Bel leaves are important as their trifoliate shape signifies Shiva’s three eyes as well as the three spokes of the lords Trishul. Since they have a cooling effect, they are offered to the Shivalinga to soothe this hot-tempered deity. Those who perform the puja of Shiva and Parvati devoutly, using the leaves, may be endowed with spiritual powers.Even a fallen bel is never used as firewood, for fear of arousing Shiva’s wrath. Its wood is used only in sacrificial fires.
Lord Shiva is worshiped by chanting sacred name “Eka Bilvam Shivarpanam”. Bilva leaves are generally trifoliate (three leaves attached together)
Bilva (Crataeva) tree is considered as one of the favorites trees of Lord Shiva. Hence, it is given a prominent place in the Lord Shiva’s temples. The prickles of this tree represents Sakthi (Mother Goddess), and the branches represent the Vedas and the roots are taken for Rudra, the Lord Himself. Each petal of bilva leaf is turned to three and they represent three gunas (features) each. The devotees of Lord Shiva take them to be the three eyes of their deity. Most devotees consider the bilva tree as a holy tree that can cure all sins of a lifetime.
In Shiva temples during the month of Shravan ,the priests chant Shiva Mantras and at the same time place Bel ( Bilva) leaves which are trifoliate or triple form on the Shiva Lingam. Bel Tree is a sacred tree having sacrificial importance .Its trifoliate leaf is symbolic of Trikaal or the Hindu Trinity of Devas namely Brahma Vishnu and Shiva .This tree is also called Wood apple and its botanical name is Aegle marmilos.
According to vedic scriptures the three leaves of a Bilva Dalam denotes:
- Three eyes of Lord Shiva
- Trimurthi Swaroopam – Brahma, Vishnu & Maheswara
- Three syllables of Aumkara(Omkara) – Akara, Ukara & Makara
- Pooja, Stotra and Gyana (It is believed that by offering a single bilva dalam, one can get rid of darkness caused due to agyanam /ignorance Bilva dalam represents Srusthi (Creation), Sthithi (Sustaining) and Laya (dissolution).
- Bel leaves are considered the most sacred offerings in Shiva pooja. A worshipper should offer Trifoliate meaning Three leaves together called Bilva dalam.
- One should not offer Bilva dalam with two or a single leaf. It is a sin to offer incomplete Bel -Patra.
- In an Ekabilvam (A single trifoliate bel-patra), Left leaf is Brahma, Right leaf is Vishnu and the middle leaf is Shiva.
THE BILVASHAKTAM MANTRA IS CHANTED WHEN OFFERING BILVA LEAVES
Lakshmyaascha stana utpannam Mahaadeva sadaa priyam,Bilva vriksham prayachchhaami eka bilvam Shivaarpanam.Darshanam bilva vrikshasya sparshanam paapanaashanam,Aghorapaapasamhaaram eka bilvam shivarpanam.
The translation : Born from the heart of Goddess Lakshmi, the Bilva tree is ever dear to Mahadeva. So I ask this tree to offer one Bilva leaf to Lord Shiva. Even if one sees the Bilva tree, and touches it, he is surely freed from sin. The most terrible karma is destroyed when a Bilva leaf is offered to Lord Shiva.
How to select a good Bilva Patra?
While selecting Bilva leaves make sure the Chakra and the Bajra are not present on them. The Chakra is a white mark made by insects on the Bilva leaves, while the Bajra is the thick portion towards the stalk. The Bilva leaves used in pooja should be of 3 leaflets even if one of the leaves gets detached of three leaves then it is of no use.
The Bilva tree in the Shiva Purana
According to the Shiva Purana (7 AD) the Bilva tree is the manifest form of Lord Shiva himself, while all the great tirthas (pilgrimage places) are said to reside at its base. One who worships the shivalingam while sitting under the Bilva, claims this great epic, attains the state of Shiva. Washing the head by this tree is said to be the equivalent of bathing in all the sacred rivers. One who performs Bilva pooja with flowers and incense achieves Shiva loka, the abode of pure consciousness, and has happiness and prosperity bestowed upon them. The lighting of the deepak (lamp) before this tree bestows knowledge and enables the devotee to merge in Lord Shiva. The Shiva Purana also claims that if the devotee removes the new leaves from one of the branches of that tree and worships the tree with them, they will be freed from vice, while one who feeds a devotee under the Bilva will grow in virtue.
