Nestled amidst the towering Himalayas, Nepal, a land of ancient traditions and rich cultural heritage, is not just home to the world’s highest peaks but also to a tree that has held spiritual significance for millennia.
The Sacred Fig, also known as the Bodhi Tree, stands as a silent witness to the nation’s profound spiritual journey. Intrigued? Let’s dive deep into the story of a tree under which one of history’s greatest spiritual awakenings took place.
Discover The Sacred Fig, National Tree of Nepal
The Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa), revered as the Bodhi Tree in many circles, is a magnificent specimen of nature. Botanically belonging to the Moraceae family, its grandeur is not just in its stature but also in its historical and spiritual implications.
Towering at a height between 100-115 feet (30-35 meters), the Sacred Fig presents an impressive canopy, which can spread out up to 92-98 feet (28-30 meters) in diameter. Its heart-shaped leaves, with a distinctive elongated tip, dance rhythmically even at the slightest breeze, often said to be nature’s homage to its spiritual significance.
Small clusters of greenish-yellow flowers adorn the tree, though they might not be as visually prominent as those of other trees. Its bark is gray and relatively smooth, with the texture becoming more ridged and rougher as the tree ages.
The tree has a straight and clear trunk, with branches that extend gracefully, culminating in a dense and shady canopy, making it a preferred spot for meditation for monks and spiritual seekers.
Where Does the Sacred Fig Grow?
The Sacred Fig flourishes in Nepal’s sub-tropical regions. Given its historical and religious importance, it is also cultivated in various temple premises and monastic compounds across the country.
Beyond Nepal, the tree is native to the Indian subcontinent, encompassing India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and parts of south-west China. Over time, due to its spiritual significance, it has been planted in various Buddhist regions worldwide.
The Sacred Fig prefers sunny yet humid conditions. It thrives in well-drained soils and can adapt to a variety of soil types, from loamy to clayey. Its roots are robust and have been known to grow in search of water, sometimes leading to the tree sprouting from buildings and other structures, signifying its resilience and determination.
The Sacred Fig in the Ecosystem
The Sacred Fig isn’t just an icon of spiritual significance; it also plays an indispensable role in Nepal’s ecosystem.
The figs produced by the tree provide nourishment for various birds and wildlife. Birds such as parrots and pigeons frequent these trees, relishing the tiny figs they offer.
Trees have always been nature’s way of maintaining a balanced atmosphere, and the Sacred Fig is no exception. Its broad, dense canopy offers shade and reduces the heat in its surroundings. Additionally, like other trees, it aids in the sequestration of carbon dioxide, playing a role in combating climate change.
Traditional medicine in Nepal has often turned to the Sacred Fig for remedies. Different parts of the tree, including its bark, leaves, and fruits, have been used in Ayurveda to treat a range of ailments from diabetes to inflammation.
Its expansive canopy and branching structure provide shelter for various birds, offering them a place to nest and roost.
Why and When Did The Sacred Fig Become The National Tree of Nepal?
The most profound association of the Sacred Fig is its link to Siddhartha Gautama, who attained enlightenment and became the Buddha while meditating under a Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India. This pivotal moment in history is symbolized by the Sacred Fig, making it an emblem of enlightenment and spiritual awakening.
For centuries, the Sacred Fig has held a special place in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hindu scriptures, it is referred to as ‘Ashwattha,’ a tree revered for its eternal nature, while Buddhists regard it as a Bodhi Tree, a symbol of Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment.
Acknowledging its spiritual, cultural, and ecological importance, Nepal declared the Sacred Fig as its national tree, ensuring that future generations remember and respect the values and traditions it stands for.
No controversies of significance surround the Sacred Fig’s designation as the national symbol. Instead, it remains a unifying emblem, representing both the country’s rich heritage and its commitment to spiritual and environmental harmony.
Where is the Sacred Fig Featured in Nepal?
The resonance of the Sacred Fig in Nepali culture ensures its representation in various facets of daily life.
The presence of the Sacred Fig, especially around Buddhist monasteries and temples, is unmistakable. Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal, features many such trees, standing as silent witnesses to centuries of pilgrims paying their respects.
