Bael: A Fruit Borne On a Sacred Tree

Discover the mythology of bael. Native to India, this fruit and its tree are considered scared by Hindus.

  • Bael is "a native of India and is found widely in Asian countries like Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc. It is called Sivadruma by the Hindus and considered a sacred herb. It is widely found in Indian Siva temples since the herb is considered sacred to Shiva, the lord of health. The leaves of the plant are being offered to Gods as part of prayers." —India Through the Ages by Gopal, Madan
    Photo courtesy
  • Bael fruit, with yellow astringent pulp and protected by a hard woody shell, is usually eaten dried, or the juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink. The tree is considered sacred by Hindus, and the roots, leaves and fruit are used medicinally.
    Photo courtesy
  • The bael fruit has a smooth, woody shell and takes about 11 months to ripen. The fibrous yellow pulp is aromatic and has been described as tasting like marmalade and smelling of roses. Numerous hair seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage
    Photo by Fotolia/Swapan

Bael (Aegle marmelos), sometimes erroneously called wood apple, is a fruit of Indian origin.  It grows all over India, except in the hills where the climate is too cold. This tree also grows in a number of Southeast Asian countries besides the Indian peninsula. Bael, however, is only important commercially in India where it is cultivated as an orchard fruit.

Bael fruits are spherical to pear-shaped, pale green and enclosed by a very hard shell.  They may vary from 400 to 1600 grams depending upon the variety.  The pulp is yellow, seedy, highly fragrant, sweet and also mildly astringent.  The size and fruit quality vary, as most trees are of seedling origin.  Some named cultivars sold in nurseries are propagated asexually by shield or patch budding and then planted in orchards.  These varieties usually have larger fruits and a thin shell.  In the case of some varieties, the shell can be broken by hand.

Fruits are not eaten fresh because of their astringency and the mucilaginous nature of pulp, but they are widely consumed in processed form all over India.  A very refreshing beverage (sherbet) is prepared from bael pulp simply by mixing it in water, straining the seeds and then adding sugar, salt, or something acidic according to taste.  This beverage is considered to be very healthy, especially for the digestive system.  To save people the hassle of mixing, it is also available in the market as bael squash which can be used after diluting with water.

Bael fruits, when slightly unripe, are cut into pieces and made into a preserve in sugar syrup.  This preparation is called murabba and is a popular indigenous Indian fruit product.  Use of bael murabba is considered effective for dysentery and other similar ailments.

Bael in Hindu Mythology

Bael has been known in India since prehistoric times.  It is treated as a sacred tree by Hindus who associate it with Lord Shiva.  According to Shiv Purana (शिव पुराण), an eighth century AD Sanskrit scripture, the bael tree is the manifestation of Shiva himself.  Bael occupies a high position in Hindu mythology, and there are several stories about it in Hindu scriptures.

Bael has trifoliate compound leaves.  Each lobe is said to signify three functions of Lord Shiva, i.e. creation, preservation and destruction.  They are also believed to represent three eyes of Lord Shiva.  Their offering to Lord Shiva is considered effective in removing sins of the last three births.



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