Since ages, Indian society has been worshiping trees and plants as symbolic deities. Hindus also consider the flora and fauna of various types as extremely sacred. This inherent nature of the society exhibits the refinement and sensitivity of Indian culture. Whilst modern man overpowers Mother Nature, ancient Indian society actually worshiped it.
Usefulness of plants
It is generally believed that the flora and fauna was in existence long before the existence of mankind. Human life on earth depends on nature. Man owes his life to the Mother Nature. He simultaneously has learned immensely from nature; rather the flora and fauna.
For living day to day life plants and trees play an important role in the life of human beings. Plants and trees give us the vital factors that make life possible on earth, such as food, oxygen, clothing, shelter, medicines etc. They lend beauty to our surroundings. They also help to keep the balance in atmosphere. They serve mankind selflessly and sacrifice themselves without any ulterior motive. The selfless service which plants and trees provide human being is explained in following verse,
Chaya manyasya kurvantitishthanti swayamatape
Phalanti cha parartheshunatmahetor mahadrumah
(Great trees are giving shadow to those standing in the sun. Also they bear fruits only for others and not for themselves.)
Hence, plants and trees are regarded as worthy of worship.
How are plants and trees sacred?
People worship plants and trees on various occasions. They include leaves of many plants and trees in the worship of various deities.
Certain plants and trees for instance peepal, tulsi, etc., with tremendous therapeutic effects are still revered today.
Why do we regard plants and trees as sacred?
The same reason of gratitude can be elaborated as,
1. In the initial stage of development man was amazed by the astonishing factors of nature. At the same time he was curious about these factors. He realized that his living on earth is possible due to the balance of these factors of nature. Hence out of gratitude he started worshipping those factors. To show his respect towards nature he started worshipping some elements of nature symbolically. Worshipping plants and trees is one of them.
2. At the very next stage of development man started using plants and trees for various purposes. Those are for food, shelter, medicine, fuel. Hence out of thankfulness he started worshipping plants and trees.
Besides gratitude, plants and trees are associated with some divine spirits. It is considered that divine entities exhibit themselves in the form of plants and trees. This association with divine spirit is created by man only out of respect. The reason of association with divine spirit can be further elaborated as,
1. There is a common belief among people that Gods, semi Gods, spirits, etc. live on the tree. Hence to worship such divine spirits man worshiped plants and trees symbolically.
For example, scriptures give reference that, ‘Ashvattha tree is the abode of Vishnu and Lakshmi’. Hence Ashvattha tree is worshipped to please Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi.
2. Some plants and trees got associated with some deities or great personalities. Hence those plants and trees were worshiped by humans.
For example, tulsi plant is very dear to Lord Vishnu hence the leaves of tulsi are offered to worship Lord Vishnu and His incarnations.
Vichinvami varadabhava shobhane.
(O tulsi, you’re born from amrut and dear to Vishnu. I am plucking you for Vishnu hence may you do good to me.)
Scriptural references to planting trees
As per ancient Indian scriptures, for every tree that is axed, one should plant ten trees. To create awareness about planting trees, scriptures speak of religious benefits which help us ‘get free from the sorrows of hell’.
Kapitthabilvam alakitrayam cha
(The one who will plant one pipal tree, one banyan tree, one neem tree, ten tamarind trees, three apple trees, three bela trees (one of the sacred trees), three amala trees, and five mango trees will not see hell.)
Optimum utilization of products from plants and trees helps in properly conserving them. It is also suggested that one should always apologize to a particular tree before cutting it down; to avoid a sin called ‘soona’.