Hoa SALA & Hoa HÀM RỒNG

Sala (Ta-la, Tha-la) có nhiều tên gọi: Sāla, Sal, Shorea robusta, là một loại cây tìm thấy ở Ấn Độ, miền nam dãy núi Hy Mã Lạp Sơn (Himalaya), về sau được trồng nhiều nơi ở Nam Á và Đông Nam Á, và ngày nay là một loại cây được trồng để cung cấp gỗ cứng (hard wood).  

Trong kinh điển Phật giáo, Đức Phật đản sinh ở gốc cây Sala, trong vườn Lumbini (Lâm-tì-ni), và nhập diệt giữa hai cây Sala tại Kusinara (Kushinagar, Câu-thi-na). Vì thế, ngày nay, ngoài cây bồ-đề (Bodhi tree, Bo tree, Ficus religiosa), cây Sala được trồng tại khuôn viên của các chùa, và được giới Phật tử quý trọng.

Tuy nhiên, ngày nay, người ta thường nhầm lẫn cây Sala với cây Ngọc Kỳ Lân, Đầu Lân hay Hàm Rồng (Cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis). Cây Sala là loại cây nguyên sinh ở Ấn Độ; còn cây Hàm Rồng là cây nguyên sinh ở Nam Mỹ và ngày nay được đem trồng khắp nơi.

Sự nhầm lẫn nầy bắt nguồn từ thế kỷ 17 khi người Bồ Đào Nha đem giống cây Hàm Rồng từ Nam Mỹ trồng tại nhiều nơi và nhiều chùa ở đảo Tích Lan (Sri Lanka). Từ đó, nhiều người Sri Lanka lầm tưởng cây nầy là cây Sala trong kinh điển, và mang phổ biến trồng tại các chùa khác trong vùng Đông Nam Á. Gần đây, một số chùa tại Việt Nam cũng đem về trồng vì lầm tưởng là cây Sala. Giống cây Hàm Rồng (Đầu Lân) nầy trở nên phổ thông vì dễ trồng, lớn nhanh, thích hợp với khí hậu ẩm ướt miền nhiệt đới, và trổ hoa có màu sắc hình thù đẹp mắt.

Dưới đây là các hình ảnh của cây và hoa Sala, và cây Hàm Rồng (Đầu Lân). Một số ảnh do chúng tôi chụp trong các chuyến hành hương, và một số ảnh khác do chúng tôi sưu tầm từ các trang web trên Internet.

 

Cây & hoa Sala

 
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Cây & hoa Hàm Rồng (Đầu Lân)
 

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Cannon Balls and Confusion
Ven S. Dhammika
http://sdhammika.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/cannon-balls-and-confusion.html

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Being Vesakha I thought it okay to return to the subject of Sal trees again. Hope you don’t mind. A quick perusal through Yahoo Image and Google Image will show an almost universal misidentification of the Cannon-ball tree (Couroupita guianensis) with the Sal tree (Shorea robusta). The Cannon-ball tree is native of Brazil and gets its English name from the large cannon-ball-shaped fruit that hang in bunched from its trunk.

How can a Brazilian tree get confused with an Indian tree? Well, first of all, this confusion seems to have began with the Sinhalese, the people of Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese of course have never seen a Sal tree which does not grow in tropical climates. They are however, quite familiar with the Cannon-ball tree because it was introduced into the Island by the Portuguese. Now the Cannon-ball tree not only has an extravagantly beautiful blossom with an almost overpowering perfume, but also in the heart of the flower is a small creamy-white nodule that looks exactly like a little stupa. The rest followed automatically for the Sinhalese. The Buddha died under a Sal and his remains were enshrined in a stupa + the Cannon-ball tree has a stupa in its flower = the Cannon-ball tree must be the Sal tree!

One can well understand how simple Sinhalese peasants could make this harmless and innocent mistake. But it says something about the power (at least in some areas) of expatriate Sri Lankan monks that they have disseminated this mistake so widely that now almost all Buddhists (outside India. Indian Buddhists know better) take it as gospel.

