|Leaves and trunk of a sacred fig.
Note the distinctive leaf shape.
L. 1753 not Forssk. 1775
Ficus religiosa or sacred fig 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 bodhi tree, pippala tree, peepal tree or ashwattha tree (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. As an interesting fact, the leaves of this tree move continuously even when the air around is still and no wind is blowing. This phenomenon can be explained due to the long leaf stalk and the broad leaf structure. However, religious minded people in Hindu/Buddhist religion attribute this movement of the leaves to the fact that "devas" or "gods" reside on these leaves and make it move continuously. This fact is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita as a verse "O Ashvatha, I honor you whose leaves are always moving..."  Another unique quality of this tree is it releases oxygen day and night, make it even more significant and respected where it exists.
The Ficus religiosa tree is considered sacred by the followers of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "I am the Peepal tree among the trees, Narada among the sages, Chitraaratha among the Gandharvas, And sage Kapila among the Siddhas."
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.
In Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia, the tree's massive trunk is often the site of Buddhist or animist shrines. 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 Gautama is said to have 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).
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). Plaksa Pra-sravana denotes the place where the Sarasvati appears. In the Rigveda Sutras, Plaksa Pra-sravana refers to the source of the Sarasvati.
The Ficus religiosa tree is known by a wide range of vernacular names, including:
- in Indic languages:
- Sanskrit — अश्वत्थः aśvatthaḥ vṛksha, pippala vṛksha (vṛksha means "tree")
- Bengali language — অশ্বথ, i.e. ashwath, পিপুল, i.e. pipul
- Tamil — அரச மரம் arasa maram (Literally "king" or "king's tree"; arasu or arasan is Tamil for "king")
- Telugu — రావి చెట్టు raavi chettu
- Kannada — araLi mara ಅರಳಿ ಮರ
- Konkani — pimpalla rook/jhadd
- Malayalam — അരയാല് arayaal
- Gujarati — પિપળો (pipdo)
- Punjabi — pippal / پپل
- Bhojpuri — pippar
- Marathi — पिंपळ pimpaL (where L stands for the German ld sound, used in for example Nagold)
- Mahal — އަޝްވަތި ގަސް (aśvati gas)
- Odia — ଅଶ୍ୱତ୍ଥ (ashwatth)
- Pali — assattha; rukkha
- Nepali (नेपाली) — पीपल(peepal or pipal)
- Sinhala — ඇසතු esathu
- Thai — โพธิ์ (pho)
- Burmese — ဗောဓိပင် (bodhi pin), ဗောဓိညောင်ပင် (bodhi nyaung pin)
- Vietnamese — bồ-đề
- Urdu — peepal پیپل
- Cuban Spanish - alamo
- Tagalog - balete
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.
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.
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
Arayal tree at Vaniyambalam, Kerala, India
Anadabodi tree at Sravasti, Uttar Pradesh
- The Plant List, Ficus religiosa L.
- Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 1014
- "Ficus religiosa — Peepal". Flowers of India. Retrieved November 3, 2011.
- Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, verse 26
- "Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, OLDLIST". Retrieved July 3, 2011.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bo-Tree". Encyclopædia Britannica 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- 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
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- 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.