were sprouting from the stem; the second when the leaves were green; the third when the tree was in blossom and the fourth when the tree was bearing fruit.

After they had all seen the tree, they were asked by someone about what sort of a tree Kimshuka was. The four brothers having seen the tree at different seasons* their impressions about the tree naturally differed from one another. The elder brother having seen the tree when buds, were sprouting from it said that it looked like a burnt stump. The tree bears flowers buds when it is bereft of all foliage and the stems are completely bare. The second brother’s impressions were that it looked like a banyan tree as he had seen the tree decked in green foliage. The green, coarse, ovoid shaped leaves resemble the leaves of a banyan tree. The third brother thought that the tree resembled a piece of meat as he had seen the tree full of flowers. The flowers of Kimshuka are orange-red in colour. The fourth compared the tree to an Acacia tree as it was in fruit when he had seen it. Both Kimshuka and Acacia bear similar looking pods as fruit. The brother’s were perplexed at each other’s answer and went to their father the king, for an explanation. The king answered, “All of you have seen the tree at a different season but none of you asked the charioteer what the tree looked like in a different season and so you are in a doubt”. Similarly, four brothers had approached the Tathagata and asked for means by which ecstasy could be induced. Tathagata explained the various ways of attaining ecstasy. One of them learnt the Six Spheres of Touch and became a saint; second by learning the Five Elements of Being; third after learning the Four Principal Elements; fourth after learning the Eighteen Constituents of Being. One of the brothers was in a doubt and said, “There is only one Nirvana for all these modes of meditation; how is it that all of them lead to sainthood?” Tathagata was born as king Brahmadatta of Benares. He had the four sons who saw the Kimshuka tree at different times of the year. These were the same four brothers who in a previous birth had asked the Tathagata about the ways of attaining Nirvana. During the reign of Brahmadatta of Benares,

Bodhisatta was born in the form of a Kimsuka tree spirit. This is a medicinal plant. Its gum is used as an external astringent. Bark of the tree is locally used by certain tribes for snake and scorpion bites but medicinally it has proved to be useless. 


Family Menispcrmaceae

Hindi & Sanskrit: Gaduchi
English: Rain of Nectar
The plant is considered sacred because of a legend in the Ramayana. The demon king Ravana was enamoured of the beauty of Sita, the wife of Ramachandra and wished to make her his wife. Also, by doing so he hoped to avenge his sister Surupnakha whose nose had been chopped off by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Ramachandra. He played a ruse on
them and removed Ramachandra and Lakshmana by his magical prowess from the cottage where Sita lived with her husband and brother-in-law, by appearing as a golden deer which Sita desired to possess. To catch the deer, the two brothers chased it to a great distance. In their absence Ravana appeared before Sita in the guise of a mendicant and asked for alms. Sita believing him to be a pious ascetic came out of the cottage to give him alms. Left undefended she was taken by force by Ravana to his kingdom of Lanka. A great battle ensued following Sita’s abduction. To rescue her, Ramachandra with his army of monkeys attacked Lanka and killed Ravana. Sita was at last rescued. Indra, the king of gods was happy at the fall of Ravana and at the removal of evil. He brought back to life all the vaanars
i.e. monkeys killed in the battle by spraying the elixir of life on them. Some of the nectar fell on the earth and wherever the drops of the nectar fell, plants of Gaduchi sprang up and because of their origin from the nectar, they were immortalised and therefore, are held sacred. Gaduchi is a medicinal plant, yielding a bitter medicine given to children for various ailments.

Family Palmae
Sanskrit: Narikel
Hindi: Nariel
English: Coconut palm
Unripe coconut fruit is an essential part of all Hindu religious ceremonies. Even in areas where the coconut palm does not grow, no puja or offering is complete till a coconut is offered. If a son, a brother or a husband is going on a long journey, the mother, the sister or the wife applies tilak on his forehead, wishing him well and offers him a coconut. In South Indian temples, the priests will not accept the offerings of a devotee, if it does not contain a coconut Similarly at weddings and other auspicious occasions a coconut is placed at the pandal erected far the ceremony.. Because of the economic utility of coconut, which perhaps makes it essential in all sacred ceremonies, the fruit is also called Sriphala.

Usually a pitcher of water is placed on white paddy; a branch of mango is placed in the pitcher and a coconut adorned with sandal paste, vermilion and flowers is placed on that branch. This is called the full pitcher Purnakumbha which is symbolically invoked as gods and goddesses for the successful end to any mission undertaken. As often happens with customs the world over, the meaning behind a ritual is lost but the symbol is retained. So it is with the offering of the coconut fruit. Long, long ago, human sacrifice used to take place in India to propitiate the deity, particularly at the temple of Bhadra-Kali. But as time passed and people got enlightened, human sacrifice gave place to animal sacrifice and ultimately to the symbolic offering of a coconut which with its round and fibrous outer covering, the epicarp, resembles a human head and the two dark spots on it represent the two human eyes. This is the closest resemblance of any member of the vegetable kingdom to a human head. For this reason it is offered as a symbolic human sacrifice.

The legend connected with its origin says that Rishi Viswamitra practised severe austerities for a long time and in the end acquired super-human powers. To prove his prowess, he decided to send king Tri-sanku to heaven in his earthly mortal body. King Tri-sanku had been exiled from his kingdom by his father for the seduction of the wife of a citizen. During the period of exile, there was a severe famine and Tri-sanku looked after the wife and children of Viswamitra while the latter was away. Since Tri-sanku desired to reach heaven in his mortal body, Viswamitra repayed him for looking after his family, by fulfilling his desire and raised him to heaven in his mortal body inspite of strong opposition from sages and gods. But when king Tri-sanku reached Indra’s swarag in his mortal body, Indra was furious, “How can a mortal reside in my domain in his mortal body? Only souls are permitted”. Feeling annoyed at the audacity of Rushi Viswamitra, he hurled the body of the king out of the heavens. When Sage Viswamitra saw this happen, he was indignant. His very first effort was coming to naught. For the king’s body to come back to earth would not only have meant insult but also an acceptance of defeat at the hands of Indra. So Viswamitra used his magical powers again and stopped the king from falling on the ground. This resulted in king Tri-sanku being suspended in the air. To prop him, Viswamitra put a pole under him. In course of time, the pole became the coconut palm which is as straight and unbranched as the pole which Sage Viswamitra had taken to stop the further fall of the king. The reason for the coconut fruit to have coarse fibrous outer covering is because symbolically it resembles the hair of the king and the two prominent black spots on the outside of the fruit resemble the two eyes of the king.
Coconut fruit is believed to fulfil one’s desires. It is therefore considered sacred and offered to gods. The fruit is considered a symbol of Siva as it has three black spots and Siva is believed to have three eyes. In Gujerat the bride offers a coconut to the bridegroom and this coconut is preserved by him throughout his life. In Mysore it is worshipped as a family god. Coconut is also worshipped as Saraswati, the goddess of learning.

Family Ebenaceae
Sanskrit: Tinduka
Hindi: Tendu
English: Ebony tree
According to Oriyan tribal tales as related by Verrier Elwin the origin of the tree goes back into antiquity, when Kittung and his wife had to escape the great deluge in a gourd. On reaching safety, they emerged from the gourd which naturally broke in the process and they made a fire from its fragments. From its charred wood arose the ebony tree which is, therefore, black.

According to another story, a girl had died from snake bite. This tree arose from her grave and since snake bite turns the victim blue-black because of the poison, the tree that arose from her grave is also black. Among certain tribes of India, a pole made of the ebony tree is usually used to protect fields of tobacco and chillies from a sorceror, from a belief that the sorceror would be attracted by the pole. But since the pole is black, the whole field will appear black to the sorceror and thus made invisible, would be protected from harm.

