Some Plants and Flower’s religious and medical significance

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The plant kingdom, full of religious significance and medicinal values, is verily God’s gift to mankind. Every flora has been worshipped from ancient times and its curative properties are treated as divine gift. It is therefore worthy of worship.

Introduction

Man recognized, early in his sojourn on this globe, his dependence upon the plant kingdom for a variety of benefits. An Indian text compares the tree to a cultured human being, who is required daily to engage himself in five sacrificial rites (rites without expecting any reward or recompense, [yajna-s]) –  Study of sacred texts; Liberations to the ancestral spirits; Fire-rituals to worship gods; Food- offering to the animals and birds; Honouring the guests. The tree is likewise ceaselessly engaged in five great rituals (Pancha-mahayajna-s) –  It provides ‘fuel for the fire’, ‘shelter for the animals’, ‘shade for travellers’, ‘home for the birds’, leaves, bark and roots for medicine. Man’s physical environment is dominated by trees and plants.

Scriptural References

Even in the ancient hymns of the RIG VEDA, we find eulogies of plants and trees that provide food, shelter and medicine to the human beings. In Indian ideology, plants are living beings composed of five primary forms of matter (pancha dhatu)— Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Akasha. They are also supposed to possess sense-organs (sendriya) and internal consciousness (antah-samjna).

Parts of the plants were carefully enumerated and described even as the organs of an organism. We find this done even in the most unexpected quarters, e.g., grammar; Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, Katyayana’s Vartika and Patanjali’s Mahabhasya.

Interesting observations are to be found in classical literature about root (mula), tuber (kanda), leaves (patra), flowers (pushpa), fruits (phala), branches (sakha), gum-resin (rasa), heartwood (Sara), latex (kshira), bark (tvak) and wood (kashtha).

Agni Purana, Brihatsamhita, Artha sastra and Sukra nithi sara are some of the ancient works, which contain important information on plant pathology. Rig veda itself mentions the various diseases that can strike the plants. Brihatsamhita notes the ill effects of cold climate, excessive sun, wind and heavy rains. The ancient treatise SARNGADHARA-PADDHATI provides guidance in the management and care of gardens.

Religious Significance

Plants and trees in ancient India were described as dear to the gods, and planting them was like a ritual of worship. Tulasi was dear to Vishnu, Bilva to  Lakshmi, Nimba to Surya, Asvattha for all gods, Patala for Parvathi, Simsipa for the Apsara-s and Kunda for the Gandarva-s. Planting one Asvattha is enough to secure the heavens after life. Planting two Nyagrodha-s can secure one siva-loka; planting three Nimba-s would assure Surya¬loka; four Plaksha-s planted would be like a Rajasuyayaga performed; five mango trees (amra-s) planted in a public garden or along the avenue would liberate all of one’s ancestors; six Siriha-s planted secure Garuda-loka; seven Palasha-s would merit Brahma-loka and Udumbara-s – Chandra-loka. Elsewhere it is said that planting an Asvattha tree makes one wealthy, a Plaksha tree famous, Ashoka- happy, Nimba- vigorous, Udumbara- healthy, Palasha- wise, Bakula- prosperous with progeny and Kadali- romantic.

Thus it is clear that planting trees are encouraged widely in ancient Indian culture by different means, failing to follow those which resulted in today’s adverse effects.

Therapeutic Value

Most sacred plants have medicinal value as well. The ATHARVA VEDA suggests that man learnt the therapeutic value of plants by observing the behavior of wild animals and birds in disease. The VEDIC INDEX lists as many as 260 medicinal herbs referred to in the vedic corpus. There is no denying that the knowledge of plants evolved over the years. The plants not known to the RIGVEDA, for instance, are mentioned in ATHARVA VEDA, like APAMARGA, ALABU, KASA, MASHA and ROHINI.

Association with gods

For geographical and historic reasons, certain flora have been associated with particular gods or goddesses. The gods and their Consorts are offered sophisticated, fragrant and specially grown flowers like Jasmine, Roses, Tube Roses etc. The village-gods  with locally grown wild flowers like Marigold, Hibiscus, etc.

Garlands made of flowers and fragrant leaves are always an integral part of the adornment of images in temples. Numerous flowers and leaves have attained sanctity because of their association with gods.

The Sanctity and usefulness

Fig or ber in HINDI: It was this ber berries that the old woman SHABARI lovingly fed RAMA in the forest. RAMA blessed the gallant tree with immortality. Even when the tree is axed down, at least a single root will survive.

TULASI: No need to say it is associated with our Lord. Lord Vishnu’s favourite plant. And its medicinal values are also many as it is used for cold, flu etc and also used in many other ailment.

HIBISCUS: JAPA or JAPAKUSUMA in SANSKRIT. This popular plant is also called ‘shoe flower.’ The flower has medicinal properties and is made into hair oil and the bud is rubbed into the eyes for sores.

MARIGOLD: STHOOLAPUSHPA in SANSKRIT and GENDA in HINDI: This two ft. high plant has bright orange to maroon flowers with petals arranged closely like a ball. It is mainly used for garlands for village-deities

NEEM: A most important tree in INDIA, it is found in almost all parts of the country. Valuble medicinal oil is extracted out of it, its anti – bacterial property and the entire tree is extensively used for medicinal purposes.

SHAMI: The flowers are fine-petalled, small and yellow. The tree is revered because its one of the most favourite tree for RAMA.  Also we can find its reference in mahabahratham as pandavas hid their divine weapons on it during agnathavasam period.

KADAMBA: Considered a very auspicious tree, it is associated with the dalliance of KRISHNA and Gopikas. It also associated in Kalinga nartham incident. It is worshipped for wealth and children.

CHAMPA or TEMPLE TREE: The fragrant flowers of this tree come in pale yellow or deep pink. HINDU-S forbid cutting it, as they hold it sacred to KAMADEVA, the God of love.

BILVA or BHEL: It is associated with Goddess LAKSHMI  (Bilvanilaya).

ARJUNA: This large tree grows upto 30m. Its medicinal properties in healing heart-diseases and bone-fractures make it an important ingredient in the indigenous system of medicine.

BRAHMI: Mentioned in the Epics, it is considered invaluable to the practitioners of indigenous medicine for treating brain-disorders and memory- lapses.

BHRINGARAJA: Its juice is prescribed in ancient texts as a cure for skin ailments. It is also used for propitiating Lord NARASIMHA during the NARASIMHA JAYANTI in some parts of TAMIL NADU.

KASTOORIKA: This belongs to the family of HIBISCUS. The seeds are ground into paste to produce an aromatic skin cream.

MARUGA and MARUVAKA: A perennial herb, whose volatile oil is aromatic. No garland is complete without the presence of this herb.

NAGAVALLI or BETEL LEAVES: The betel leaves are usually used while performing any pooja. All auspicious occasions require the offering of betel leaves to gods and guests alike.

VATA: This tree belonging to the FICUS family has been immortalized by LORD himself, sleeping on its leaf, sucking his toe (Vatapatrasayi). Women circumambulate it, praying for progeny and longevity of their husbands.

LAVANGA or CLOVES: It is offered in ritual food in temples and homes and the oil of clove is medicinal.

The list of sacred flora for the HINDU-S is endless and it is impossible to do full justice in listing them completely.

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