On antiquity of an ancient Hindu practice : Worship of Yakshas and trees

It is needless to mention that the Hindus revere and worship many kinds of trees and plants. In this post we shall highlight the antiquity of the sacred tree worship of Hindus, associated with the worship of Yakshas or tree spirits, which dates back to the bronze age over 5000 years ago.

Look at the symbol (on right side near the bull) of a railed/fenced tree in this coin from Ujjain dated to final centuries BCE :

Source http://coinindia.com/galleries-ujjain3.html

Same railed sacred tree can be seen on this tablet from Harappan or Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization which is around 4000-5000 years old:

Source: Deciphering the Indus Script by Asko Parpola

The early coins of Bharat are dated to around 700-300 BCE with the rise of Gangetic Janapadas and northern black polished ware culture (NBPW), while the Sarasvati-Sindhu culture is dated over 1000 years prior to this period. We have clear continuity in symbolism despite a huge time gap.

This railed/fenced tree iconography is also seen in early Buddhist Stupas like Bharhut and Sanchi dated from 300 BCE where the tree shrine is being worshiped as seen here :

From Sanchi, source: http://personal.carthage.edu/jlochtefeld/buddhism/sanchi/eginterior.html 

 

From Bharhut, source: http://www.photodharma.net/India/Bharhut-Stupa/Bharhut-Stupa.htm

Most authors cite it as Buddhist Bodhi tree worship, but I doubt it since it can also be found in Jain sites, like this from from Udayagiri Jain cave:

Source: http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id=76893

Since we have a Sarasvati-Sindhu seal depicting the same railed tree, we can confirm that the symbol is neither Buddhist nor Jain, but has its much ancient origins in Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization. Now again, another question arises, what could this have represented if they were not Buddhist or Jain shrines?

We also have imagery like this from early Stupas in Deccan, where a deity/spirit is depicted emerging from the tree shrine:

Source: http://www.frontline.in/navigation/?type=static&page=flonnet&rdurl=fl2421/stories/20071102504206400.htm

In my opinion, this mysterious tree spirit could be Yakshas, with the railed sacred trees representing the Yakshas. Here is a narrative scene of Buddha’s birth from Amaravati stupa dated to 2nd century CE:

Source: http://culturalinstitute.britishmuseum.org/asset-viewer/limestone-drum-slab-depicting-the-birth-of-prince-siddhartha/vAG8dBb9G1BRaw?hl=en

On bottom left, you can see queen Maya (Buddha’s mother) seeking the blessings of Yaksha Shakyavardhana who is emerging from the railed tree. This Yaksha was the  clan deity of the Buddha’s Shakya clan as per the description.

So to conclude, Yaksha worship and its associated reverence of trees is a Hindu practice which predates Buddhism and Jainism, and it goes back over 5000 years into the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization.


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About the Author

Dauhshanti & Paanchajanyaa
@Dauhshanti - A proud Polytheist & Idolater, blessed to be born into the civilization of Bharata. @paanchajanyaa - Soldier of dharma... Yato dharmas tato jayah...