Milieu History & Culture

Where have all the peepal trees gone?

A peepal tree   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

Like the sparrows, the Peepal trees too seem to be disappearing from our cities. Urbanisation and the progressive change in the urban fabric has led to the widespread cutting down of existing trees. The trees, which are subsequently planted are flowering or ornamental. Though it is said to be an ornamental tree, the peepal is not a favoured plant in city areas. A reason for this could be its great height a (it could even go up to 30 metres) and spread, and more so due to the spread of its roots which create problems with the walls and foundations of buildings.

A floating seed will take root in the smallest of crevices and crack up walls and floors, causing havoc with water supply and drainage pipes. One of the most unlikeliest of places where I spotted a peepal sprout was in the rusted bodywork of a passing bus in Madhapur, waving triumphantly green beside a window — a delight in the morning traffic.

With its heart shaped leaves on stems so slender that they quiver even without a breeze, the peepal looks uniquely beautiful and gives shade. There was a time not long ago when the leaves were dried to reveal the delicate veins and then painted on and sold. It was also a popular pastime among young girls along with embroidery and art.

One’s visualisation of North Indian villages holds the peepal at its core, with a platform around it, a place for congregation and council; or idols and vermilion threads, perhaps a sadhu in meditation for spiritual understanding.

Ficus Religiosa in Latin, (sacred fig), the peepal is sacred in Indian tradition — it is also known as the Bodhi tree or Aswatha tree. Krishna said: I am the Peepal (Aswatha in Sanskrit). Vishnu was born under such a tree. In Buddhism, it is significant as Buddha achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree and it is revered in various cultures. The tree is considered most auspicious, the abode of gods and goddesses, and is planted to the north-east of temples. It is believed that the Trimurti resides there: Brahma the roots, Vishnu the trunk and Siva the leaves (perhaps that is why the leaves are in an eternal joyous dance).

Maximum oxygen

Along with neem and tulsi, it provides the maximum oxygen and purifies the surroundings. It plays a vital role in preserving the ozone layer and reducing air pollution. Since it gives out oxygen after sunset, it is also worshipped in the evenings.

In traditional medicine, it is beneficial in treating nearly 50 types of disorders such as asthma, dysentery, arthritis, boils and acne, etc. The leaves, the bark and the fibre are used for fodder, dye, tanning, and the milk is used as a sealant.

These trees provide us shade, shelter, a purer environment, so many health and medicinal benefits besides their unique beauty and cultural significance.

Is it wisdom then to let these trees disappear?

Let us revive our cities with the peepal trees. They could be planted in parks, religious precincts, institutional and public buildings and places where larger open areas are available, wider avenues, may be even groves.

The writer is an architect and urban designer


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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 12:22:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/need-to-bring-peepal-trees-back-to-cities/article18425750.ece

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