According to yet another tribal story the reason for the wood of Tinduka being black goes back to Ramayana. Before the battle of Lanka took place to rescue Sita, (see Cocculus cordifolius) Hanuman, the monkey god was sent by Ramachandra to survey the formidable city of Lanka. Hanuman, the son of Vayu or wind, tied a piece of cloth soaked in oil to his tail and lighted it. Then he jumped from house top to house top, putting the city to flames. After he had jumped back to safety, he wiped his blackened hands upon the Ebony tree and since then its wood is black.

According to a Muria tribal story which is very similar to the above story, when Lingo’s virtue was tested by the ordeal of fire, a Tinsa (Ongenia dalbergioides) tree grew out of the fire. Lingo’s foot struck the Tinsa tree and the bark has ever since looked dead and dry on one side. The white ashes from his body flew over the Saja (Terminalia comentosa) tree and it became white and holy. Lingo becoming holy on passing the test, rubbed his blackened body against the ebony tree and ever since its wood has been black.

Tinduka fruit is considered sacred by the Buddhists as it figures in one of the Jataka stories, the stories of Buddha’s former births. It is a shade bearing tree and therefore much valued in India. When Brahmadatta was king of Benares, Bodhisatta was born as a monkey. He, along with 80.000 other monkeys lived near a village in the Himalayas. In the village was a tree of Tinduka which in season was loaded with sweet fruit. This village was inhabited for only a part of the year and the monkeys used to come down from the hills to eat the fruit. Once, when the tree was loaded with fruit, the village was full of people but even then the monkeys decided to risk and invade the village. When they informed their master about their intentions, he warned them against it as men were very deceitful. But the monkeys, since they were hungry for the taste of the delicious fruit said, “We’ll go at mid-night when everyone is fast asleep. The great host of the monkeys came down from the mountains and
waited in the vicinity of the village till people went off to sleep. When the village was all quiet, the monkeys invaded the Tinduka tree and started eating the fruit. But as ill-luck would have it, one man woke up and gave the alarm. The villagers woke up and came running with what ever weapons they could lay their hands on and surrounded the tree to kill the monkeys.

The monkeys got scared and looked at their chief for help. He assured them that all will be well and asked the monkeys to assemble together. When the 80,000 monkeys had gathered together, they found that Sanaka, the nephew of the Master was missing. He had fallen asleep when the monkey troop had left for the village. On waking up, he followed the track of the other monkeys and when he neared the village, he found people running about, shouting and brandishing sticks and he realised that there was some danger to the monkeys. Just then he saw a hut outside the village where an old woman was fast asleep before a lighted fire. Taking the fire, Senaka set the village on fire. Seeing the village on fire, the villagers left the monkeys and the Tinduka tree and started extinguishing the village fire. The monkeys left alone, ran away, each carrying a fruit of Tinduka for Senaka.

In this story, the Chief of the monkeys was Bodhisatta; his nephew Senaka was Mahanama Sakka and the monkey troop were the followers of Buddha, Brands of Tinduka wood are kept in the lying-in chamber as it is believed to keep the evil spirits away and bring luck.

Family Elaeocaipaceae
Sanskrit: Rudrakasha
Hindi: Rudrakasha
English: Utrasum Bead Tree
It is told that Parvati, the daughter of Daksha, on getting married to Siva, the Lord of death, destruction and creation, discovered’ that he was oblivious to all feminine charm and indifferent to a women’s desire to wear ornaments. He lived like a beggar or a sadhu practising austerities all the time. Parvati had practised severe austerities and penances to win Siva as her husband and now that she was married to him, she, like all women wanted to adorn herself in jewellery and took attractive. But to Siva these were unnecessary adornments. He did not see the worth of such earthly enjoyments, considering them superfluous and childish. The time he did not spend in practising austerities, he spent in a samadhi, which usually lasted for years on end ... a time when he was oblivious even to the presence of his wife Parvati. Or else he gave her long discourses on learned topics which to the feminine mind of Parvati sounded too philosophical. A woman’s natural desire to look attractive and to adorn herself with jewellery was frustrated by Siva, year after year. The Himalayan peaks which are the abode of Siva are blanketed with snow for the greater part of the year. One year, when after an unusually prolonged winter, spring came, the chirping of birds could be heard from dawn to dusk; flowers opened in their myriad hues and garbs; the sky once again turned a heavenly blue; the bees and the butterflies skipped from flower to flower sucking their nectar and joy at the advent of spring was felt in every corner of the earth. Parvati also was filled with longing for love and beauty and wanted jewels to make herself look attractive. She went to Siva and told him of her longing to wear jewels,—a desire he considered a mere frivolity on her part But Parvati was adamant. In the end Siva gave in to her desire and promised to give her jewels. He stretched his hands and Rudrakssha fruits fell from heaven into his hands by the dozen. He gave them to Parvati and asked her to make necklaces, bangles, armlets and ear-rings of the Rudraksha beads, saying that for the wife of an ascetic, they made the best jewellery, Parvati strung them and wore them as jewellery as directed by Siva.

According to the Skanda Purana (Chap. XI), Rudrakasha tree originated from Siva’s tears.’ There is a general belief 4n India that Rudrakasha beads dispel the evil eye and if kept in the house, they avert misfortune. Also there is a strong belief that they cure cardiac ailments and are often worn by people who suffer from high blood pressure. Because of their association with Siva, Rudrakasha beads art considered sacred by the followers of Siva, Rudra being one of the names of Siva. Garuda Purana mentions that ‘for the sandhya adoration, sitting on Kusa ghas, man should have a garland of beads made of either crystal, lotus, Rudraksha orPutranjiva beads.’ According to the Agni Puranam the God himself out layed the method and types of Rudrakasha beads to be worn. A man should wear Rudrakasha beads, firmly threaded together and even in number. The seeds should have a single mouth, or 3 or 5 mouths. Seeds having 2, 4, 6 mouths with unbroken thorns on th clean, as if he has fulfilled that vow. The class of Rudrakasha known as Haimis, sho e surface, not having been eaten by worms or marked by any fissure are considered as the most auspicious. A four-mouthed seed should be worn by a person, either on his right arm, or tied to the tuft of hair on his crown. By doing so, the wearer, even if-not observing the vows of ascetism, will acquire the merit of leading such a pious life, or a man not observing the vow of religious ablutions, will be uld be worn by consecrating them with the Siva mantra.

The Rudrakasha seeds are divided into four classes or Gochares: Siva, Shikha, Yoti & Savitra. Gochara means a class of Rudrakasha, a hundred thousand counting of which with a mantra, grants success in life. Rudrakasha known as Prayapatyas, Mahipalas, Kapotas, Granthikas belong to the class Siva. Rudrakashas known as Kutilas, Vetalas, Padmahansas, belong to the class Shikha and those known as Dhritarastras, Vakas, Kakas, Gopalas to the class Yoti, while those known as the Kutikas, Saratas, Gutikas and Dandinas to the class Savitra.

