The Sacred Fig Tree (Ficus Religiosa) is probably the most common and highly revered of all the sacred trees in Thailand. The Sacred Fig is a common sight in temple compounds throughout Thailand and Southeast Asia. Besides being a feature in temple compounds the Sacred Fig tree is seen on the highways and byways of Thailand, it is usually adorned with colored ribbons and sashes and often a Spirit House will be placed beside it.
Sacred Fig tree characteristics.
- Scientific / Botanical name: “Ficus Religiosa”. The Sacred Fig is so called because of it’s significance to 3 different religions, namely Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
- The Sacred Fig can grow 30 meters tall, has a light colored, brown/grey bark, the trunk can grow as wide as 3 meters in diameter.
- The canopy is wide and dense and the leaves are a distinctive heart shape between 10 -17 centimeters long and 8 – 12 centimeters across, they have a long extended, tapering tip,the distinctive shape of the leaves is the easiest way to recognize the Sacred Fig tree(Ficus Religiosa).
Significance of the Sacred Fig tree in Thailand.
- The Sacred Fig, (often called the “Bo” tree in Thailand) is the tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment (Bodhi), it is often quoted that Buddha said “to worship the tree is the same as you worship me”.
- Animist beliefs in Thailand also lend respect to the sacred fig tree, it is said that the Sacred Fig is inhabited by spirits and lost souls.
- Hindu deities and Gods are also worshiped in Thailand’s unique mix of religion and spiritualism, and the Hindu Deity “Lord Vishnu” was supposedly born under a Sacred Fig tree.
- In Thailand a Sacred Fig tree cannot simply be cut down, to do so could invoke fury and possible revenge from the resident spirits. Before a Sacred Fig tree can be cut down or removed, the spirits must be forewarned and appeased by monks or other appropriate religious figures.
- Offering of flowers and food and drink are placed on an altar / table in front of a spirit house next to a Sacred Fig tree, incense sticks may also be burnt, these offerings are made to honor the spirits, and sometimes in the hope that good luck shall be passed on by the spirits.
- Broken figurines of Buddha and other deities are commonly placed around the base of the Sacred Fig tree, figurines of Buddha, The King and religious deities should not be thrown away, instead they may be placed under the Sacred Fig tree for safe keeping, it is also not uncommon to see broken and discarded spirit houses underneath a sacred fig tree. Pictures of The King, especially Rama 5 and Rama 9 are also popular items found under a Sacred Fig tree.
- In Thailand most people will Wai a Sacred Fig tree when passing one on foot, motorists and motorcyclists show respect to the spirits by beeping on their horn as they drive past.
- For the people of Thailand, the Sacred Fig tree is a symbol of good luck, prosperity and long life.
Sacred Fig tree facts.
The Sacred Fig tree (Ficus Religiosa) is one of more than 800 trees and plants of the Ficus species (figs).
The Sacred Fig tree is native to the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia.
Buddha was sat under a Sacred Fig tree when he attained enlightenment (bodhi).
A Sacred Fig tree (Ficus Religiosa), namely the “Sri Maha Bodhi” is the oldest known tree with a recorded planting date. The Sri Maha Bodhi was planted by King Tissa in 288 BC at a temple in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
Other names given to the Sacred Fig tree.
- Bo, common name given to the Sacred Fig tree (Ficus Religiosa) in Thailand, the term “Bo” is also said to originate from the Sinhalese language.
- Bodhi, because Buddha achieved enlightenment (Bodhi) under the Ficus Religiosa. Bodhi is also often used singularly to refer to the original tree which Buddha sat under.
- Peepal, Pipal, the name given to the Sacred Fig tree in India.
- Banyan tree, strictly speaking, the Banyan tree is singularly the(Ficus Benghalensis) but many species of fig tree, including the Sacred Fig (Ficus Religiosa) have been generally classed as a species of banyan tree, and so have been generally named Banyan tree.