From one point of view this is, as I said, a harmless, innocent mistake. From another point of view it is not. It could be seen of as yet another example of Buddhist imprecision, of that "a myth is as good as a truth" attitude so common amongst Buddhists and perhaps also of the Western Buddhists tendency to accept everything Asian Buddhists tell them. So please! Lets have no more confusion on this matter. As the Buddha lay dying at Kusinara it was Sal blossoms that sprinkled down on him, not cannon-balls!
 

 

The revered ‘Sal Tree’ and the real Sal Tree
L.B.Senaratne
Sri Lanka Sunday Times, 16 September 2007
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/070916/News/news00026.html

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The "Sal" tree commonly grown in Sri Lanka is not the variety of "Sal" trees on which Queen Maya, the mother of Lord Buddha had held onto when the Buddha was born while she was wending her way through a forest of Sal Trees. Queen Maya is believed to have held a blossoming Sal tree when the Buddha was born.

Since then the 'Sal Tree' had been revered by most people in Sri Lanka and most Buddhist temples in the country planted these trees, thinking that it was 'Sal'; but it was not so. The so-called 'Sal tree' in Sri Lanka, is in reality the ‘Cannon Ball Tree’ and had its origin in Guyana. It was introduced to the Botanical Gardens in 1881 and from here it spread around the country.

The Director General of the Department of National Botanic Gardens, Dr D.S.A. Wijesundera, said that this confusion needed to be corrected. He said the Minister of Irrigation and Water Management had taken the initiative to rectify this anomalous situation. After contacting the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Nepal Sumith Nakandala, he had obtained a kg of seeds which had been germinated at the Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya.

Dr. Wijesundera said that some of the seeds had germinated on the way to Sri Lanka and added that if the seeds had not germinated within seven days, their life span would be over. The 'Sal Tree' is said to be a handsome tree providing very high quality timber quite unlike the Cannon Ball tree. Its botanical name is 'diperocarpaceae’. It is also referred to as ' salwa’, ‘sakhu’,’shal’ and also ‘kander’ in Asian countries.

This tree is native to Burma, Assam, Bengal and Nepal, lives up to a period of 100 years, lt reaches a height of around 35 metres and has a girth of around 2 to 3 metres.

Like the Canon Ball tree, the Sal Tree is erect and cylindrical and is one of the reasons for its being mistaken for the other. The germination of seeds brought down from Thailand have been entrusted to the National Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya The Gardens too have a long and proud history. According to its Director, the Gardens were first established in 1371, originally it used as a pleasure garden by King Wickramabahu III.

In 1780 King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe declared Peradeniya as a Royal Garden. A Botanical garden was established at Peliyagoda by Eudelin de Jonville, a Frenchmen in the service of the Govenor Frederick North in1810. An informally named "Kew Gardens" was established in Slave Island by Joseph Banks.

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What is the Real Sal Tree?
Bhikkhu Nyanatusita
BPS Newsletter, No. 63, 2010

The sāla or sal tree is an important tree in Buddhism. The twin sal trees in the sal wood of the Mallans near Kusināra dropped their fragrant flowers upon the Buddha while he was lying on his deathbed (D II 137-8, S I 157, A II 79, Ud 37, Th 948, Ap I 101). According to the commentary to the Majjhima Nikāya (M-a IV 182), the Buddha was born in the Sal wood park at Lumbini (lumbinīsālavanuyyāna); his mother giving birth while standing and holding the branch of a sal tree.

The important Mūlapariyāyasutta (M I 1), was taught by the Buddha while sitting at the root of the royal sal tree in the Subhaga grove at Ukkattha (M I 1 ff). In the Gosinga Sutta, Sāriputta Thera described the sal wood of GosiKga as follows: “The GosiKga wood is delightful, the night is moonlit, the sal trees are all in blossom; it is like heavenly scents are wafting. What kind of Bhikkhu could illuminate this grove?” (M I 212). The CaKkī Sutta describes how the Brahmin CaKkī and other Brahmins of Opasāda village visited the Buddha while he was staying in the nearby sal wood, called the “Gods’ wood” (M II 164). The Brahmin Navakammika went to the Buddha while he was sitting meditating at the root of a sal tree in a sal wood (S I 179/SN 7:17). The Gavesīsutta (A III 214–18) was taught in a large sal wood that the Buddha noticed while travelling with a big group of monks on a road in the Kosala country.

