Characteristics of Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa) in the Wild

Ficus religiosa
Bodhi is a species of fig tree originating from the Indian subcontinent and Indochina which belongs to Moraceae, the fig or Mulberry family.

The Bodhi Tree is also known as Bo Tree, Pippala, Peepal, Ashwattha, and Sacred Fig. While the scientific name itself is Ficus religiosa.

‘bodhi’ means ‘knowledge’, ‘bodhi tree’ means ‘tree of knowledge’.

BODHI TREE IN RELIGION

Bodhi fruit is considered to have religious significance in three major religions originating from the Indian subcontinent, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree. This historical place is located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: “I am the Peepal among the trees, Narada among the sages, Chitraaratha among the Gandharvas, And the sage Kapila among the Siddhas.”

Hindu ascetics and Jains consider the bodhi tree to be sacred, and under the tree, it is often used as a place for meditation.

On December 8, Bodhi Day is celebrated to commemorate Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Those who follow the Dharma greet each other saying, “Budu facilitate!” which translates to “may the peace of the Buddha be yours.” It is also commonly seen as a religious holiday, during which special meals are served, notably heart-shaped cakes (referring to the shape of the bodhi leaf) and the meal of Kheer, the first meal of the Buddha ending his six years of asceticism.

Bodhi Puja, which means “reverence of the Bodhi tree” is a ritual to worship the Bodhi tree and the deity who resides on it (Pali: Rukkhadevata, Sanskrit, Vrikshadevata). This is done by giving various offerings such as food, water, milk, lamps, incense, etc., and chanting the verses of the glory of the Bodhi tree in Pali. The most common verses are: “Ime ete mahabodhi lokanathena pujita ahampi te namassami bodhi raja namatthu te.”

BODHI TREE IN HISTORY AND MYTH

The first attempt at destroying the bodhi tree.

The bodhi tree is said to have been secretly felled by Tishyarakshita, a vaishya queen of emperor Ashoka. This is the first attempt to cut down a bodhi tree. Queen did this when emperor Ashoka visited another region.

According to belief, the queen’s efforts proved unsuccessful and the bodhi tree was not destroyed. A few years later, a new tree emerged from the roots of the bodhi tree, which is considered a second-generation tree that lasted for nearly 800 years.

It can be recalled that emperor Ashoka first sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka by handing them over to the branches of the Bodhi tree. The bodhi tree planted by Mahendra and Sanghimitra at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka still exists today.

The second attempt at destroying the bodhi tree.

For the second time, king Shashank of Bengal decided to eradicate the bodhi tree. But they failed. It is said that when it did not take root, king Shashank cut down a bodhi tree and burned it. But the roots cannot be destroyed. Several years later, a third-generation bodhi tree emerged from the same root, which ended up living for nearly 1250 years.

The third attempt at destroying the bodhi tree.

For the third time, the bodhi tree was destroyed in a natural disaster in 1876. At that time, Sir Alexander Cunningham re-established it in Bodh Gaya in 1880 by requesting a bodhi tree branch from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and replanting it. This is the fourth bodhi tree of the original generation, which exists today.

Bodhi trees native to tropical Asia include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Edge has now been introduced in many parts of the world such as Indonesia and other tropical countries.

Bodhi trees can grow well in heights from 10 to 1,500 m above sea level. This tree grows well in areas in latitude from 30° N to 5° S. The tree can also tolerate temperatures between 0 °C to 35 °C, beyond this upper limit its growth is not good.

Bodhi tree is adaptable and strong, it can grow in various types of soil but it prefers well-drained alluvial sand and soil. Despite the fact, it is also able to grow in shallow soil or rock crevices.

 

Characteristics of Bodhi Leaf

Ficus religiosa Leaf
Source: flickr.com/Jesús Cabrera

Bodhi leaf is round with a tapered tip like a tail (typical bodhi leaves), its length is between 8-15 cm and 6-9 cm wide, and the stem is 7-11 cm long.

 

Characteristics of Bodhi Fruit

Ficus religiosa Fruit
Source: flickr.com/Geokranium

Bodhi-shaped fruit, small, 1-2 cm in diameter, green before ripe and purple when ripe.

 

Characteristics of Bodhi Tree

Ficus religiosa Tree
Source: flickr.com/Philip_S.

Bodhi can grow and form large trees with a maximum height of up to 30 meters, a single trunk diameter of up to 3 meters, and a very wide stretch of branches forming a semicircular canopy.

Bodhi trees have a very long life, with an average range of 1,000 to 1,500 years. In its natural habitat in the wild, bodhi trees are more than 3,000 years old.

One of the well-known and respected bodhi trees is Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. The bodhi tree that grows in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka is estimated to be more than 2,250 years old and is considered to be the oldest religiously influential tree in the world.

 

BENEFITS OF BODHI TREE

Bodhi tree is used in traditional medicine to treat around 50 types of diseases including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, stomach problems, inflammatory disorders, infectious and sexual disorders.

 

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