The Lord almighty, the life in us, pervades all living beings, be it plants or animals. Hence, they are all regarded as sacred and necessary for everyone’s survival. Since ages, Indian society has been worshiping trees and plants as symbolic deities. Hindus also consider flora and fauna of various types as extremely sacred. This inherent nature of the society exhibits the refinement and sensitivity of Indian culture. Whilst modern man overpowers Mother Nature, ancient Indian society actually worshiped it.Trees & Plants have been accorded a sacred place and tree worship is a very ancient practice in Indian culture. This cannot be regarded as a primitive or pagan practice. On the other hand it shows deep sensitivity and refinement in the Indian culture. Human life on earth depends on trees & plants. They give us vital factors like
- Medicines etc.
Usefulness of Trees & Plants
It is generally believed that the flora and fauna was in existence long before the existence of mankind. Human life on earth depends on nature. Man owes his life to the Mother Nature. He simultaneously has learned immensely from nature; rather the flora and fauna.
For living day to day life plants and trees play an important role in the life of human beings. Plants and trees give us the vital factors that make life possible on earth, such as food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty to our surroundings. They also help to keep the balance in atmosphere. They serve mankind selflessly and sacrifice themselves without any ulterior motive. The selfless service which plants and trees provide human being is explained in following verse,
Chaya manyasya kurvantitishthanti swayamatape
Phalanti cha parartheshunatmahetor mahadrumah
(Great trees are giving shadow to those standing in the sun. Also they bear fruits only for others and not for themselves.)
According to Indian scriptures,one has to plant ten trees if, for any reason, he has to cut even one. We are advised to use only those parts of trees & plants which are needed for food, fuel, shelter etc. Indians are also urged to apologize to a plant or tree before cutting it to avoid incurring a specific sin named soona. The reason of gratitude to trees and plants can be elaborated as:
1. In the initial stage of development man was amazed by the astonishing factors of nature. At the same time he was curious about these factors. He realized that his living on earth is possible due to the balance of these factors of nature. Hence out of gratitude he started worshiping these factors. To show his respect towards nature he started worshiping some elements of nature symbolically. Worshiping plants and trees is one of them.
2. At the very next stage of development man started using plants and trees for various purposes.Hence out of thankfulness he started worshiping plants and trees.
Besides gratitude, plants and trees are associated with some divine spirits. It is considered that divine entities exhibit themselves in the form of plants and trees. This association with divine spirit is created by man only out of respect. The reason of association with divine spirit can be further elaborated as,
1. There is a common belief among people that Gods, semi Gods, spirits, etc. live on a tree. Hence to worship such divine spirits man worships trees & plants symbolically.
For example, scriptures give reference that, ‘Ashvattha tree is the abode of Vishnu and Lakshmi’. Hence Ashvattha tree is worshiped to please Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi.
2. Some plants and trees got associated with some deities or great personalities. Hence those plants and trees were worshiped by humans.
For example, tulsi plant is very dear to Lord Vishnu hence the leaves of tulsi are offered to worship Lord Vishnu and His incarnations.
Vichinvami varadabhava shobhane.
Scriptural references to Planting Trees
To create awareness about planting trees, scriptures speak of religious benefits which help us ‘get free from the sorrows of hell’.
Kapitthabilvam alakitrayam cha
(The one who will plant one pipal tree, one banyan tree, one neem tree, ten tamarind trees, three apple trees, three bela trees (one of the sacred trees), three amala trees, and five mango trees will not see hell.)
The upper part of the plants, the leaves, flowers and fruits are worshiped as sacred and offered to God. As per the Bhagwad Gita, these have satvik properties. Roots of any plant are tamsik and not offered in pooja or eaten during pooja days. The same is true for the stems of plants, which have rajsik properties.
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Science Behind – Sacredness of Trees & Plants
Human life on Earth depends on plants & trees. They give us essential elements and help us to sustain life. Food, clothing, shelter, medicines, and even oxygen is totally provided by plants & trees. They also serve man without any expectations and sacrifice themselves to sustain humans. If you kick a bark or throw a stone at a tree, you get fruits in return, instead of a kick in return, something that you truly deserve!
We were never in the competition for survival. Flora & fauna has owned this mother Earth even before the first man was born. Scientific research has made it clear that plants and animals have inhabited the earth much before man appeared on earth.At present, the world is facing many serious threats. Modern city dwellings have taken a toll on forest-lands. This has resulted in the extinction of many vegetation species. Presently mother earth is threatened by mass deforestation because of which many species of trees and animals are on the verge of extinction. This has happened due to the careless attitude of man towards trees & plants. Optimum utilization of products from plants and trees helps in properly conserving them.
Plants and Trees are considered Sacred in other Religions as well
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have similar beliefs which emphasize the importance of trees to each of these great faiths. The version of every faith depends upon certain core beliefs.The Jewish version goes like this:
If one day you are planting a tree and someone comes running to you shouting that the Messiah has come, first finish planting the tree, then go and see if this is true.
Every major faith has its stories about the central role of trees.Some of them are :
- The Norse Tree at the Center of Universe
- The trees in the Garden of Eden
- The tree of the Cross
- The Bodhi tree under which Prince Siddhartha achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha. In Buddhist thought and teaching (based particularly on the Lotus Sutra) Buddha can take any form to bring about the release of any aspect of nature from suffering. This includes taking the shape of a tree.
- In Islam, a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad says that to plant a tree is an act of zakat –charity – because under its branches birds, animals, insects and human beings can live and thrive.
The role of faiths with regard to trees is not just mythology and stories. About 5% of the world’s commercial forests are owned by faiths as a means of earning income.
- The Church of Sweden owns around 12% of the commercial forests of Sweden
- The Benedictines in Austria own 28% of commercial forests.
About 15% of the world’s forests are considered sacred and although the faiths may not own them –for example
The sacred Forests of the Daoists in China are owned less than 1% by the Daoists themselves – the penumbra of sacredness offers a protection that no national or international law can ever manage.In other words, around 20% of the world’s forests have a direct relationship with faith.
This is why the Jinja Honcho (Association of Shinto Shrines of Japan) in partnership with ARC,WWF and other organisations are working on a Religious Forestry Sites, developing appropriate forest management for these vital ecological sites. Religious or sacred forests are among-st the most significant ecological sites in the world.