The Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo or “peepal tree“, was a large and ancient sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, under which Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher who became known as the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment or Bodhi.

In religious iconography, the Bodhi Tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which are usually prominently displayed.

The term “Bodhi Tree” is also widely applied to exist trees, particularly the sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) growing at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, which is often cited as a direct descendant of the original specimen planted in 288 BCE. This tree is a frequent destination for pilgrims, being the most important of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

Other holy bodhi trees which have a great significance in the history of Buddhism are the Anandabodhi tree in Sravasti and the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Both are believed to have been propagated from the original Bodhi Tree.

Bodh Gaya

The Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is called the Sri Maha Bodhi. Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while meditating underneath a Ficus religiosa.

According to Buddhist texts, the Buddha meditated without moving from his seat for seven weeks (49 days) under this tree. A shrine called Animisalocana cetiya, was later erected on the spot where he sat.

The spot was used as a shrine even in the lifetime of the Buddha. King Ashoka was most diligent in paying homage to the Bodhi tree and held a festival every year in its honor in the month of Kattika.

His queen, Tissarakkhā, was jealous of the Tree, and three years after she became queen (i.e., in the nineteenth year of Asoka’s reign), she caused the tree to be killed by means of mandu thorns.

The tree, however, grew again, and a great monastery was attached to the Bodhimanda called the Bodhimanda Vihara. Among those present at the foundation of the Mahā Thūpa are mentioned thirty thousand monks from the Bodhimanda Vihara, led by Cittagutta.

The tree was again cut down by King Pushyamitra Shunga in the 2nd century BC, and by King Shashanka in 600 AD. In the 7th century AD, Chinese traveler Xuanzang wrote of the tree in detail.

Every time the tree was destroyed, a new tree was planted in the same place.

In 1862 British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham wrote of the site as the first entry in the first volume of the Archaeological Survey of India:

The celebrated Bodhi tree still exists, but is very much decayed; one large stem, with three branches to the westward, is still green, but the other branches are barkless and rotten. The green branch perhaps belongs to some younger tree, as there are numerous stems of apparently different trees clustered together. The tree must have been renewed frequently, as the present Pipal is standing on a terrace at least 30 feet above the level of the surrounding country. It was in full vigor in 1811, when seen by Dr. Buchanan (Hamilton), who describes it as in all probability not exceeding 100 years of age.

However, the tree decayed further and in 1876 the remaining tree was destroyed in a storm. In 1881, Cunningham planted a new Bodhi tree on the same site.

To Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

King Asoka’s daughter, Sanghamittra, brought a piece of the tree with her to Sri Lanka where it is continuously growing to this day in the island’s ancient capital, Anuradhapura.

This Bodhi tree was originally named Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and was a piece of another Bodhi tree planted in the year 245 B.C.

Although the original Bodhi tree deteriorated and died of old age, the descendants of the branch that was brought by Emperor Ashoka’s son, Mahindra, and his daughter, Sanghmittra, can still be found on the island.

According to the Mahavamsa, the Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka was planted in 288 BC, making it the oldest verified specimen of any angiosperm.

In this year (the twelfth year of King Asoka’s reign) the right branch of the Bodhi tree was brought by Sanghamittā to Anurādhapura and placed by Devānāmpiyatissa his left foot in the Mahāmeghavana.

The Buddha, on his death bed, had resolved five things, one being that the branch which should be taken to Ceylon should detach itself.

From Gayā, the branch was taken to Pātaliputta, thence to Tāmalittī, where it was placed in a ship and taken to Jambukola, across the sea; finally, it arrived at Anuradhapura, staying on the way at Tivakka. Those who assisted the king at the ceremony of the planting of the Tree were the nobles of Kājaragāma and of Candanagāma and of Tivakka.

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is also known to be the most sacred Bodhi tree. This came upon the Buddhists who performed rites and rituals near the Bodhi tree.

The Bodhi tree was known to cause rain and heal the ill. When an individual became ill, one of his or her relatives would visit the Bodhi tree to water it seven times for seven days and to vow on behalf of the sick for a speedy recovery.

To Chennai, India

In 1950, Jinarajadasa took three saplings of the Sri Maha Bodhi to plant two samplings in Chennai, one was planted near the Buddha temple at the Theosophical Society another at the riverside of Adyar Estuary.

The third was planted near a meditation center in Sri Lanka.

To Thousand Oaks, California, USA

In 2012, Brahmanda Pratap Barua, Ripon, Dhaka, Bangladesh, took a sapling of Bodhi tree from Buddha Gaya, Maha Bodhi to Thousand Oaks, California, where he presented it to his benefactor, Anagarika Glenn Hughes, who had funded much Buddhist work and teaches Buddhism in the USA.

He and his students received the sapling with a great thanks, later they planted the sapling in the ground in a nearby park.

The trees of the previous Buddhas

According to the Mahavamsa, branches from the Bodhi trees of all the Buddhas born during this Kalpa were planted in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on the spot where the sacred Bodhi tree stands today in Anurādhapura.

The branch of Kakusandha’s tree was brought by Rucānandā, Konagamana’s by Kantakānandā (or Kanakadattā), and Kassapa’s by Sudhammā.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.