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Sacred Trees in Hinduism

While trees are considered sacred in Hinduism, that is not the case in Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, but they are mentioned for their benefits in Bible and Quran.

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This image is of BodhGaya. Trees are of religious significance according to Hinduism. Wikimedia
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Dr. Bharti Raizada

Trees give us shade, fruits, wood, oxygen, shelter, fragrance, medicines, sap, flowers, leaves, etc. They also prevent erosion near water bodies. But trees can also be sacred, according to religious beliefs.

Some trees are considered sacred in Hinduism. Many of these are big, have a long life, and provide many things to humans and have folklore associated with them.

Tulsi
It is also known by the name of Haripriya or Vishnupriya or Shripriya.
It is usually planted and grown in front or center of a Hindu house and the structure around it is called Tulsi Vrindavan. Tulsi plant is considered very auspicious. Tulsi Vivah is celebrated between Prabodhini Ekadasi and Kartik Purnima.
Its leaves are used in puja and offered to Vishnu Bhagwan. It is used in making tea, tulsi water, and jap mala or tulsi mala.
This plant is useful in the treatment of cough, cold, muscle aches, gout, rheumatic arthritis, and insect bites.

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Banyan
Just to clarify, banyan tree is not banana tree. In Hindi it is called argad. It is also known by the name of Strangler Fig or Nyagrodha. One indestructible Banyan tree is in Prayag and is called Akshya Vat. Another is in Gaya, Bihar, and one is in Varanasi. It is the national tree of India. This tree’s roots and branches grow over a very large area and it has a very long life. The roots and branches can grow in fissures of stones, concrete, walls of building, etc. The roots even grow upwards and connect to branches to give them support. This tree usually grows on or around a host e.g. other tree, and eventually destroys that host tree, building, stone, etc. Nothing grows under its shade. Initially they need a lot of water, but when fully grown they can live without water for a long time.
The Great Banyan tree in the Indian Botanic Garden is the largest Banyan tree. It has many aerial roots and looks like a forest. Bargad tree provides a lot of shade to temples, homes, shops, and pedestrians. People sit down under its shade and hold meetings, discussions, etc. Rishis and sadhus sit down under this tree and meditate. Women offer prayers to this tree and ask for a long married life on Vat Savitri Purnima. This tree is used to treat skin diseases, female infertility, to stop bleeding, diarrhea, joint pain, tooth ache, etc. Milk sap is used to polish brass utensils. Sap is also used as an adhesive and polish.

 

Peepal
Also called fig, Bodhi, and ashvat. It is considered to be the king of trees. Mahavir Buddh got enlightenment under a Peepal tree and Bhagwan Krishn left his human body under a peepal tree. It keeps growing as it ages, its branches hang down, its roots grow very deep inside the earth, and it has a very long life. Rishis and sadhus meditate under its shade. In the morning people do seven pradakshinas around this tree.
Its medicinal use is in treatment of asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, gastrointestinal upset, and wounds.

 

Ashok
‘Shok’ means sorrow or grief. Ashok means no sorrow or grief. This tree has a zillion names. Some are- sita-ashoka, anganpriya, ashopalav, asupala, apashaka, hemapushp, kankeli, madhupushp, pindapushp, pindipushp, vanjula, vishoka, and vichitra. It is found in rain forest and its flowers are red and yellow. Its fruit contain multiple seeds. Lots of folklore is associated with this tree. Ravan kept Sitaji in Ashok Vatika. It is used to treat depression and infertility.
There is one other tree which resembles the Ashok tree. It is called false Ashok tree. Its flowers are green in color, its fruit has only one seed, and it is taller than the Ashok tree.

 

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Parijaat
It is in Kintoor, near Barabanki in U.P. It is also known as kalpvriksh. It is believed that Krishn brought this tree to earth from Indralok and it is more than a thousand years old. There are many stories associated with this tree. It grows flowers, but not fruit or seeds, so more parijaat trees cannot grow.

 

Sandalwood or Chandan
It has a very nice and unique fragrance and its powder or paste form is used for tilak.
It is also used to make agarbatti, soap, and in aroma therapy. Its wood is used in temple construction. The wood retains its fragrance for many years. Oil is also extracted from wood. Jains, Buddhs, Sufis, Zoroastrians, Chinese, and Japanese also use sandalwood. It is grown in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Australia.
It is used to treat cold, bronchitis, skin, liver, gallbladder, urinary tract and heart diseases, general weakness, fever.

 

Kalpvriksh
Also called kalptaru, kalpdrup, kalpadapa, surtaru, devtaru, and kalplata. It is the wish fulfilling tree. It appeared during samundra manthan. Indra Devta took it to Devlok and planted it in Surkanan Van. There are five Kalpvriksh in Devlok — Banyan, Parijat, Mandana, Santana, and Harichandan.
On Earth, banyan tree, coconut tree, ashvatta or sacred fig tree, mahua, shami, chyur or indian butter tree, and kalplatha are considered kalpvriksh.
Jains believe that there are 10 kalpvriksha and Buddists believe that there is one kalpvriksh.