PURANIC LEGENDS CONNECTING BEL TREE AND FRUITS WITH LORD SHIVA
There is a legend(Brihaddharma Purana ) which talks about the origin of this tree. Lakshmi used to offer 1000 lotuses to Lord Shiva on every puja. Once, two lotuses went missing from those thousand ones. At the time of worship when Lakshmi became extremely worried, Lord Vishnu said that Lakshmi’s two breasts are as pious and auspicious as lotus and that she can offer those to Shiva. Then she cut off her breasts and offered them to Shiva. Shiva was pleased by her devotion and blessed her that, now onwards her breasts will be there on the Bilva tree as fruits.
The triangular leaves or 3 leaflets of the Bilva tree are offered to Shiva as they are very dear to him. Bilva tree is considered as the form of Shiva. It is also said that the worship of Shiva which is done without offering Bilva leaf is fruitless.
The Hunter and the Bilva tree
The Shiva Purana also relates the following story or myth. Once there was a cruel-hearted hunter by the name of Gurudruh who lived in the lonely forest. On the auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri he had to go out hunting because his family had nothing to eat. Maha Shivaratri (the great night of Shiva) is the most sacred time for fasts, prayers and offerings, when even the most involuntary acts, if pleasing to Lord Shiva, are made holy. By sunset Gurudruh had not been successful in the hunt. Coming to a lake, he climbed a tree and waited for some unsuspecting animal to come and drink. He did not notice that the tree he had climbed was the Bilva tree. Neither did he notice the shivalingam beneath it, nor the water pot hanging in the branch just above it.
After some time a gentle deer came to quench her thirst, and Gurudruh prepared to shoot. As he drew his bow, he accidentally knocked the water pot hanging in the tree and some water fell down on the shivalingam beneath, along with a few Bilva leaves. Thus, unknowingly and unwittingly, Gurudruh had worshipped Shiva in the first quarter of the night. As a result his heart was a little purified by this act performed on such an auspicious night. Meanwhile the deer, startled by the movement in the tree, looked up and saw the hunter about to release his arrow. “Please do not kill me just yet,” pleaded the deer. “I must first take care of my children, and then I will return to be food for your family.” The hunter, whose heart had been softened a little by the accidental worship, on noticing the beauty of the deer, let her go on condition that she would return on the morrow to give her body as food for his family.
Later that same night, the sister of the deer came looking for her. Once more the hunter took aim and once more, without his being aware, the water and the Bilva leaves fell down upon the shivalingam. Again, unknowingly, the hunter had worshipped Shiva in the second quarter of the night. The effect of this was that Gurudruh’s heart was further purified. His pranas softened a little more, and he allowed this animal to also go and tend to its young, provided it returned the next day to provide him and his family with food.
In the third quarter of the night, the mate of the first deer came in search of her, and again the strange worship took place as the hunter took aim for the third time. But the hunter’s heart was beginning to melt due to the worship, and he let the deer’s mate go also for the same reason and under the same conditions. Later when the three deer met together, they discussed who should go and offer themselves for the hunter’s food. Even the children offered to give their lives. Finally the whole family decided to surrender to the hunter together, for none of them could bear to live without the others. Thus they set off towards the lake with heavy hearts.
When they arrived at the Bilva tree, Gurudruh was very pleased and relieved to see them, and he immediately prepared for the kill. He took aim for the fourth time, but in the same accidental manner as before, worship in the fourth quarter of the night took place unknown to him. This final action of Gurudruh brought about a complete change of heart and, as he was about to release the first arrow, his heart overflowed with pity for the innocent deer. Tears filled his eyes at the thought of all the animals he had killed in the past, and slowly he lowered his bow. Greatly moved by the selfless action of these animals, he felt ashamed and allowed the whole family of deer to leave unharmed. Such is the purity and spiritual power of the Bilva tree that, even without his knowledge or conscious effort, the cruel-hearted hunter had been transformed into a man of compassion and understanding, and was delivered from his past bad karma by the grace of Shiva and the Bilva tree.