(Reuters) — The appearance of two “monkey faces” in the bark of an African Mahogany tree in western Singapore has sparked mania among devotees who believe the sacred spirit in the tree can grant their wishes.
Here are some common trees thought to have spiritual connections in Asian folklore, legends and religion.
— Evil female spirits are said to inhabit banana groves in Thai folklore. Taking the form of beautiful young girls, they lure men to make love to them, sap their strength, and eventually kill them.
— The tropical banyan’s mass of ever-expanding branch-like aerial roots are thought to harbor tree spirits and represent eternal life. The banyan is considered sacred in India where it is seen as the male plant to the female Bodhi or Ficus tree, and is seen as a “kalpavriksha” or wishing-fulfilling tree in Hindu mythology.
— Bodhi is a Sanskrit word meaning “awakened” or “knowing”. Bodhi trees, a species of “sacred fig” or Ficus religiosa, and their heart-shaped leaves are used in religious iconography. They are revered by Buddhists because the Siddharta Buddha sat under one for several years to gain enlightenment.
— The sweet smell of the white-flowered frangipani is thought to herald the coming of a pontianak — a vengeful female vampire — in Malay folklore. Called “Lanthom” in Thai, some Thais associate the tree with death, and believe that unhappy departed spirits live inside it, as the word sounds similar to “rathom”, meaning sorrow.
— Mango trees symbolize good fortune and fertility across south Asia, where Hindu legend relates that the Hindu god Shiva, the destroyer, appeared as Linga (his phallic form) under a mango tree. Mango leaves are used to decorate new houses for good luck, and in Hindu rituals, where a clay pot filled with water, mango leaves and a coconut represents the Goddess of Fortune, Lakshmi.