The previous Buddha Vessabhū attained enlightenment under a great sal tree (D II 4). The tree is also mentioned in the suttas in relation to its wood, used for making boats (A II 201). In the Sonaka Jātaka the sal is said to be a delightful tree with a straight trunk and leaves with a bluish lustre (J V 251).

The sal tree’s Latin name is Shorea robusta. The sal tree belongs to the Dipterocarpaceae family and is related to the hora tree (Dipterocarpus zeylanicus) of Sri Lanka. It grows naturally in the foothills of the Himalaya, such as in Terai region of Northern India and Southern Nepal, and also in central India in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, etc. It can reach 35 meters high with a girth of 2.5m.

Large clusters of small, but pretty, fragrant, drooping white flowers cover the tree in spring, usually in April, depending on the altitude. In dry regions it loses its leaves in the dry season, which lasts from February to April. The seeds are dispersed through helicopter-like fruits. The wood is renown for its robustness and durability. Being waterproof it is used as an outdoor wood, for railway sleepers, bridges, boats, etc, and also indoor for roof-beams, windows, etc. The resin is used for making wooden boats water proof, as an astringent and detergent medicine, and as an incense. Sal forests are prominent in Indian national parks such as the Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh.

In areas with regular forest fires, this fire-resistant tree grows in open stands with no other kinds of trees and no or little undergrowth, which would explain why the Buddha and arahants chose it as a convenient place to stay. The following description from the World Wildlife Fund describes the sal forest well:

“In the lowland parts of the Terai, you can sometimes end up in a forest comprising entirely of one tree species, the majestic sal tree. Standing in a sal forest is a completely different experience from the nearby diverse and dense jungles. The tree trunks are long and straight, and there is plenty of light. During spring, while the sal trees are in blossom, the air is filled with a strong, sweet and pleasant smell. Sal is a hardwood species that is unusually resistant to rotting and to attacks of hungry insects.”

Captain Forsyth, in his High land of Central India, described the Sal woods of the Kanha reserve as follows:

“Throughout the summer, the glossy darkgreen foliage of sal reflects the light in a thousand tints, and first when all other vegetation is at its worst, a few weeks before the gates of heaven are opened in the annual monsoon, the sal selects its opportunity of bursting into a fresh garment of the brightest and softest green.”

In Sri Lanka, Thailand and other Buddhist countries there is confusion as to the identity of the sal tree. What is called “sal” in Sri Lanka and Thailand is a beautiful tree with many large fragrant pink flowers and large, melon-size woody round fruits hanging from its trunk and branches. This is not Shorea robusta; instead, it is the cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis, native to the jungles of Northeastern South America. It was introduced to Asia in colonial times, probably as a curiosity by the plant loving Victorian British. It is quite a different tree from the sal tree that grows in northern India and Nepal and is not related to it. There are no reports of cannonball trees forming groves and they are not growing in the wild in Asia. It is not possible to stay under a cannonball tree because of the heavy fruits falling down and the fallen, rotting flowers forming a slippery sludge on the forest floor.

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Shedding light on Sal trees
Ven. Shravasti Dhammika Thera

The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka, 04 February 2015
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150201/plus/shedding-light-on-sal-trees-132451.html

You can see it in almost any temple. Its six pastel-pink petals and its strong, almost cloyingly sweet fragrance are unmistakable. It is of course the sal flower, the blossom most favoured by Sinhalese to honour the Buddha with. The sal tree and its flower played a minor but interesting role in the Buddha’s life.

