7 things to know about Sri Lanka's Sri Maha Bodhi tree, visited by India's PM Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as part of a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka, paid homage to the holy Sri Maha Bodhi tree at the north-central city of Anuradhapura on Saturday.

It is a significant move for Mr Modi, an admirer of Buddhism who developed Buddhist sites in the western state of Gujarat during his tenure as chief minister.

Here are seven things to note about this 2300-year-old sacred fig tree, which is also known as the "bodhi" or "bo" tree:

1. The Sri Maha Bodhi is said to the oldest and longest-surviving tree in the world. It was planted in 288 BC during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, and brought from India by Princess Sangamitta. She was the daughter of Indian emperor Asoka, a Hindu who had converted to Buddhism.

2. It grew from a branch taken from the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, where Siddhartha Gautama - on whose teachings Buddhism was founded - attained enlightenment and became known as Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. This bodhi tree has died, but a new tree propagated from the Sri Maha Bodhi now stands in its place.

3. Anuradhapura was abandoned and encroached by jungles in the 13th century after a series of South Indian invasions, but some brave Sinhalese stayed on and looked after the Sri Maha Bodhi. They carried bundles of wood and light bonfires around the tree to keep wild elephants away from eating its leaves. This practice continues today during the annual procession known as Daramiti Perahera.

4. Housed within a temple, the Sri Maha Bodhi attracts thousands of pilgrims everyday. The tree is one of the earliest symbols of Buddha, and pilgrims took leaves back to plant in temples all over the world. Even today, Buddhists continue to meditate under the tree.

5. In 1929, a mad man tried to chop down the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, but only managed to cut off a branch. Later in 1985, terrorists launched an attack on devotees at the tree. More than 100 people were killed, but the tree was unharmed.

6. Sri Lankan leaders are known to worship the Sri Maha Bodhi tree before embarking on political campaigns. When he visited India in February, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena prayed under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya.

7. Buddhists view the bodhi tree as a symbol of enlightenment, and it can also be used to treat various ailments. Its heart-shaped leaves can relieve diarrhoea, its fruit can treat asthma, and its roots can help heal ulcers.

Sources: New Indian Express, Srimahabodhi.org, Buddhistcouncil.org, Infolanka.com

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