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Bael
Also known as shivadruma or shriphal. Its branches are straight. Its leaves grow in a group of three, have a very sweet fragrance, and are called belpatra. The leaves have anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are used for protecting stomach and controlling cholesterol. Bael leaves are offered to Shivji. Its fruit is called Bilva, and is like wood from outside, and therefore this tree is also called wood apple tree. It grows in dry climate and is usually grown in temple gardens. It is used as a laxative, tonic, and in treatment of diabetes and hemorrhoids. It has antibiotic and antiemetic properties.
Neem
It is also called healing tree, and is drought resistant. Its leaves are offered to Shivji. Dried leaves are used to protect clothes from insects. Neem tree has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It is used for skin diseases and to treat diabetes. Its twigs are used to clean teeth. Smoke made by burning neem leaves makes bees, insects, etc. fly away. Its fruit is called nimboli. Neem is eaten on the occasions of Ugadi and Gudi Padva.
Coconut
Coconuts are offered during arti and prayers and are broken on auspicious occasions. Copra or dried water is used to make oil, husk or coir is used to make ropes, the white part is eaten, and the brown shell is used as wood to make boats. Its flowers give sugar.
Mango leaves are used for auspiciousness and offered to Saraswati Devi. They are also used in hawan.
Banana leaves are offered to Laxmi Devi and Vishnu Bhagwan and also used as plates. Fruit is offered as Prasad.
Bamboo is used to make Bansuri.
Sami
The leaves are offered to Ram Bhagwan and are used to treat leprosy and intestinal diseases and have anti-inflammatory properties. Its roots are used in diarrhea and dysentery. Flowers are used to prevent miscarriage and pods to treat urological diseases.
Sami tree can grow in adverse climate and its roots go very deep into the soil. Its leaves remain green even in drought.
Jackfruit tree or Kathal
It has a unique aroma. Its pulp gives a mixed smell of pineapple and banana. It is the largest fruit in the world and has multiple seeds in one fruit. Wood is used to make musical instruments e.g. veena, mridangam, thimila and kanjira. It is also used to make furniture, doors, windows, and roofs.
The sacred Jackfruit tree site is on Kaina Hill of Bhashmukh parvat in Manipur. Seven Krishna images were carved from this tree and then placed in different temples.

 

Trees are not considered sacred and prayers are not offered to them in Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, but they are mentioned for their benefits in Bible and Quran. Jews have some rules and guidelines to follow before cutting trees, particularly fruit bearing trees.

There is a Gurudwara known by the name Shree Ber Sahib. Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak Dev sat down and meditated for more than 14 years under a Ber tree near this gurudwara.There are three Ber trees in Golden Temple, Amritsar—Dukhbhanjan Beri, Ber Baba Budha Sahib, and Lachi Ber.

Some trees mentioned in Quran are the date, palm, fig, olive, pomegranate, and tamarisk. Tuba is like Kalpvriksh.

Trees mentioned in the Bible are almond, apple, date (khajoor), palm  (devdar in Hindi), fig (anjir in Hindi), oak (baloot), pine, tamarisk (jhaoo or farash or jhambook) , pomegranate, walnut, acasia (babul).

Druits and Celts—alder, apple, ash, birch, blackthorn, cedar, elder, elm, fir, hazel, holly, juniper, mistletoe, oak, pine, rovan, willow, yew.

Nine sacred trees to build a bonfire in Wiccan tradition are birch, rowen, ash, adler, willow, hawthorn, oak, holly, and hazel.

General Sherman is the largest tree in the world, by volume. It is located in Sequoia National Park, California, U.S.A. 

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Maharashtra’s climate action plan yielded disappointments

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors -- agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure.

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Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
  • The Maharashtra climate action plan yields huge disappointments as it failed to recognize crucial issues in its implementation.
  • The issues like air pollution and damage through thunderstorms and lightening were ignored.
  • The plan only focused on six major factors.

Mumbai, Jan 1: Eight years after the Centre’s direction to formulate a state action plan on climate change, and seven years after awarding the contract for a comprehensive vulnerability assessment study, the Maharashtra cabinet has finally adopted a plan on climate change.

Titled ‘Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra: Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change, and prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the action plan assesses vulnerability of the state to changing climate and outlines broad and ambitious strategies for building a climate-resilient future.

Rice Farm, Farming, Agriculture, Farm
Action plan focuses on 6 major factors, including agriculture. Pixabay

The action plan, built on high resolution modelling for which TERI entered into a partnership with the UK Met Office, projects changes in temperature and rainfall across the state at a resolution of about 25 km by 25 km for time periods 2030s, 2050s and 2070s — with the average climate during 1970-2000 as the model’s baseline.