According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the longest sutta in the Tipitaka, when the Buddha arrived in Kusinara at the end of his final journey, he lay down between two sal trees. Suddenly, unexpectedly and even though it was not the flowering season, these trees burst into blossom and their pollen and petals sprinkled down over the Buddha. Amazed that even Mother Nature herself was paying respects to the Tathagata, Venerable Ananda exclaimed: Lord, the very trees are giving homage to you.” The Buddha replied: “Ananda, these sal trees burst into flower out of season in homage to the Tathagata and covered his body. But the monk or the nun, the lay man or the lay woman who lives practising Dhamma properly and perfectly fulfils the Dhamma, they honour, revere and respect the Tathagata with the highest homage.”

There is little doubt that this association with the Buddha’s parinibbana had helped make the sal flower popular as an offering in Buddhist pujas. The sal tree also serves as a prop for several Jataka stories. The Rukkhadhamma Jataka for example, uses the thickness of a sal forest to illustrate the advantages of unity. In this story, King Vessavana asked all the tree spirits to select for themselves a plant as their home. The Bodhisatta, who had been reborn as a tree spirit, advised his kinsmen to avoid trees that stood alone and pick those that grew close to others. Some did as he advised, making their homes in a thick sal forest, but others moved into isolated trees growing near towns and villages thinking that they would receive offerings humans made to such trees. One day a furious storm swept over the country uprooting even the mightiest and most deeply rooted trees growing in the open. But the sal trees in the forest, supported by each other and with their branches interlaced, withstood the storm.

But there is a fact about what in Sri Lanka is called the sal tree which may come as a surprise to most people. The botanical name for this tree is Couroupita guianensis, it is called cannonball tree in English, and it is native to the coastal regions of Guyana and Brazil, not to Sri Lanka or anywhere else in South Asia. So of course the cannonball tree cannot be the sal tree mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures.

How this tree originally got to Sri Lanka is uncertain. Brazil was a Portuguese colony as was Sri Lanka, so it may have been introduced to the island by the Portuguese. On the other hand, the British controlled both Guyana and Sri Lanka so it might have been introduced by them. As the cannonball tree has no commercial value and the English are great lovers of flowers and gardens,they are a more likely candidate for the tree’s introduction into Sri Lanka.

But how and why did the Sinhalese Buddhists mistake the cannonball tree for the sal tree? Again this is uncertain. But if you gently lift the elongated hood-like stamen of the cannonball tree flower you will see a small creamy-white nodule underneath it which looks remarkably like a tiny stupa. It seems likely that when Sinhala Buddhists first became familiar with the cannonball tree, they made an association between the sal flower and the Buddha’s parinibbana, represented by the stupa, and they assumed that the cannonball tree must be the sal tree.

So if the cannonball tree is not the real sal tree then what is? What is called sala in Pali, sal in Hindi and Shorea robusta by botanists, is north India’s most well-known timber tree. Its small yellow flowers have a strong jasmine-like perfume and it has large leaves not unlike those of the teak tree. It can grow to a great size, 45 metres high with a girth of 3.6 metres. Specimens of this size today are rare outside state forests and national parks in India and the lowlands of Nepal. They are usually cut long before they reach their maximum size.

Comparing the sal with the cannonball tree the differences between them become immediately apparent. The former has yellow flowers which grow at the end of the branches, its wood is dense and hard, and it bears small green nuts. The cannonball tree’s flowers are pinkish-red, large and fleshy and grow out of the trunk, its timber is soft and porous and its nuts are large, round and brown, not unlike cannonballs, giving the tree its English name.

Lankan pilgrims visiting India will see the real sal trees in the park around the Parinirvana Temple in Kusinara but they are unlikely to ever see any in Sri Lanka. Being native to sub-tropical northern India they do not grow in tropical Sri Lanka. Of course knowing that the cannonball tree is not the sal tree should not stop Buddhists offering it in temples. In fact, the flower’s beautiful colour, form and fragrance make it particularly worthy of being offered to the “teacher of gods and humans, the Fully Enlightened Buddha.”

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updated: 26/11/2016