By Swami Harshananda
Prince Siddhārtha Gautama became Gautama the ‘Buddha’ (‘the Enlightened One’) after attaining ‘bodhi’ or enlightenment. The particular peepul tree (aśvattha- vṛkṣa—Ficus religiosa) under which he attained this bodhi, situated at Gayā (now known as Bodh-gayā or Buddha Gayā), is called the Bodhivṛkṣa. There is a stone slab under it, ‘Vajrāsana’ by name, sitting on which Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
The present tree may be about a hundred years old. The original tree is believed to have sprung up spontaneously on the same day that Buddha was born. Hence it was called ‘sahajāta.’ The extant tree is an offshoot of the older ones, sprouted out of their roots over centuries. Apart from the emperor Aśoka, king Saśāṅka (7th cent. A. D.) is reported to have done the replanting. The latest one may have been done in 1876.
A branch of this tree was taken to Anurādhapura (in Śri Lanka) and planted there by Saṅghamittā-therī (a Buddhist nun, daughter of emperor Aśoka).
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore