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Ficus religiosaThe Sacred Fig

The Sacred Fig, commonly called ‘Peepal’ or ‘Pipal’ tree, is perhaps the most revered floral species in the Indian subcontinent. It is said to be the first-known depicted tree in India, having found it marked on an Indus seal discovered at Mohenjodaro.

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The seal depicting ‘peepal’, discovered at Mohenjodaro.

Scientific Details

Scientific name : Ficus religiosa

Kingdom: Plantae

Order : Rosales

Family : Moraceae

Genus : Ficus

  • A large semi-evergreen tree that can grow upto 30m in height.
  • The trunk can have a diameter of upto 3m.
  • Its leaf is cordate in shape, with a long stalk, broad structure and a characteristic dripping tip
  • Fruits are purple on ripening, and are about 1 to 1.5cm in diameter.
  • Native to the Indian subcontinent, south-west China, and Indochina.

 

The pipal tree has a rather curious feature, which most of us might have noticed, if ever seen one.  Its leaves are always in motion, even when the air is still. This is possibly due to the peculiar leaf structure.

 

Vernacular Names

The pipal tree is known by various names across India and elsewhere. Some of them are:

  • Sanskrit : Ashwathha, pippala vrksha
  • Pali : Assattha
  • Malayalam : Arayaal
  • Bengali : Ashwath
  • Tamil : Arasa maram
  • Kannada : Arali mara
  • Punjabi : Pippal
  • Bhojpuri : Pippar
  • Nepali : Peepal
  • Sinhala : Esathu
  • Thai : Pho
  • Burmeses : Bodhi pin

(Source: Wikipedia)

Spiritual Significance:

No one can forget the spectacular legend of young Siddhartha Gautama attaining nirvana under the Bodhi tree. Perhaps, this is how the sacred fig became sacred to cultures beyond India; it is now highly revered among the Nepalese, the Tibetans, the Sri Lankans, and even the Chinese.

But, the spiritual significance of the pipal goes beyond that. It is the manifestation of the permanent, eternal, spiritual knowledge. It represents the ultimate awareness of the universes and the subtle consciousness that sustains them. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the young prince Siddhartha transformed to Buddha on meditating under this divine fig’s shelter, and  that thousands of years prior, Lord Krishna chose to welcome his departure sitting beneath it. In fact, Sri Krishna identifies himself with the ashwattha in the Bhagavad Gita (verse 10.26). Goddess Lakshmi is also believed to reside in this tree during Saturdays, and it is therefore, often worshipped by  Hindu women for prosperity.   Shani Dev (Divine representation of Saturn) is associated with Saturday, and thus has an affiliation with the pipal tree. (Call me superstitious or insane, but I purposely chose a saturday to start this blog, due to the above mentioned beliefs..I thought that it is a wonderful connection to make.)

There are tons to talk about the pipal tree. Maybe, I shall write more about it later, focussing not just on its spiritual significance, but its scientific and medical implications as well. I’ve always loved metaphors and abstract connections. The legends may or may not be true, and the beliefs may just be simple manifestations of faith in a supreme truth..But, I’m certain that there is something special about the pipal. And to me, it is a remarkable symbolism of knowledge, wisdom, and spirit.In the ancient times, this was the tree that sheltered the seers, young students, wise men, and merchants. This was the tree that witnessed the numerous philosophical debates and discussions about the intricacies of this cosmos. This was the tree that gave shade to the horses and the merchants, listening to the curious narratives of their travels.And this was the tree that inspired the inquisitive to contemplate the truth.

I hope that this blog too becomes a platform such as that ancient tree of enlightenment, where we all can gather and  ponder about the worlds yonder.

Thank you for reading!

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