Sacred Plants of India: Marvellous lucidity of Puranic facts [book review]

It is a well known fact that our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago had studied botany in the most scientific manner. This knowledge of the flora and fauna of India is deeply embedded in our scriptures and rituals. Ayurveda is the applied science of plant medicine. Over the years, only rituals are being followed blindly without looking into the real principle behind worshipping the plants. The book, “Sacred Plants of India” by Nanditha Krishna and M Amrithalingam throws light on many such plants which are considered sacred by the people of India. Not only this, the book methodically disproves many Western notions about the history of India using botanical information.

sacred plants of india

It is quite refreshing that the authors, both Chennai-based environmentalists, have provided a polite and elegant imagery of plants that are worshipped across the country. The first part deals with the general history of plants in India. While providing details about the plants, the authors write: “The Aryans of the early Vedic period were pantheists, worshippers of nature. The same trees were worshipped in both the Harappan sites and in the Vedas, indicating that they shared the same culture and traditions.” This is in fact a bold and authentic statement which demolishes the much touted Aryan-Dravidian theory. The book provides a long list of plants referred to in the Rig Veda (allegedly authored by the `invading Aryans’!) which are seen in almost all the parts of India for centuries. The first chapter is dedicated to the imageries from the Indus Valley civilisation and succeeds in proving this point beyond doubt.

The chapter `Tree worship in the Epics, Puranas, Jainism and Buddhism’ narrates how sacred trees are worshipped and used for their medicinal and economic values. It is interesting to note that jack fruit tree is the tree of the Kaliyuga! (The agricultural magazine, `Adike Patrike’ in Kannada, has been publishing a series of well-researched articles on the jack fruit and this can be just a coincidence). We come to know that every Jaina Tirthankara is associated with one sacred tree or the other.

The chapter titled `Special Trees’ explains the mythological and Puranic importance of plants like Kalpa Vriksha, Chaitya Vriksha and Sthala Vriksha. This chapter also lists the plants related to Asterisms and Zodiac signs. The first section ends with an interesting note on sacred groves and tree worship outside India.

The book has taxonomical details, mythological notes and lists trees that have mysterious potency of more than 80 sacred plants. Thus, the book gives unified plant information on history, mythology, science and medicine. The logical precision of information is laudable.

The trees and their rock sculptures are provided for greater understanding of the plants. The line drawings make the book look like a botany textbook, but the narration is simple and elegant. Particularly notable are the names of plants in various languages, though this could have been better than the appendix of name-list A C Dutta’s popular text book!

India’s rich plant heritage is being lost. The Foundation of Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, (FRLHT), a Bengaluru-based institution along with the Institute of Trans-disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, is an institution which is campaigning for the protection of medicinal plants of India. It has an online database of such plants, with name search facility in various Indian languages. A reading of this book along with this database will result in a deeper understanding of the subject.

The present discourses on ecology, the debate on carbon credit, the dangers of deforestation, the issue of clean energy — all have their oblique references in Indian plant mythology. The benefits of walking around a Peepal tree, or a Tulsi plant, sleeping under a sacred tree, all point to the same: We need to preserve the forests. The Indian belief that all the plants are abodes of the divine personality itself is enough to substantiate the point that our concern for ecological concern dates back to thousands of years. To sum up, this book is a new age infosheet on Indian heritage.

Author Nandhita Krishna has also written another book `Sacred Animals of India’ which must be as interesting as this one!

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