|Leaves and trunk of a Sacred Fig.
Note the distinctive leaf shape.
Ficus religiosa or sacred fig (Nepali: पीपल, pīpal; Punjabi: ਪਿੱਪਲ,Malayalam: അരയാൽ; Sinhala: esathu) is a species of fig native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, south-west China and Indochina. It belongs to the Moraceae, the fig or mulberry family. It is also known as the Bo-Tree (from the Sanskrit Bodhi: "wisdom", "enlightened", and as a Sinhalization of this the Sinhala Bo) or  Peepal or Pippal (in India and Nepal).
Ficus religiosa is a large dry season-deciduous or semi-evergreen tree up to 30 metres (98 ft) tall and with a trunk diameter of up to 3 metres (9.8 ft). The leaves are cordate in shape with a distinctive extended drip tip; they are 10–17 cm long and 8–12 cm broad, with a 6–10 cm petiole. The fruits are small figs 1–1.5 cm in diameter, green ripening to purple.
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Buddhist legend tells that Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while meditating underneath a Ficus religiosa. The site is in present day Bodh Gaya in Bihar [India]. The original tree was destroyed, and has been replaced several times. A branch of the original tree was rooted in Anuradhapura [Sri Lanka] in 288 BCE and is known as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi; it is the oldest flowering plant (angiosperm) in the world.
Not all Ficus religiosa can be called a 'Bodhi tree'. A 'Bodhi tree' must be able to trace its parent to another Bodhi tree and the line goes on until the first Bodhi tree under which the Lord Gautama Buddha gained enlightenment.
Sadhus (Hindu ascetics) still meditate beneath sacred fig trees, and Hindus do pradakshina (circumambulation, or meditative pacing) around the sacred fig tree as a mark of worship. Usually seven pradakshinas are done around the tree in the morning time chanting "Vriksha Rajaya Namah", meaning "salutation to the king of trees."
It claimed that the 27 Stars (constellations) constituting 12 Houses (Rasis) and 9 Planets are specifically represented precisely by 27 trees—one for each star. The bodhi tree is said to represent Pushya (Western star name γ, δ and θ Cancri in the cancer constellation).
The Ficus religiosa tree is known by a wide range of vernacular names in different locales and languages, including:
- in Indic languages:
- Sanskrit — अश्वत्थः aśvatthaḥ vṛksha, pippala vṛksha (vṛksha means tree)
- Tamil — அரச மரம் arasa maram (literally King or King's Tree. Arasu or Arasan is Tamil for King)
- Telugu — రావి Raavi
- Kannada — araLi mara ಅರಳಿ ಮರ
- Konkani — Pimpalla Rook/jhadd
- Malayalam — അരയാല് Arayal
- Gujarati — પિપળો (Pipdo)
- Punjabi — Pippal
- Madhyadeshi — Peepar
- Marathi — पिंपळ pimpaL (where L stands for the German ld sound, used in for example Nagold)
- Mahal — އަޝްވަތި ގަސް (Aśvati gas)
- Oriya — ଅଶ୍ୱତ୍ଥ (Ashwatth)
- Pali — assattha; rukkha
- Nepali (नेपाली) — पीपल
- Sinhala — ඇසතු esathu
- ဗောဓိညောင်ပင် — bawdi nyaung pin
- Thai — โพธิ์ (Pho)
- Vietnamese — bồ-đề
- Urdu — peepal پیپل
- Bangla pipul; পিপুল / অশ্বত্থ (Ashwattha)
- Cuban Spanish - Alamo
- Tagalog - Balete
Plaksa is a possible Sanskrit term for Ficus religiosa. However, according to Macdonell and Keith (1912), it denotes the Wavy-leaved Fig tree (Ficus infectoria) instead.
In Hindu texts, the Plaksa tree is associated with the source of the Sarasvati River. The Skanda Purana states that the Sarasvati originates from the water pot of Brahma flows from Plaksa on the Himalayas. According to Vamana Purana 32.1-4, the Sarasvati was rising from the Plaksa tree (Pipal tree).
Traditional medicinal uses
Ficus religiosa is used in traditional medicine for about 50 types of disorders including asthma, diabetes, diarrhea, epilepsy, gastric problems, inflammatory disorders, infectious and sexual disorders. Peepal tree is of great medicinal value. Its leaves serve as a wonderful laxative as well as tonic for the body. It is especially useful for patients suffering from Jaundice. It helps to control the excessive amount of urine released during jaundice. The leaves of Peepal are highly effective in treating heart disorders. It helps to control the palpitation of heart and thereby combat the cardiac weakness. Ayurveda makes an extensive use of the leaves of peepal due to the numerous benefits it provides.
Ficus religiosa is grown by specialty tree plant nurseries for use as an ornamental tree, in gardens and parks in tropical and subtropical climates. Peepal trees are native to India and thrive in hot, humid weather. They prefer full sunlight and can grow in most soil types, though loam is the best. When planting, use soil with a pH of 7 or below. While it is possible for the plant to grow indoors in a pot, it grows best outside.Young peepal needs proper nourishment. It requires full sunlight and proper watering.
70-year-old Ficus religiosa tree at Campus Green, Singapore Management University
Ficus religiosa young trunk in Hong Kong
Black-hooded Oriole Oriolus xanthornus feeding on its figs in Kolkata, WB.
Fruits of Sacred Fig at Flamingo Gardens,Davie, Florida
Leaves of Sacred Fig at Flamingo Gardens,Davie, Florida
anadabodi tree at sravasti UP
- Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 1014
- "Ficus religiosa — Peepal". Flowers of India. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
- "Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, OLDLIST". Retrieved July 3, 2011.
- D.S. Chauhan in Radhakrishna, B.P. and Merh, S.S. (editors): Vedic Sarasvati, 1999, p. 35–44
- Pancavimsa Brahmana, Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, Katyayana Srauta Sutra, Latyayana Srauta; Macdonell and Keith 1912
- Asvalayana Srauta Sutra, Sankhayana Srauta Sutra; Macdonell and Keith 1912, II:55
- Singh D, Singh B, Goel RK "Traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Ficus religiosa: a review." J Ethnopharmacol. February 2, 2011
- "Journal of Ethnopharmacology : Traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Ficus religiosa: A review". ScienceDirect. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Keith and Macdonell. 1912. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects.
- Plaksa description
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ficus religiosa.|
- Sacred fig description
- Entry on Bodhi Tree in the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names
- "Bo-Tree". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
- "Peepul". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.