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Sanskrit and Hindi: Dhatri, Dhattrica, Amlak, Amlaki, Anavala
English: Indian Gooseberry
Dhattrika or Dhatri which means earth or mother particularly the nursing mother, perhaps because of its nourishing juicy fruit is a tree associated with both Siva and Vishnu. In Brihaddharma Purana there is a mention about the sacredness of the tree both to Parvati and Lakshmi, the wives of Siva and Vishnu respectively. According to the legend, both the goddesses went to Prabhasa, a sacred place to worship. Parvati said to Lakslimi that she wished to worship Vishnu through a new material. Lakshmi answered that she also wished to worship Siva through a new material. At that the two goddesses wept and from their tears were created Dhatri or the Amalaki tree which both propitiated to worship Siva and Vishnu and since then the leaves of this tree are considered essential in the worship of Siva and Vishnu. The tree is worshipped on Sivaratri day. It is surrounded by red and yellow thread and flowers and fruits are offered to the tree just as in any other worship. It is considered as one of the most sacred trees in Gujarat. In the month of Kartik (Oct.-Nov.) women worship the tree with flowers, sandal paste and vermillion, particularly on the 9th day of Kartik, called
Akshaya Navami when women worship it for begetting male progeny. They make five circumbulations round the tree and tie sacred thread round its trunk each time.

Amalaki is a plant .which transformed itself into a beautiful woman to entice Vishnu away from the charms of Vrinda. (See Ocimum sanctum). The tree is very sacred to the Hindus and credited with magical properties by the tribesmen. This plant which is of great medicinal value is planted on the South side of the temple or home. 


Family Gramineae

Sanskrit: Kusa ghas
Hindi : Kusha
The origin of Kusa ghas is mentioned in the Ramayana. Ramachandra left his consort Sita after they came back from their fourteen years exile, doubting her chastity and fidelity to him on hearsay because she had lived in the palace grounds of the demon king Ravana who had abducted her. (See Cocculus cordifolius). Ramachandra did this because he wished to be an ideal king and not give his people a chance to talk. Sita was with child by him at that time but even then she was sent back to the forest and there in the hermitage of Valmiki, she gave birth to twin sons Lava and Kusa. When the sons grew up and met their father, Ramachandra realised the injustice he had done to his wife by forsaking her on mere hearsay and decided to fetch her back. Seeing him come, Sita’s feeling of humiliation, shame and anger at having been forsaken by him even after she had undergone the fire ordeal, to prove her innocence rose. She did not wish to go back to him. Sita being the daughter of Dharani, the goddess of earth, she prayed to the mother earth to accept her back if she considered her innocent. Just then an earthquake occurred, the earth opened where Sita was standing and Sita was buried under the debris. Seeing their mother swallowed by the earth, her son Kusa ran forward to save her but all that he could get hold of were Sita’s hair which as the earth closed were left above the ground and turned into a grass which was named after her son Kusa as he had tried to save her. Since that time, the grass is held sacred.

Another story as given in the Bhagavata Purana says that Sita gave birth  to only one son who was named Lava. Sita was in the habit of leaving her son behind in the hermitage when she went for her bath in the river but one day, unknown to Valmiki, she took the child with her. Valmiki, not finding the child in the hut thought that the child had been carried away by a wild beast and afraid that Sita, on returning from her bath and not finding her son, would die of grief, made a babe of Kusa ghas resembling Lava and placed him in Lava’s cot. When Sita returned with Lava, she was surprised to find another boy resembling Lava lying in his cot and asked Rishi Valmiki how this second child came to be there. Valmiki then told her what had taken place and said, “Blameless one, receive this second son named Kusa because I, by my power created him out of Kusa ghas.” Sita brought up the two sons Kusa and Lava for whom Valmiki performed the sacraments.

One day the two boys killed and ate a deer belonging to the hermitage and made a play thing of Valmiki’s sacred Linga. Valmiki was greatly offended but at Sita’s intercession, to make the expiatory penance, asked Lava to bring golden lotuses and Mandara flowers from Kuvera’s lake and garden; to make a Linga with the flowers and worship, and then only the crime could be atoned for.

According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita gave birth to twin sons. Valmiki performed the Rakshasa rite to avert the evil eye. Taking a handful of Kusa ghas with its roots, he pronounced the formula for protection of the children and for the destruction of evil forces, saying, that since the first born will be rubbed with the Kusa ghas, blessed by the aid of mantras to avert the evil eye, his name shall be Kusa, and as the last born will be carefully dried by the female ascetics with the roots of the Kusa ghas, he shall be called Lava.- The sacredness and immortality of the Kusa ghas is also because of its having been sprinkled with amrta. Vinata and Kadru were both wives of Kashyap. When the Ocean of milk was being churned, the horse Uccaihcravas came out of the ocean. Without seeing the horse, Vinata and Kadru had a bet. Vinata said that the horse was pure white; Kadru said that the horse was white but had black spots on his tail. According to the bet, whoever lost had to become the slave of the other. When Kadru realised that the horse was pure white, she ordered her children, the snakes, to go and attach themselves to the tail of the horse. Having done that, the horse appeared to have a black tail from a distance. Vinata lost the bet and became the slave of Kadru. Vinata as the slave of Kadru had to suffer untold misery.

Kadru agreed to release her, provided she could get Soma rus for her. To free Vinata from the bondage of slavery, Garuda, the son of Vinata, stole the ambrosia. As he was flying with the pot of arnrta, he got tired and placed the pot containing the ambrosia on Kusa ghas. A few drops of the ambrosia fell on the grass and since then the grass became sacred to the Hindus. The Nagas licked the sharp-edged grass for ambrosia and since then their tongues were cleft asunder. According to a legend in the Mahabharata, Rishi Manakanaka was the son begotten by the god of wind, Vayu, upon Sukanya. Manakanaka, who in his youth, led the life of a Brahmacharya, once while performing his ablutions in the river, beheld a woman of faultless limb and fair brows bathing in the river Saraswati. Seeing her person uncovered, the Rishi was full of desire for her and his vital seed fell in the sacred Saraswati. The great ascetic took up his seed and placed it in an earthen pot. Within the pot, the fluid became divided into seven parts and from these seven portions were born the seven Rishis who were the progenitors of the 49 Maruts. Rishi Manakanaka by his ascerism and penances came to be known in the three worlds. Once, after he had been crowned with success, his hand was pierced by a blade of Kusa ghas and instead of blood, vegetable juice flowed from
the wound. The Rishi was so happy at the miracle that he started dancing with joy. Watching him dance, all the creatures stupified by his energy, also began to dance. When all creatures, mobile and immobile started dancing non-stop as if mesmerised, the gods with Brahma at their head and the Rishis of great ascetic merit, approached Mahadeva and informed him of Manakanaka’s great feat and requested him to put a stop to this dancing.

Mahadeva, desirous of doing well to the gods approached Manakanaka and addressed him thus, “Why, O Brahmana, dost thou dance in this way, acquainted as thou art with thy duties? What grave cause is there for such joy of thine, O Sage, that, ascetic as thou art, O best of Brahmafia ‘and walking as thou dost along the path of virtue, thou shouldest act in this way?” The Rishi answered, “O Brahmana, seeing vegetable juice flowing from this wound of mine, I am dancing with joy!” The god laughed at the Rishi and said, “Behold me!” and saying that, Mahadeva of great intelligence struck his thumb with the end of one of his fingers and ashes white as snow came out of that wound. Seeing this happen, the Rishi was
filled with wonder and understood that the god was none else than Mahadeva, the Great Supreme Being. After praising Mahendra, Manakanaka Rishi asked that his ascetic merit should not be destroyed for his : having displayed such a ridiculous behaviour Mahadeva told him that the sacredness was in the Kusa ghas that was capable of turning blood into’ vegetable juice. Mahadeva assured him that his ascetism will increase a thousand fold and that he will always dwell in the Tirtha called Sapta-saraswat The Sapta-saraswat tirtha on the banks of the river Saraswati abounded with Vadari (Zizyphus jujuba), Inguda (Balanites Roxburghii), Kasmaryya (Gmelina arborea), Plaksha (Ficus lacor) Aswattha (Ficus religioloa) Vibhitika (Terminalia belerica) Kakkaola (Mangifera indica); Palasa (Butea monosperma), Karira (Zizyphus rotundufolia), Pilu (Salvadora oleoides) Karushakas (cannot be identified botanically) Vilwas (Aegle marmelos), Amratakas (Spondias mangifera), Atimuktas (Gaertinera racemosa), Kashandas (cannot be identified botanicaliy), Parijatas (Nyctanthes arbor-trestis). Baladeva having the plough for his weapon also visited this Tirtha.

