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Importance Of Going Around Indian Fig Tree – Ashvattha - In Hinduism

Ashvattha Pradakshina, the ritual of circumambulating the Indian fig tree (Ficus religiosa) or Ashvattha, holds significant importance in Hinduism. This ritual is particularly observed on the new moon day that falls on a Monday, a combination believed to enhance the ritual's potency.

Legend Behind Ashvattha

According to Hindu mythology, the origin of Ashvattha’s sacred status is linked to a legend involving Agni, the fire god. Agni, weary of his duty of conveying offerings made in sacrifices to the Devas (gods) and manes (ancestors), wished to relinquish his role. Despite being requested to continue until a replacement was found, Agni chose to transform into a horse and flee. During his escape, he disappeared into a fig tree, hence the name ‘Ashvattha’ (meaning ‘concealing a horse’). This legend symbolizes the presence of fire within the wood of the Ashvattha tree, further highlighting its sacred nature.

Symbolism of Ashvattha

The Ashvattha tree symbolizes the trinity of Hindu gods, representing a cosmic axis:

  • Brahma: The creator, symbolized at the root of the tree.
  • Vishnu: The preserver, represented in the middle of the tree.
  • Shiva: The destroyer, represented at the top of the tree.

This representation underscores the tree's significance as a microcosm of the universe, embodying creation, preservation, and destruction.

The Ritual Practice

On the auspicious new moon day that coincides with a Monday, devotees perform 108 circumambulations (Pradakshina) around the Ashvattha tree. The number 108 is considered sacred in Hinduism, representing the universe and its creation.

  • Fruits or Sweets: Devotees place 108 fruits or sweets in a plate under the tree. After each circumambulation, one item is kept separately to keep count.
  • Sharing the Offerings: After completing the ritual, the offerings are shared with people and animals, emphasizing the community aspect of the practice.
  • Sixteen Upacharas: The worship includes offering sixteen kinds of services (Upacharas) to Aswathanarayana (Narayana in the form of the Ashvattha tree), followed by decorating the tree with flowers.

Sacred Twigs and Fire-Altar

The Ashvattha tree is also traditionally revered because its twigs are used for oblations in the Vedic fire-altar, a practice integral to many Hindu rituals. The twigs' use in sacred fire rituals further amplifies the tree's holiness, linking it to the element of fire and the god Agni.

Ashvattha Pradakshina is a profound ritual embodying deep religious significance, mythological roots, and symbolic representations of Hindu deities and cosmic principles. This practice not only connects devotees to their spiritual beliefs but also fosters a sense of community and shared sacred traditions.