From time immemorial, trees have been intertwined with human culture, playing a significant role in the material and spiritual realms of mankind. Trees belonging to a particular region were associated with or even determined the cultural values of that region.
Trees primarily provided food, medicine and wood, and therefore, regional trees contributed to the typical flavours in these aspects from region to region. For example, the coconut tree, which is found profusely in Kerala, has its stamp on the very name of the land and the food culture of the people.
Certain trees, either due to their antiquity, historical significance or enormity, mark the venue for community gatherings in the event of a celebration and/or decision-making. The banyan tree of India is one such example.
In many cultural traditions, specific trees were ascribed mystical qualities and were considered to possess great healing powers. Hence, they often played a crucial role in traditional healing practices. A certain tribe in Central Africa planted a tree for a newborn. They then associated the growth of the child with the growth of the tree. If the growth of the tree declined, people took it as a symbol of impending illness and consulted a healer to examine the child. Then they took the child to the tree for treatment. This in a way helped planting and conservation of trees because the tribe looked after the tree so that it remained healthy, and so too their child!
In many of the religious places across the world, you will find the ‘wish trees’. Rags or paper rolls with wishes written are suspended from these trees, believing for healing or wishes to come true. Sometimes, you’d find little wooden cradles hung on the branches by childless couples.
Trees were also considered as powerful symbols of life, death and rebirth. Many communities across the world believed that trees housed the spirits of their ancestors. They buried their dead at the foot of particular trees and gave a sacred status to them.
Trees have an aura of peace and positive energy around them. They provide the perfect ambience for you to slip into the deep peace of your mind. It’s not surprising that the ancient sages sought their Supreme Self in the heart of the forests. Again, well known is the fact that the Buddha received Enlightenment while he was meditating under the pipal tree.
Humans have always had a spiritual connection with trees, which symbolically seemed to connect the earth and the sky. Most of the ancient belief systems also included the sacred groves, where trees were consecrated to the divine and considered as living temples. There were revered and guarded by the community. Sacred groves are still part of many cultures and are usually protected against hunting and logging. (If only we had more of those!)
In literature worldwide, the tree is a very powerful archetype, signifying immortality or fertility. The concept of the Tree of Life is a recurrent theme in many mythologies. Throughout the ages, the tree has been ascribed deep, sacred meanings, which made cultures and communities revere them only next to the Divine!