Kusa ghas is also considered to be Vishnu or Hari in the Vishnu Purana. For all religious ceremonies Kusa ghas is considered essential. When a person dies, his body is cremated and bones left unburnt are gathered and brought home before they are immersed in the river. Along with the bones, a handful of Kusa ghas called Kurcha is also brought and sprinkled on the ground where the dead body lay in the house with the chanting of a hymn which says. The soul has departed from this house. But may those left behind prosper and flourish and may their life be as green as this grass”. Even in the cult of Soma, there is a mention of this grass. The altar made for the sacrifice was made of Kusa ghas. The anomaly that comes in is that the cult of Soma worship is of Vedic origin and the epic Ramayana which gives the origin of the plant and the reason for its sacredness is of a much later date. Confectioners, who are obliged to keep large quantities of cooked food, circumvent the taboo about eating it by keeping some Kusa ghas in their vessels when an eclipse is expected. There are certain rules of conduct for a man who has taken the vow of Brahmacharya. Such a man, “Betaking himself to the path of abstention, should seek to extinguish his dependence on both the external and the internal. Sitting on Kusa ghas, with a Kusa in hand and binding his coronal locks with Kusa, he should surround himself with Kusa and have Kusa for robes... reciting the highly beneficial composition Gayatri, he should
meditate with the aid of his intellect on Brahma alone”. The Pavitra meant for sprinkling clarified butter upon the sacrificial fire is made of blades of Kusa ghas.” The diminutive Rishis called Valakillyas sprang from the blades of Kusa gbas spread out in a sacrifice. From the same blades of Kusa ghas sprang Atri.” The sacred mythical island Kusa dvipa is so named because of a clump of KusS ghas growing there. The island is believed to be surrounded by the Ghrta Sea or the sea of butter.

Family Papilloanaceae
Sanskrit: Mandara, Parijata
Hindi: Pharad
English: Coral Tree
The sacredness of the plant is attributed to its origin from the Ocean of milk when it was churned by the Devatas and the Daityas to procure ambrosia or arprta, the drink of immortality, (see Nyctanthes arbortristis). When the Ocean of milk was churned by using mount Mandara as the churning stick and the snake Vasuki as the churning rope, many objects made their appearance. Among them was the Mandara tree. India took the tree to heaven and planted it in his garden. Long ago demon Taraka was oppressing gods and men and Indra wanted Siva to produce a son who should be strong enough to kill Taraka and be the god of war. Indra approached Brahma the Creator, who in turn entreated Siva for help. Siva then consented to beget a son on the goddess Uma and pursued the game of love with her which went on for centuries. As there appeared no end to his amorous play, the triple world trembled at the friction thus produced. Fearing lest the world perished, the gods by order of Brahma called to mind Agni in order to stop Siva’s amorous play. Agni, afraid to interfere, fled and entered the waters, but the frogs getting scorched by the heat, told the gods of Agni’s whereabouts. Agni curse.d the frogs and made their speech inarticulate and again disappeared. This time he fled to Siva’s paradise tree, Mandara. He was betrayed there by the elephants and the parrots but the gods found him concealed in the trunk of the Mandara tree, hiding in the form of a snail. There after, Agni agreed to do as the gods wished him to. He approached Siva and by his heat stopped him from his amorous play and then humbly informed him of the commission the gods had given him. Siva agreed and deposited his seed in the fire which neither the Fire nor Um5, his wife was able to bear. Then Siva asked Uma to worship Ganeshia, the Lord of obstacles so that a son may be born to them in the Fire and thus was born the six-faced Karttikeya, who, when he grew up, became the god of war and killed Taraka. Mandara is one of the five trees growing in heaven and is therefore, called a Paradise tree. The tree originally grew in Vaikuntha, Indras pleasure garden. Krsna stole the tree and brought it to earth while the gods were busy arguing among themselves. The two wives of Krsna, Rukmini and Satyabhama, quarrelled for the possession of its flowers. Since Satyabhama had already got the Parijata tree (see Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) from Indra’s heaven for her garden, the Mandara tree was won by Rukmini and grew in her garden and adorned her mansion. Since that time the tree is associated with Krsna.

The wood of Mandara is considered sacred and offered in the sacrificial lire or Homa and the flowers offered to Siva. According to some, Hanuman is a part of Siva and therefore the flowers of Mandara are also offered to him. Krsna being an incarnation of Vishnu, the flowers are sacred to him. The plant is considered sacred because of the trifoliate arrangement of its
leaves which represents the holy trinity Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. In Assam, its wood is considered sacred for cremations.

Family Euphorbiaceae
Sanskrit: Snuhi, Manasa tree, Manasasij
Hindi: Sehund
Snuhi associated with snake worship has a peculiar story attached to it which sounds almost like a fairy tale. Long, long ago, there lived in Champaka Nagar, a wealthy merchant called Chand Sadagar who was a devout worshipper of Siva and looked contemptuously on Manasa Devi, the snake goddess. Manasa Devi felt offended at his attitude towards her and to teach him a lesson, let loose her snakes into his spacious, well laid out garden and reduced it to a wilderness, Chand Sadagar, by his devotion to Siva had acquired some magical prowess and managed to reconvert the wilderness into a garden, a garden that he was very proud of. Manasa Devi assumed the form of a beautiful maiden and enchanted Chand Sadapar. He fell madly in love with her and asked her to marry him. Manasa promised to do that on the condition that he transfers his magical powers to her. After the merchant had fulfilled this condition, Manasa assumed her natural shape and asked him to worship her. Chand’s love for the maiden was converted into fierce hatred of Manasa and he refused to worship her even at the cost of his beautiful garden being once again converted into a wilderness. Manasa now tried her next trick to woo him as her devotee and bit his six sons to death. When Chand Sadagar was wailing over his dead sons, Manasa appeared before him and asked him to be a devotee of her and she would restore them to life but the merchant refused her once again. Time passed. Chand Sadagar set out on a long voyage and was returning home with his ships laden with rich merchandise. Manasa Devi produced a terrific gale and all his ships were sunk. Chand himself was in danger of being drowned and Manasa offered to save him if he promised to worship her. But Chand preferred death to being her devotee. Manasa was adamant on taking her revenge and did not want ‘him to die. So she saved his life and cast him ashore where he had to face many privations and humiliations because of her. Instead of his relenting his attitude towards Manasa, his hatred of her increased with his miseries. After having undergone untold troubles, he atlast reached his native city. In course of time son was born to him who was named Lakshmindra. On coming of age, Lakshmindra was betrothed to Behula, the beautiful daughter of Saha. But the astrologers predicted his death by snake bite on his nuptial bed. To frustrate the plans of
Manasa Devi, Chand engaged a well known architect to build a room of steel as the nuptial chamber for the young couple, so that no snake could enter it. But as the room was being built, Manasa appeared before the architect, intimidated him by threats and forced him to leave a slit which was disguised by a thin layer of metal.

