vilvaVilva or Bael is a species of tree native to India. It is available most of the shiva temples. As per the purana the vilva was first planted in thirukadaiyur, TamilNadu. It is present throughout Southeast Asia as a naturalized species. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Aegle.
Bael occurs in dry forests on hills and plains of northern, central and southern India, southern Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. It is cultivated throughout India, as well as in Sri Lanka, the northern Malay Peninsula, Java, the Philippines, and Fiji.
The bael fruit has a smooth, woody shell with a green, gray, or yellow peel. It can reach the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo. The shell is so hard it must be cracked with a hammer or machete. The fibrous yellow pulp is very aromatic. Numerous hairy seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage.
The fruit is eaten fresh or dried. If fresh, the juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink similar to lemonade. It can be made into sharbat or bel pana , a refreshing drink made of the pulp with water, sugar, and lime juice, mixed, left to stand a few hours, strained, and put on ice. One large bael fruit may yield five or six liters of sharbat.
The Tamil / Malayalam Siddhars call the plant koovilam and use the fragrant leaves for medicinal purposes, including dyspepsia and sinusitis. A confection called ilakam is made of the fruit and used to treat tuberculosis and loss of appetite. It is used in Ayurveda for many purposes, especially chronic constipation.
The fruit is also used in religious rituals. In Hinduism the tree is sacred. It is used in the worship of Shiva, who is said to favor the leaves. The trifoliate leaves symbolize the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand. The fruits were used in place of coconuts before large-scale rail transportation was available. The fruit is said to resemble a skull with a white, bone-like outer shell and a soft inner part, and is sometimes called seer phael (head-fruit). However, it is quite likely that, the term 'Seer Phal' has coined from the Sanskrit term 'ShreePhal, which again is a common name for this fruit. Many Hindus have bael trees in their courtyards.
In the traditional culture of Nepal, the bael tree is part of a fertility ritual for girls known as the Bel baha. Girls are "married" to the bael fruit and as long as the fruit is kept safe and never cracks the girl can never become widowed, even if her human husband dies. This was seen to be protection against the social disdain suffered by widows.
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