Kalpavriksha (Devanagari: कल्पवृक्ष), also known as kalpataru, kalpadruma or kalpapādapa, is a wish-fulfilling divine tree in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. It is mentioned in Sanskrit literature from the earliest sources. It is also a popular theme in Jain cosmology and Buddhism.
The Kalpavriksha originated during the Samudra manthan or “churning of the ocean” along with the Kamadhenu, the divine cow providing for all needs. The king of the gods, Indra, returned with this tree to his paradise. Kalpavriksha is also identified with many trees such as Parijata (Erythrina variegata), Ficus benghalensis, Acacia, Madhuca longifolia, Prosopis cineraria, Bassia butyracea, and mulberry tree (Morus nigra tree). The tree is also extolled in iconography and literature.
The tree is also said to be the Milky Way or the birthplace of the stars Sirius. The king of the gods, Indra returned with this Kalpavriksha to his abode in paradise and planted it there. The tree also finds mention in the Sanskrit text Mānāsara, part of Shilpa Shastras. Another myth says that Kalpavriksha was located on earth and was transported to Indra’s abode after people started misusing it by wishing evil things.
In Indra’s “Devaloka” it is said that there are five Kalpavrikshas, which are called Mandana, Parijata, Santana, Kalpavriksha and Harichandana, all of which fulfill various wishes.Kalpavriksha, in particular, is said to be planted at Mt. Meru peak in the middle of Indra’s five paradise gardens.
It is on account of these wish-granting trees that the asuras waged a perpetual war with the devas as the heavenly gods who exclusively benefited freely from the “divine flowers and fruits” from the Kalpavriksha, whereas the asuras lived comparatively in penury at the lower part of its “trunk and roots”.
The Parijata is often identified with its terrestrial counterpart, the Indian coral tree (Eyrthrina indica), but is most often depicted like a magnolia or frangipani (Sanskrit: champaka) tree. It is described as having roots made of gold, a silver midriff, lapislazuli boughs, coral leaves, pearl flower, gemstone buds, and diamond fruit.It is also said that Ashokasundari was created from a Kalpavriksha tree to provide relief to Parvati from her loneliness.
In Hindu mythology Shiva and Parvati after much painful discussions while parting with their daughter Aranyani gave her away to the divine Kalpavriksha for safe keeping when the demon Andhakasura waged war. Parvati requested Kalpavriksha to bring up her daughter with “safety, wisdom, health and happiness,” and to make her Vana Devi, the protector of forests.
Identification with other Trees
In different states of India some trees are specifically referred to as the Kalpavriksha. These are stated below.
The banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), also called Nyagrodha tree, which grows throughout the country is referred to as Kalpavriksha or Kaplaptaru because of its ability to amply provide for human needs.
The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) found in most regions of the country is called “Kalpavriksha”, as every part of it is useful in one way or the other. The coconut water inside the nut is a delicious drink. In dried form it is called copra and is used to manufacture oil. The coconut husk, called coir, is used to make rope. Leaves are used to make huts, fans, mats. Palm sugar is made from budding flower. The dried midrib is used to make boats.
Ashwatha tree (sacred fig tree) is also known as Kalapvriksha where the deities and Brahma are stated to reside, and it is where sage Narada taught the rishis on the procedure for worshipping the tree and its usefulness.
Shami tree (Prosopis cineraria), found in desert areas of the country, called in local dialect as Ajmer or jaant is called Kalpavriksha. In Rajasthan desert area its roots go deep to a depth of 17–25 metres (56–82 ft). This checks the erosion of the sandy soil of the desert. For this reason the tree stays green even during drought conditions. People of Rajasthan hence regard this tree as Kalpavriksha, because at the time of drought when no grass or fodder is found anywhere the animals are able to sustain by eating its green leaves.
Chyur tree in the high altitudes of the Himalayas growing at an altitude between 500 and 1000 m, known as the Indian butter tree (Diploknema butyracea), is called a Kalpavriskha, or tree of paradise by the people of the mountainous region as it yields honey, jaggery and ghee. It is in the shape of an umbrella.
In Joshimath in Uttarakhand a mulberry tree, which is said to be 2400 years old, is renowned and revered as the Kalpavriksha as it was the location where, in the 8th century, Adi Sankaracharya did “penance” under the tree as he considered it an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It is also believed that sage Durvasa meditated under this tree, in Urgam. The mountain slopes of Kailasa are stated to have a profusion of Kalpavrikshas.
At Mangaliyawas near Ajmer, Rajasthan, there are two revered trees (Male and Female) which are more than 800 years old, known as Kalpavrikshas. They are worshipped on an Amavasya day in the Hindu month of Shraavana. In Ranchi, Jharkhand, there are three Kalpavrikshas. They are at a locality called Hinoo.
In Tamil Nadu’s culture, tala (Borassus flabellifer) a variety of Palmyra palm (Borassus), also known as toddy, is referred to as Kalpataru as all its parts have a use. This tree is also native to Asia and South East Asia, has normally a life span of 100 years, grows up to 20 metres (66 ft) height; its leaves in the shape of a fan are rough texture. The leaves were used for writing in the ancient times.
In the Harivansh Puraan, the Parijata, baobab tree, is called a Kalpavriksha, or wish bearing tree, which apart from the village of Kintoor, near Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, is only found in heaven. The tree has mythological link with prince Arjuna of the Pandava clan who is said to have brought it from heaven. His mother Kunti after whom the village Kintoor is named used to offer flowers from this tree to worship Lord Shiva. It is also said that Lord Krishna brought this tree from heaven to please his wife Satyabhama.
Kalpalatha is another wish fulfilling tree, a creeper, which was extolled during the later part of the Aryan period. It is said that a person standing below this tree would be blessed with beautiful ornaments, dresses and even unmarried girls.
In iconography, Kalpavriksha, the wish-fulfilling tree, is painted within a picture of a landscape, decorated with flowers, silks, and suspended with jewellery.
It is a pattern which has a prominent symbolic meaning.Ornamental Kalpavriksha design was a feature that was adopted on the reverse of the coins and sculptures in the Gupta period.
Kalpavriksha is also dated to the Dharmachakra period of Buddhism. The paintings of this period depicting the tree with various branches and leaves have a female figure painted on its top part. The female figure is painted from mast upwards holding a bowl in her hand. Similar depiction of female figure with tree representing it as presiding deity was a notable feature during the Sunga period as seen in the image of “Salabhanvka” in the railing pillars.
In most paintings of Kalpavriksha Shiva and Parvati are a common feature. It forms a canopy over Shiva. In one painting Paravati is paying obeisance to Lord Shiva with her hands held up in adoration when she is blessed with a stream of water from the Kalpavriksha.