As Lakshmindra slept, with his bride Behula keeping watch, a snake crept into the bridal chamber through the slit left open by the architect Behula, who knew of the prediction, fed the snake with milk and kept it in good humour. But as the long hours of the night slowly passed, she felt drowsy and ultimately fell off to sleep. The snake now got its opportunity and stung Lakshmindra to death. Behula woke up to see the snake crawl away after it had performed its tragic and cruel mission. In the morning the corpse of the deceased Lakshmindra was put on a raft to let it drift down the river in the hope that it might revive, with the devoted Behula sitting besides the dead body of her husband. Behula refused to leave her husband’s dead body inspite of persuasion by her relatives, saying that a wife’s place was next to her husband. The raft floated down stream, past villages and towns. Days, weeks and months passed thus, and finally at the end of six months when the body of Lakshmindra had started to decay, the raft touched ground at a place where a woman was washing clothes. The little son of the woman was causing annoyance to his mother by interfering with her work. The mother strangled her son and quietly went on with her work. After she had finished with her washing, the woman sprinkled some water on her dead son and he was revived, Behula who had witnessed this miracle, requested the washer woman to bring Lakshmindra back to life. The washer woman, who had been sent on purpose by Manasa Devi, took Behula to the snake goddess.

When Behula approached Manasa Devi, she was told by her that Lakshmindra would be restored to life if she promised to convert her father-in-law and make him a devotee of Manasa. Behula agreed to this condition; Lakshmindra was restored to life and the husband and wife set out for their home. Chand Sadagar when informed of his son’s miraculous recovery was very happy but did not like the condition for his recovery. However, he agreed to the condition. A man who could not be terrorised or intimidated by anything was forced ultimately to the worship of Manasa by the love of his son. Cha id offered the flowers of Snuhi with his left hand and with his face turned away from the image on the eleventh day of the waning moon, but for all that, Manasa, the goddess of snakes was appeased. She had won the final battle and her worship no one dared to oppose from that day onwards. Since that day, flowers of Snuhi came to be accepted as the offering most dear to Manasa Devi and the plant came to be called Manasa tree. The same story with slight variations appears in Maity’s Histories, studies in the cult of the Goddess Manasa. The Snuhi tree has curative qualities especially against poison and possibly because of this, it came to be associated with the goddess of snakes.” The twigs of the plant are planted by women on Dasahara day and it is worshipped during the rainy season and on other days of Manasa worship, perhaps because during the rains, the snakes come out of their holes. The sacredness of the tree is traced back to the Indus valley period. It is believed by the followers of Manasa that on the fifth day of the dark half of the moon in the month of Sravana (Juiy-Aug.), goddess Manasa appears on the tree, with eight serpents spreading their hoods. The tree is worshipped for the fulfilment of vows. Since goddess Manasa is associated with a fertility cult, the Snuhi tree associated with it is also worshipped by women for the blessings of a child. The latex of the plant is acrid, rubefacient, purgative and expectorant. It is used to remove warts and cutaneous eruptions, in ear-ache, asthma, and in ophthalmia.


Family Moraceae

Sanskrit: Aswattha

Hindi: Peepul, Bo tree, Bodhi tree
English: Indian Fig tree
For antiquity and veneration, the Aswattha is unrivalled throughout the world. There is a mention of the tree from Vedic time onwards. The tree is mentioned in the Bhagavata Gita as Aswattha or the ‘one that is not the same tomorrow’, with reference perhaps, to this world which is ever changing. There is a superstitious belief that the plant gives off oxygen at night but this belief is not supported by any scientific fact. The sacredness of the Aswattha is mentioned in the Mahabharata:‘Aswattha, having its roots above and branches below is eternal. Its leaves are the Chhandas. He who knows it, knows the vedas. Downwards and upwards are stretched its branches which are enlarged by the qualities; its sprouts are the objects of sense. Downwards, its roots leading to action are extended to this world of men”. According to the footnotes given by Roy in his translation of the Mahabharata: “upwards and
downwards means from the highest* to the lowest of created things.

Enlarged by the qualities i.e. the qualities appearing as the body, the senses etc. The sprouts are the objects of sense, being attached to the senses themselves as sprouts to branches. The roots extending downwards are the desires for diverse enjoyments”. Detailing the sacredness of Aswattha, it is said that its form cannot be known or its end, or its beginning, or its support. “Cutting with the hard weapon of unconcern, this Aswattha of roots firmly fixed, then should one seek for that place repairing wither one returneth not again... thinking, I will seek the protection of that primeval Sire from whom the ancient course of worldly life hath flowed”.

Hindus associate the tree with the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The tree is considered to be a Brahman and worshipped daily after the morning bath. If an elderly member of the family dies, special offerings are made to it during the full thirteen days of mourning. If a boy dies during his thread ceremony, he is supposed to haunt the Aswattha tree. The Aswattha is allegorical. Each tree is bolievcd to arise from an unperceived root which is emblematical of the body i.e. it springs from the god-head. In the Gita, the tree is supposed to typify the universe. This perhaps is because the figs of the tree are eaten by birds and its, seeds pass through the alimentary canal of the birds unharmed and take root at most unimaginable places like the roof or walls of a house or even on another tree. The root after going into the crevices of the house or into the bark of other trees then becomes invisible. Aswattha has aerial, hanging adventitious roots which come down to earth and act as props to the trees; the slender petioles cause its leaves to tremble readily in a breeze, making a characteristic fluttering sound.
The tree is considered to be Vishnu himself and at the same time Vishnu is believed to have been born under it. That is the reason why the tree or its branches are never cut unless it is for worship. A ceremony called Aswattha Pratishta or the consecration of the Aswattha is performed to transform the tree into a divinity by-inducing Vishnu into it Brahmanas believe that untold blessings will be showered upon anyone who performs this ceremony. According to the Mahabharata, the man who worships Aswattha daily worships the whole universe. When Krsna stole the clothes of the maidens, ho took them to an Aswattha tree.

Even though the tree is mainly associated with Vishnu, some consider Siva as the patron deity of the tree. Brahmanas worship the Aswattha during their daily evening prayer. They go to the tree and facing east repeat a prayer and sing hymns in praise of the tree which says, “Oh Aswattha tree! You are a God. You are king among trees. Your roots represent Brahma, the Creator; your trunk represents Siva, the Destroyer and your branches, Vishnu the Preserver. As such you are the emblem of Trimurti. All those who honour you; in this world by performing Upanayama, walk round you, adoring you and singing your praise; obtain remission of their sins in this world and bliss in the next. I praise and adore you. Pardon my sins in this world and give me a place with the blessed after death”. The worshipper then walks round the tree 7, 14, 21, 28, 35 or more times but always in multiples of seven.

Elwin tells us that sometimes the roots of Aswattha represent Brahma; its bark represents Vishnu and its branches Mahadeva. According to certain tribesmen like Muria’s, the tree is not worshipped as ft is considered to be an untouchable. The tree is regarded as a symbol of the male and is ceremoniously married to a neem tree which is symbolic of the female. In villages in India, usually these two trees are grown side by side with a platform built round them. On the platform inter-twined or coiled snake stones are placed which are symbols of fertility. This symbolic association of the sexes is reversed in Rajasthan and Punjab where the Neem (Azadirachta indica) tree is considered a male. Since women in purdha donot show their face to strange men, women in these areas cover their face with a veil on passing a neem tree. In Orissa a marriage is performed between the Vata (Ficus bengaltnsis) tree which is considered as the male and the Aswattha which is considered as the female, the tree is frequently planted near a Vata tree so as to mix their foliage and stems from a superstitious notion that they are of two different sexes and their growing together is regarded as an emblem of marriage. The tree is invested with the triple cord like Brahmnn and with the same attendant ceremonies as the thread ceremony of a Brahmana. The Aswattha is also sometimes married to the Kadali tree (Musa sapientura), the two trees are grown so close and their trunks intertwine so much that they look like one.