An important component of the action plan is the Macro Level Vulnerability Index based on 19 indicators, which has identified the most vulnerable districts in Maharashtra: Nandurbar is the most climate change-vulnerable district, followed by Dhule and Buldhana. Satara is regarded as the least vulnerable district. Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are also considered less vulnerable to changes in the climate. The state government has announced setting up a panel of experts to oversee the implementation of the report.

India, Mumbai, Bombay, Tourism
Issues related to thunderstorm and lightening were not taken into consideration. Pixabay

But, meteorologists and environment experts aren’t satisfied with the action plan. “The state has taken considerable time to come up with its adaptation plan on climate change. But the plan misses out on some crucial weather events, such as thunderstorm and lightning, that are linked to climatic changes. Air pollution, an important environment factor, is also missing from the plan,” said Akshay Deoras, Nagpur-based meteorologist.

Ashok Jaswal, former scientist with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune, stresses that an effective state action plan should include all direct and indirect climatic parameters.

“Air pollutants are aerosols and have their own different properties. Some are salt-based, whereas others are carbon-based, or dust, or smoke. Some reflect solar radiation, whereas others trap heat,” he said. “These aerosols influence cloud formation, rainfall and the overall climate, and must be a part of the state action plan on climate change.”

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors — agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure. It also makes projections for rainfall and temperature in the state; and assesses the future sea level rise. A section in the plan is dedicated to extreme rainfall, flooding and adaptation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The document shows that temperature and rainfall are projected to increase all over the state with some regional variations. Amravati division (Vidarbha region) and Aurangabad division (Marathwada region) are going to experience greater rise in annual mean temperatures than other parts of the state.

The projected increase in annual mean temperature for Amravati is expected to be 1.44-1.64 degree C, 2.2-2.35 degree C, and 3.06-3.46 degree C in 2030s, 2050s and 2070s, respectively. For the same time periods, the projected annual mean temperature increase for Aurangabad division is 1.44-1.56 degree C, 2.15-2.3 degree C, and 3.14-3.38 degree C, respectively. An increase in temperature is likely to lead to a decrease in yields for some crops, such as rice, sorghum and cotton.

Minimum temperature is also projected to increase, particularly in the divisions of Konkan, Pune and Nashik, which could have an adverse impact on crops sensitive to high night temperatures in the reproductive phase, such as grain growth in rice or tuberisation in potatoes, warns the state action plan.

The government's efforts came up short. Pixabay
The government’s efforts came up short. Pixabay

The action plan notes that an increase in temperature will be conducive to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in eastern and coastal (Thane and Raigad regions) Maharashtra in 2030s. By the 2050s, a faster rate of parasite development will take place in Aurangabad, Jalna and Nashik districts.

Since a warmer atmosphere has a higher capacity to hold water vapour, it will lead to intense rainfall events with longer dry or low rainfall spells in between. Extreme rainfall is projected to increase in all regions of the state with greater increases in the northern parts of the state.

Meanwhile, parts of south-central Maharashtra are projected to experience more dry days in the 2030s as compared to the baseline. These districts of Marathwada are already prone to recurring droughts and infamous for farmers’ suicides.

“The findings… clearly describe the adverse impacts of climate change on all regions of the state. The report shows the worrying trend of an increase in extreme weather events and heavy precipitation days,” said Parineeta Dandekar, associate co-ordinator of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

“Increased rainfall will lead to heavy flooding, which will have a direct bearing on the state’s water infrastructure. But, the action plan fails to elaborate upon ways to manage the water infrastructure in times of climate change.”

Lightning is listed as a state-specific disaster in Maharashtra, but the state action plan makes no mention of lightning, which is linked to climatic changes. “Rising temperature means more evaporation and high moisture content in the atmosphere, which leads to more thunderstorm activity and an increased incidence of lightning,” explained Jaswal.

A recent study, ‘Distribution of Lightning Casualities over Maharashtra’, has examined lightning deaths in the state between 1979 and 2011 and found 2,363 casualties from 455 lighting events. On an average 72 casualties per year have been reported with significant increasing trend.

“It is shocking that in spite of so many lives being lost each year due to lightning, the state action plan does not even mention the terms thunderstorm and lightning. Unless the plan acknowledges these weather events, how will the state government manage such disasters?” questioned Deoras.

The action plan does take note of the adverse impacts of hailstorm on horticulture crops in the state. For instance, it notes that hailstorms destroyed the grape crop in 2008-09. In 2010, almost 15 percent of the orange crop was destroyed due to rising heat and untimely hailstorm. But it fails to provide pointed information on ways to minimise impact on crops.

The action plan also makes no mention of air pollution. “Not including air pollution in the state climate action plan is a major drawback and the same must be rectified at the earliest,” said Jaswal.

Dandekar stresses on the need for translating action points into swift action. “The recommendations should not remain on paper, but must be included in the various state policies for immediate implementation,” she said. Deoras recommends setting up of a committee to reframe the action plan, by including the above-mentioned points, and then working towards the plan’s implementation by providing specific directions. IANS