The tree and its distinctive heart-shaped leaves often find their way into local handicrafts, paintings, and murals. It’s common to see representations of Buddha meditating under the Sacred Fig in various artistic forms.
While the Sacred Fig isn’t directly portrayed on Nepali banknotes, its significance as a national symbol means it is occasionally used in commemorative coins and special edition notes.
Names of the Sacred Fig
The Sacred Fig goes by many names, reflecting its significance across different cultures and languages.
- Scientific Name: Ficus religiosa
- Common Names: Bodhi Tree, Pippala Tree, Peepul Tree, Peepal Tree, Ashwattha Tree
- Names in Indigenous Languages: In Nepal, it’s often called the ‘Peepal’ tree. In Sanskrit, a classical language of India and foundational to many languages in Nepal, it is termed ‘Ashwattha’.
- International Names: In many Southeast Asian countries with Buddhist populations, it’s commonly referred to as the Bodhi Tree.
Interesting Facts About The Sacred Fig
- Symbol of Enlightenment: The Bodhi Tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment is a Sacred Fig. ‘Bodhi’ in Sanskrit means ‘awakening’ or ‘enlightenment’.
- Longevity: Sacred Fig trees can live for hundreds of years. Some trees in Nepal and neighboring India are believed to be several centuries old.
- Special Leaves: The heart-shaped leaves of the Sacred Fig tree are known to tremble even in the slightest breeze, leading to several mythological stories associated with this unique characteristic.
- A Tree for Every Buddha: In Buddhist traditions, it is believed that every Buddha attained enlightenment under a tree, but it is the Sacred Fig tree that is most famously associated with Gautama Buddha.
- Not Just in Nepal: The reverence for the Sacred Fig is not limited to Nepal. It’s considered sacred in various other countries, including India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, reflecting its widespread significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism.
Other Beautiful Trees Found in Nepal
- Rhododendron (Rhododendron arboreum): The national flower of Nepal, rhododendrons grow in the hilly regions and paint the landscape in vibrant shades of red, white, and pink during their flowering season.
- Salla (Pinus roxburghii): This is a type of long-needle pine found in the mid-hills of Nepal. It plays a crucial role in the local ecosystem and economy, providing timber and resin.
- Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii): Common in the lower to middle elevations of the Himalayas, this tree is a source of resin, which is harvested for turpentine.
- Nepalese Alder (Alnus nepalensis): Often found alongside rivers and streams, this tree is essential for preventing soil erosion and also provides valuable wood for construction.
- Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara): Known locally as “Deodar,” it’s a majestic tree often used in traditional Nepalese architecture and has spiritual significance.
What Is The National Flower of Nepal?
The national flower of Nepal is the Rhododendron. This vibrant and colorful flower is native to the Himalayan region and blooms in a spectrum of colors ranging from deep reds to bright whites.
Growing predominantly in the hilly regions of Nepal, the Rhododendron forests come alive during the spring season, offering a mesmerizing view against the backdrop of snow-clad Himalayan peaks. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, the Rhododendron holds cultural significance and features in local myths and legends.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the Sacred Fig considered sacred in Nepal?
The Sacred Fig, especially the Bodhi Tree variant, is revered because it is believed to be the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Buddha, attained enlightenment. This event holds profound significance in Buddhism, making the tree a symbol of enlightenment and spiritual awakening.
Are there any rituals or traditions associated with the Sacred Fig in Nepal?
Yes, many locals pay their respects by circumambulating the tree, especially on specific religious days. They also tie prayer flags or cloth around its trunk as a mark of reverence.
Can I plant a Sacred Fig in my garden?
While you can plant one if you live in a tropical climate, be mindful of its eventual size. Sacred Fig trees can grow quite large and need space. Also, consider the tree’s religious significance when planting in certain regions.
What’s the connection between the Sacred Fig and the Rhododendron in Nepal?
While both are nationally recognized symbols, the Sacred Fig is the national tree and represents spiritual significance, whereas the Rhododendron, the national flower, embodies Nepal’s natural beauty and the vibrant landscapes of its hilly regions.
Do other countries also regard the Sacred Fig as sacred?
Yes, the Sacred Fig is not only revered in Nepal but also in countries like India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. It holds significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism. In India, for instance, the tree is associated with various deities and legends in Hindu mythology.