The tree is considered sacred by some tribes of the Ganjam district of Orisa. According to them before the creation of the world, Kittung and his sister used to live in a gourd. When the gourd broke, the two started living on the Kurabeli hill. This was at a time when there were no trees on this earth. When summer came, the sister complained of the intense heat as mere were no trees to give them shade. About this time, a squirrel bit off four fingers of the left hand of the Kittung while he was asleep at night, leaving only the third middle finger. On hearing his sister complain of the heat, the Kittung cut off his maimed left hand and put it on a stone which grew into the Aswattha tree called the Onjerneban tree by the tribal people. The apex of the leaf is prolonged into a long projection which to the tribal people represents the middle finger of the Kittung’s hand. The tribes make offerings to Ratusum in cups made of its leaves. The sacredness of the Aswattha tree comes perhaps from the old vedic ritual of kindling the sacrificial fire at religious ceremonies by friction between two peculiarly shaped pieces of wood, one of which was the Aswattha wood and the ceremony was called ‘the birth of Agni’. The vessels containing Soma rus were made of the Aswattha wood. Till today, women worship the tree by circumbulating round it, wrap cotton yarn round its trunk and water its roots.

A story in the Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana mentions the importance of Aswattha in the ritual of kindling the sacred fire of Homa. Pururavas, son of Ila and Buddha saw the heavenly nymph Urvasi sporting with her friends and instantly fell in love with her. She also fell in love with him and both lived together happily for many years. Urvasi had to ultimately return to her heavenly abode as an Apsara cannot live for ever with a mortal. Pururavas became inconsolable at his loss and the Gandharvas took pity on him. Since it was not possible for Urvasi to live with him on earth, these semi-divine beings decided to include Purwavas among them by msking him an immortal. They gave him the divine fire and by wishing to be united with Urvasi before it, he could become an immortal. Pururavas left the fire in the forest and went on an errand. On his return he found the fire and the pan turned into the Aswattha tree and the Sami (Acacia suma) tree respectively.

In fact the Aswattha was growing out of the Sami plant. Having lost the fire, Pururavas could not wish for permanent life with Urvasi. So he approached the Gandharvas again who asked him to make thefire drill or Arani from the wood of the two trees into which the fire and the pan had been converted and with the fire thus produced, wish for a permanent life with Urvasi and the wish would be granted. Pururavas first made the fire drill with two twigs of the Sami plant but it was not the right type of fire; then he took two twigs of Aswattha but still did not succeed. Ultimately he made the drill by using the upper wood of Aswattha and the lower of the Sami plant for making the fire and the fire thus produced was the right type of fire and by wishing before it, he obtained his wish.

Since the fire is produced by friction between the As wattha and the Sami plant in the sacred Horns ceremony, the analogy between this and the intercourse of sexes is apparent. Aswattha is the male, 5am/ is the female and the Agni thus produced is the child. Agni once hid himself in the Aswattha tree and because of this temporary home of Agni devatta, Aswattha tree became sacred. (See Acacia suma). The importance of sacrificial fires as initiatory rites to the final attainment of immortality has been accepted by Hindus since very early times. Their, origin lies in the philosophy that the mere mortal must realise the necessity to strive after higher and finer values and not hanker after merely earthly passions. Homa is performed at practically all important sacred functions such as the investiture of the sacred thread, at the hair cutting ceremony, marriage and sraddha ceremonies etc., when an offering of curds, ghee, rice etc. are made to it.

Apsaras are said to inhabit the sacred Fig trees in which their cymbols and lutes resound. Their favourite Fig trees are the Nyagrodha, Aswattha, Udumbara and Plakshi (Ficus bengalensis, Ficus reiigiosa, Ficus glomerata, Ficus lacor (also identified as Butea monosperma) In Bengal a ritual called Aswatthapats-vrata is observed by women on the last day of the month of Vaisakh (April-May). Five leaves of Aswattha are required for this ritual and each leaf signifies a different stage of human life. For instance, a new leaf for the birth of a son, a young green leaf for beauty and youth, an old leaf for long life of the husband, a dry leaf for increase in happiness and wealth, a withered leaf for precious wealth beyond expectation. The plant is a symbol of fertility and is worshipped by women for the grant of a child. Buddhists also consider the tree sacred as Prince Siddartha sat in meditation under this tree and found enlightenment. The tree since then is known as the Bo or the Dodhi tree and Siddartha came to be known as the Buddha. A tree planted in Ceylon in B.C. 228 is still alive. A tree of Aswattha is believed to be growing on the mythical island called Plaksha dvipa. The gods are said to sit under the Aswattha tree in the third heaven. Krsna was sitting under an Aswattha tree when Jara shot him in the foot with an arrow.


Sanskrit; Uclumbara

Hindi: Gular
The tree is held sacred by the Hindus and its wood is included in the Homa ceremony. It is a highly medicinal plant and its fruit is kept on the person to ward off evil. The roots of the plant arc considered to be Brahma, its bark as Vishnu and its branches as Siva. The tree is compared to Vishnu, in fact one of the names of Vishnu is Udumbara. The seat of god Vivas wan, a vedic god worshipped at the end of the Soma sacrifice is made of its wood and the throne of king Soma is carved of its wood. The staff of a Vaishya, at his thread ceremony is made of it. The reason why the tree seldom has any flowers is because on the Deepavali night, the gods gather on the tree and pluck all its blossoms. In the Atharvaveda, it is mentioned that the sacrificial post and the sacrificial ladle was made of it. According to Verrier Elwin, the Dumariyan clan worship the tree for the gift of a child. Udumbara is the Bodhi tree or the tree of Enlightenment of Kanaka Muni.

Sanskrit & Hindi: Krishna
The sacredness of this tree is because of the association of the tree with the Krsna legend. It is said that Krsna used to make a cup of its leaves to steel butter and curds in them from the gopies with whom he used to sing and dance in Brindavana. Since that time, the tree puts forth leaves which have their lamina joined at the base forming a shallow cup.

Sanskrit: Nyagrodha, Kalpa-vrksha
Hindi: Vata, vad, Bargad, Ber
English: Banyan
Nyagrodha symbolises Siva and is therefore held sacred. The tree is called the crested one. The ability of the tree to support its ever growing branches and weight by the development of adventitious roots from its branches, roots which hang down and act as props over an ever widening circle, represents eternal life and the tree is therefore, considered a symbol of long life. It is worshipped and associated with godhead. The tree is also considered as a symbol of Brahma and is worshipped on Vad-Savitiri day and on Saturdays in the month of Jaistha (May-June) by women praying for the long life of their husbands. Often the tree is grown in close proximity with another tree, i.e. the neem (Azadirachta indica) tree. The intertwined branches of the two trees, to the Hindus are Holy union and the tree being sacred, they object to felling it.

To some Oriyan tribes, the tree is the Sadru-shrine of the gods and it is sacrilege to cut it. The taboo against felling it is so great that if anyone cuts it in ignorance, he has to sacrifice a goat to the gods living on the tree. Special offerings are made to the gods of the tree at harvest time. At Guar and Karya ceremonies, cups are made of its leaves for pouring libations. The tribesmen consider die tree as mother, for according to a story, two orphan children were left under the tree and they were nourished by the milk or the latex that -dripped from the tree and were thus saved from starvation. The Nyagrodha tree has been referred in Hindu Mythology as the Kalpa-vrksha or the wishfulfillmg tree... a tree that gives to the worshipper food and drink, dresses and ornament, gift of children and even beautiful maidens. “This anthropomorphic worship of the tree is represented in a Buddhist sculpture from Besnagar. The tree has been depicted with its long, pendanc, adventitious roots dropping untold wealth in the form of gold pieces, and the vcssals placed beneath the tree over-flowing with them.

According to the Mahabharata the south of the Nila and north of the Nishadha, there is a huge Jumvu (Syzgium cumini syn. Eugena jambolcna) tree that is eternal and wish-fulfilling. In the Bhagavata Purana, - Kadamba (Anthocephallus cadamba) tree is the Kaipa-vrksh. Sometimes the Parijata (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) is also referred as the Kalpa-vrksha. The tribal people Pardhans worship the tree because of the following reasons. When Guru Jalranda of the Pardhans died, his body was buried by his sons under a tree of Palasa (Butca frondosa). The sons used to light a fire on the grave daily to keep away the wild animals from desecrating the grave. One day they found a Nyagrodha tree growing out of the grave. The eldest son saw his father in a dream that night who asked him to serve the tree as it had grown out of their father’s bones and brains. According to the Pardhan’s, the adventitious, hanging roots of the tree are the long and matted hair of the guru.

There are three trees associated v/ith Jie attainment of Omniscience by the Buddha. Buddha sat for seven days under an Aswattha tree, the tree of Enlightenment, growing on the banks of the river Nairanjans, absorbed in the bliss cf his enlightenment. Then he arose and sat under a Nyagrodha tree for seven days, absorbed in the bliss of his illumination. At the end of that period he sat in blissful calm under a third tree. The three trees are known as: The tree of Enlightenment; Tree of the Goatherd; Tree of the serpent king Muchalinda respectively. The last tree is so named because Muchalinda, the serpent king, protected Buddha with his hood from a storm as Buddha sat in meditation under it. In Vishnu Parana, the tree is compared to Vishnu. “As the wide spreading Nyagrodha tree is compressed in a small seed, so at the time of dissolution, the whole universe is comprehended in thee as its germ. As the Nyagrodha germinates from the seed and becomes first a shoot and then rises into loftiness, so the created world proceeds from thee and expands into magnitude”.

Nyagrodha planted in front of temples is tenanted by either Krsna or Siva. The tree planted in public places like cross-roads, village squares are tenanted by lesser divinities such as Yakshas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas etc. The rustling of the leaves of the tree is attributed to the deities residing on it. It grows on Pushkara dvipa, a special abode of Brahma. The dvipa is surrounded by a sea of fresh water. Its milky juice is regarded as a remedy for tooth ache, rheumatism and lumbago. Nyagrodha is the Bodhi tree or the tree of Enlightenment of Kashyapa Muni. During the universal deluge at the end of an epoch, Narayana slept on a leaf of Nyagrodha.

Sanskrit & Hindi: Madhavi lata
English: Hiptage
According to Vishnu Purana, Madhavi was the wife of Madhav which is.’another name-for Vishnu and the plant has been named after her. Symbolically she, the mother of the earth, is the creeping Vine and Vishnu is the tree round which she clings for support. This plant which is a creeper with large, white, fragrant flowers was well known to ancient Hindus and is frequently mentioned in ancient Indian literature. In flower symbolism, the Hindus compared the Madhavi lata to a frail young woman who clings for support to her lord and master, symbolised by the strong mango tree. There is a reference of the plant in Kalidasa’s famous play, ‘Sakuntala’. When the hermit Kanva discovered that his adopted daughter Sakuntala had met Dushyanta, the msn of her choice, he said to her that he hod for long, been looking for a handsome mango tree referring obviously to Dushyanta and that now he would give his
Madhavi lata i.e. Sakunttila to him in marriage. Madhavi lata is a plant of great medicinal value, particularly useful for dermatitis. An application made from it is considered highly beneficial in scabies. Its bark is aromatic; used in medicine to cure rheumatism and asthma.

Family Gramincac
Sanskrit & Hindi: Munja ghas
The moon is considered a deity. According to Skands Purana he is the son of Atri and Anasuya. He is considered a Brahmana and the King of priests. But the most popular belief is (Bhagavata Purana, Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana) that he sprang from the Ocean of milk when it was churned to extract ambrosia. Brhadaranaika Upanishad makes him a Ksatriya and a pricely knight. At first moon was a very pious being and performed the Rayasuya sacrifice but he became arrogant and licentious. One day he saw Tara or Taraka, the wife of Vrhaspati, the teacher of the gods and fell in love with her. He carried her off and inspite of repeated requests by Vrhaspati, he refused to send her back. This led to a serious quarrel in which the sage U§anas, supported by the antigods and -danavas, daityas etc. sided with Soma. Indra, the lord of heaven and most of the gods sided with Vrhaspati. A fierce battle ensued termed Tarakamaya or Taraka war. Soma was cut into two by Siva’s trident. The earth shaken by the fierce struggle, approached Brahma for protection, Brahma approached by the Earth, decided to stop the war. He compelled Soma, the moon to send Taraka back to her husband.
Taraka by that time was pregnant. Vrhaspati, her husband did not desire her to carry the child any more and ordered her to get rid of it. Taraka gave birth to a son of great beauty whom she deposited in a clump of Munja ghas. Both Soma, the moon and Vrhaspati were fascinated by the beauty and radiance of the child and claimed the child as theirs. Tara was ashamed to admit the paternity of the child and kept quiet. At this the child was incensed and said, “Unless, vile woman, you declare who is my father, I will sentence you to such a fate as shall deter every female in future from hesitating to speak the truth”. Brahma appeased the anger of the child and then asked Tara to speak the truth. Tara, blushingly confessed that Soma was the father of the child. The Lord of constellations then embraced his son and called him wise. Hence the child was named Buddha and became the planet mercury. Since Buddha, the son of Moon was deposited in a clump of Munja ghas, the plant became sacred. The sacred thread of Brahmanas is made of the Munja ghas.

Family Gramineae
Hindi: Sabai
A Birhor tribal legend explains the origin of the grass. Some men murdered their only sister but she came back to life and forgave them. The brothers felt ashamed of themselves and asked mother earth to accept them back as they could not face their sister. The earth obliged and swallowed them. The sister tried to save her brothers by catching hold of their hair which alone remained above the earth. The hair later turned into Sabai grass. Gadaba tribal legend is similar to the above story with regard to the brother and sister relationship. In this story, it is the fear of curse attached to incest which causes the tragedy and it is the girl who goes under the earth as she is ashamed of her intimate relations with her brother. As the sister is being engulfed by the earth, the brother tries to rescue her but manages to catch only her hair before the earth closes and the sister is trapped under the earth. Her hair which remained above the surface turned into Sabai grass.

