Sacred Symbols – The Sacred Bilva Tree

Bilva or Aegle marmelos is the embodiment of Lord Shiva himself and is one of the sacred tree symbols of Hinduism. One finds the reference of this tree throughout India. In Sanskrit this is known as Bilva and in Bengali and Hindi this is called Bel. In Gujurati Bilva is called Bili

From the Hindu pantheism point of view this tree is the symbolic representation of Shiva, Parvati, Suryaand Lakshmi- the Goddess of Wealth. It is said that no worship of Shiva is complete without offering Belpatraor Bilva leaf. Thus Shiva is called Vilvadanda or staff of the bel-wood. Indologist Dr. Sankar Sengupta recorded that “These leaves on the lingam cool and refresh the heated deity. Its trifoliate leaf or tripatra symbolises the three functions-creation, preservation and destruction:-of the Lord as well as His three eyes.”

It is forbidden to break the branches of the tree as Brahmodaitya or Ghost Gods reside on it. In Bengal during the Durga Pooja on the ashtami (eighth day) the Goddess Durga is invoked on a twig of Bel tree. And in the prayer a devout says, “I shall get hold of thee and worship thee as the Goddess Durga. Thou art Sriphala. Thou art great virtue, and always dear to Sankara. I welcome thee, in order to invoke the Goddess Chandika.” The fruit of Bel tree is also called Sriphala because it is said the fruit is made out of the milk of Goddess Sri.

Mahant Rama Shankar of Banaras wrote quoting the Skanda Purana and explained the origin of Bilva tree, “One day while Parvati was resting some drops of sweat fell from her forehead on the mountain Mandara, from which grew the bel
tree, Girija lives on the root of the tree, Maheswari on its shoulder, Dukshayani on its branches, Parvati among its leaves, Katyayani in its fruit, Gaori in its flowers while in thorns the numerous Saktis find a home. It is also believed that Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, also lives in the bel tree.” Those who perform the puja of Shiva and Parvati devoutly, using the leaves, will be endowed with spiritual powers. The leaves are-symbols of three gunasr.Sattva, Rajasand Tamos. The five portions of the tree, the root, bark, leaf, flowers and fruit, also have great medicinal value and are used’ o cure snakebites.

This Bilva tree is found throughout India and Pakistan and a special variety of this tree is also found in Burma. Mythological sources throw some light on the origin of Bilva. It states that “God thought of making storement for yonder sun who did not shine; they offered a white cow to Surya, thereby they restored his brilliance. The Bilva tree was born at the very reappearance of yonder Sun. n Thus be branches are used in kindling sticks during religious ceremonies symbolically representing light due to its divine origin from the yonder Sun.

From the medicinal point of view Bel fruits are very useful. In the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine one can find ample references of usefulness of Bel for the cure o habitual constipation, dysentery and dyspepsia. In the dasamula-the famous Ayurvedic tonic, Bel is one of the ten vital ingredients. According to the Smriti those who wear amulet of Bilva, their offspring is not harmed at the time of birth and misfortune never invades the house.

Really speaking Bilva is medicinally and religiously very powerful. On the one hand it acts as a boost to health and cure for many ailments, on the other hand it has great spiritual significance which permeates the Hindu way of life.

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