Buddhist monks at the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya
Tree / Plant worship has its roots in ancient times and continues to be an element of modern Indian traditions. Tree cults, in which a single or groves of trees have been worshipped, have flourished in India throughout history. In the scriptures, mention of the Kalpavriksha and Chaityavriksha is found, indicating that the worship of the plants is indeed an ancient Indian practice.
Plants have been traditionally considered sacred for the following reasons:
- Its close association with a deity. For example - Bilva tree (Aegle marmelos) with Lord Shiva, Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) with Mariamman and Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)with Lord Krishna.
- Trees sheltering any object of worship like a deity, a fetish or a weapon have traditionally been considered sacred. Sthalavrikshas are actually the trees that first sheltered an open-air shrine, which was later replaced by a temple or shelter for the deity. The sacred tree became secondary and was worshipped along with other nature gods as the Sthalavrikshas of the temple and became an inseparable part of the faith.
- Some plants are believed to have originated from bodies or limbs of Gods and hence, the sanctity. For example, the Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma) is believed to have originated from the body of Lord Brahmaandthe Rudraksha tree(Elaeocarpus ganitrus) rose from the tears of Lord Shiva.
- Some plants become sacred through what might have occurred in their proximity. For example, the Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa), under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment, is considered sacred by the Buddhists.
- Plants that have an important socialoreconomic significance or a major role in the local ecology are also considered sacred. For example, the veneration of the Khejri tree (Prosopis spicigera)by the Bishnois of Rajasthan is related to the crucial role the tree plays in the desert ecology. It provides the community with food, fodder and building material.