Family Anacardaceae
Sanskrit: Amra
Hindi : Aam
English: Mango
The mango tree is considered sacred both by the Hindus and the Buddhists. Lord Buddha was once presented with a grove of mango trees under which he used to repose and since then the Buddhists consider the tree holy. According to a Burmese legend, a gardener presented Buddha with a large mango fruit. The fruit was cut and prepared by his favourite disciple Ananda, for Buddha to eat. Afterwards Buddha handed the stone-of the fruit to Ananda to plant it in a suitable place. When Ananda had planted the stone as directed, Buddha washed his hands over it and suddenly a beautiful white mango tree sprang from it bearing flowers and fruits. This story is represented in a sculpture at Bharhut. Hindus consider the plant of great religious significance. They consider the plant as a transformation of the god Prajapati, Lord of all creation. Therefore, on all religious and sacred days, Hindus use its twigs as tooth brushes and its leaves as spoons for pouring libations, Villagers in India believe that the mango tree puts forth fresh green leaves at the birth of a son. So a tradition is being perpetuated and mango leaves are festooned across the doorways of a house where a son is born. The plant being considered auspicious, its leaves are also hung over the doorways of a house where marriage ceremonies are performed, perhaps in the hope that [he young married couple would beget a son.

The- origin of the tree is seeped in mythology. The daughter of Surya deva, the Sun God was being persecuted by an enchantress. She threw herself into a pond and changed into a lotus flower to escape-the evil designs of the enchantress. A certain king saw the flower and desired to possess it. But before the king could take possession of it, the enchantress burnt it and from the ashes of the lotus arose the mango tree. The king saw the tree ladden with the mango fruit and decided to keep the fruit with him. When the fruit ripened and fell to the earth, from it came out the daughter of the Sun God, whom the king recognised as having been his wife in an earlier birth. In aboriginal India, the bride and the bridegroom have to circumvent a tree before the marriage ceremony can be performed. For this purpose the bride smears the Mahua (Bassia latifolia) tree with vermilion, walks round it and then embraces it. The bridegroom performs a similar ceremony with the mango tree.

According to an Oriyan tale, the tree was created by the Kittung from the thigh bone of a goat sacrificed to him, a bone left behind accidently by the worshipper. The tree is also associated with the Kinchesum, a god accepting human sacrifice in the tribal world of India. It is also a favourite tree for people committing suicide by hanging. The Gadaba and Kond tribes associate the mango with the human testicles as the seed of the fruit resembles them. According to a Bonda story, death came to the world through the mango. Gadaba and Bondo mourners at a funeral have to step over the mango bark before they can return home. Gadabas also use mango branches in a prophylactic rite to avert disease from a village. Practically all the tribes in India observe a Mango fruit festival, before which it is taboo to
eat the fruit.  The wood of the tree being sacred, it is included in the funeral pyres as well as in the sacred ceremony of Homa. The flowers of Mango are dedicated to the moon to whom they are offered on the second day of Magh (Feb-March), and also to Madan, the god of love. The mango tree in Brahmasaras is in the’s’hape of Brahma. He who waters it will lead the Prtrs to salvation. During his separation from Parvati, Siva sat under an Amra tree and through the grace of Lalita was ultimately married to Parvati when he went to mount Kailash.

Family Moringaceae.
Sanskrit & Hindi: Amarphal
English: The Immortal fruit.
Amarphal or the Immortal fruit is a creeper which bears very unusual fruits. The fruit is approximately 500 mm long and 100 mm in circumference and ripens slowly from August to October. Its upper portion resembles a pine cone and its skin which is edible falls down by itself. The rest of the fruit continues to grow and ripens for a very long time. As the fruit continues to ripen after it has been cut from the creeper, it is called Immortal or Amar.

According to a story, the fruit revolutionised the life of Raja Bhartarihari of ancient India. An ascetic gave the fruit to the Raja. The Raja decided to present the fruit to his wife Bhanumati. Unknown to the king, the queen had a paramour and she in turn passed the fruit to him. But this man in turn was not faithful to the queen and gave the fruit to a prostitute. Since the king in ancient India was considered to be the earthly representative of god, the prostitute felt that only a king deserved such a rare treat and’gave the fruit to him. On receiving back the fruit which he had presented to his wife, the king got a rude shock on realising his wife’s infidelity to him. He decided from that day to forsake her and his kingdom and became an ascetic.

Family Musaceae
Sanskrit: Rambha, Kachii
Hindi : Kela
English: Plantain, Banana.
In the Vishnu Parana, a salutation to Vishnu is as follows: ‘As the bark and leaves of the Kadali tree are to be seen in its stem, so thou art the stem of the universe and all things are visible in thee’. Kadali plants are considered auspicious by the Hindus, particularly by the followers of Vishnu and Siva, as the plant is believed to be the incarnation both of Parvati, the wife of Siva and Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu. The Kadali plants, particularly its leaves are considered sacred for purposes of religious ceremonies and entire plants are placed at the entrance of houses of marriage, also to decorate the pandels erected for marriage ceremonies to symbolise fertility and plenty. Kadali fruit is offered to the deities at the temples. The plant is worshipped in the month of Kartik (Oct.-Nov.) by women desirous of having male progeny. The plant is a symbol of fecundity and a bride is given the banana fruit to assure her having male progeny. The image of the goddess Nanda Devi is carved out of its trunk. The Plantain deity identified with Lakshmi and Parvati is an agricultural deity called
Navapatrika. A life size statue is carved out of the Kadali plant and dressed like a bashful bride with Bilva (Aegle marmetos) fruit as her breasts, supported by a piece of sugar cane (Saccharum officinalis). The leaves of the plant twisted like a bow represents the head and hair of the deity. Kachu (Arum colocasia), Haridra (Curcuma indica), Jayanti (Hordeum vulgare), Dadima (Punica granata), Ashoka (Saraca indica), Dhanya (Oryza sativa), represent the different parts of her body. This Navapatrika is worshipped as Lakshmi. She is also placed in front of a Bilva tree and worshipped for invocation of Durga. The Navapatrika or the nine plants is the symbol of goddess Durga, sometimes also associated with the Sun-God. It is worshipped mainly by women for the gift of a child’s prosperous life and a husband.

According to an Oriyan tribal story the plant was the creation of Bimma. As the plant bore nourishing fruit and every part of it was useful, Rama became jealous of Bimma’s creation and cursed it to die after producing only one bunch of flowers. But this is not a fact. Banana plant is a perennial plant and ‘produces flowers and fruits season after season. The banana fruit is offered by certain tribes of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh to gods Kittungsum and Mardisum and is used in all religious and marriage ceremonies. The reason why the Plantain bears fruit without pollination is described in a very interesting Gadaba story. Long, long ago, there were five sisters called Mango, Tamarind, Fig, Jamun and Plantain. When the sisters came of age, their father was worried about finding many, many children. When Plantain was asked what she desired, she said: ‘I certainly want children but not a husband. And I also want to get old soon and not have to wait for a long time’. In course of time, Mango, Tamarind, Fig and Jamun got married and bore so many children that their husbands ran away in sheer fright. The girls in their next life were born as trees and bore many fruits which symbolically are the children they bore in an earlier birth. Plantain did not marry but produced children and grew old. And that ‘is why, till to day the Plantain plant bears fruit parthenogenetically i.e. without pollination and the fruits do not bear any seeds.

A story in the Mahabharata says that before the outbreak of the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, Krsna went as a mediator. The Pandavas did not want to go to war against their cousins, the Kauravas. But the Kauravas were adamant and would not listen to the sane advice given by Krsna, even after he had predicted the destruction of the entire race. Defeated at his mission of bringing about a rapproachment between the two rival sections of the family, Krsna went to the house of Vidura who was a half brother both to the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Vidura was not at home and his wife Viduri, offered Krsna the Kadali fruit. She was so enraptured by the presence of Krsna who had graced her threshold that absent mindedly she threw away the Kadali- fruit and offered only the banana peel to Krnsa. Krsna had noticed this but kept on eating the banana peel as they were offered to him with a pure heart and unflinching devotion.

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