The Sanskrit word ‘bodhi’ means ‘awakening’. It was while meditating under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, that Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha, the ‘awakened one’. It is for this reason that the Bodhi tree and the Buddha will always be inextricably linked. The Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi Temple is the most sacred place on Earth for the Buddhists.
The knowledge he gained under the Bodhi tree, set him free from bondage and the cycle of birth and rebirth.
The sacred text Kalingabodhi Jataka, written around the 4th Century BC, gives the earliest description of the tree.
Here are some interesting facts and legends about the Bodhi Tree.
The unblinking eye: The tree, botanically known as Ficus religiosa or the Sacred Fig, has heart shaped leaves. Immediately after his enlightenment, Buddha looked lovingly at the tree without blinking for an entire week. A shrine built there during his time was called ‘the shrine of the unblinking eye’
Serotonin and the tree of knowledge: Serotonin is a chemical that promotes ‘rational thought and memory’ in the humans. Interestingly, the Bodhi tree is also rich in serotonin. Could it be that the tree, under which Buddha gained enlightenment, may actually have been a ‘tree of knowledge’?
It is not Buddha’s original Bodhi tree: The Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya today, is not the original tree under which Buddha meditated. King Ashoka’s wife, Queen Tissarakkha, had the tree cut down as she was angered by the long hours that Ashoka was spending worshipping it. It grew again when Ashoka nurtured it back to health. Two other rulers were to destroy it a couple of centuries later.
A symbol of Buddha: Buddha disliked the use of symbols for religion. Yet, while he was alive, he allowed the planting of a Bodhi tree at Savatthi, to represent him while he was away on his travels. This tree came to be known as the Anandabodhi tree.
The oldest continually documented tree in the world: Sangamitta, King Ashoka’s daughter, took a shoot of the tree to Sri Lanka, where it was planted at the monastery in Anuradhapura around 245BC. It is considered to be the southern bough of the original tree at Bodh Gaya, and is said to have severed itself from the original tree, as Buddhism does not allow trees to be cut. It is the oldest continually documented tree in the world.
The 4th generation descendent: King Puspyamitra destroyed the tree in 2nd Century BC as he was against Buddhism. An offspring planted to replace it was destroyed again by King Sassanka in the 7th century AD. The tree that grows today was planted by a British archaeologist Cunningham around 1876, after the previous one had died of old age. It is perhaps the 4th generation descendent of the original tree.
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