Sleeping under a Peepal tree at night? See a ghost?

A myth that has stood the test of time and prevented people from resting or sleeping under a Peepal tree at night - albeit for all the wrong reasons.

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Jitesh Surjiani | 10 Dec '21

The Peepal tree has for long held a mystical allure in India and is both, worshipped and feared. Revered as a manifestation of Lord Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita, regarded as a King of trees in Tamilian culture, considered an Amrita (elixir) in Atharva Veda and institutionally respected by having its imagery on the medallion of the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. It is under the Peepal (Bodhi) tree that Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher who later came to be known as the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment circa 500 BCE. While being much respected, on one hand, it is shunned on the other. Many in India believe that Peepal trees are the homely abode of ghosts, and one should not go near it or sleep under it at night for the fear of being haunted or killed.

How did this superstition come into being?

Like humans, trees too need to breathe to survive. During the day, trees absorb carbon dioxide, convert it into energy and release oxygen in the air which humans breathe. This process that helps maintain the balance in nature is called Photosynthesis. However, given the absence of sunlight at night, trees produce less oxygen and continue to exhale carbon dioxide. As a result, there is a higher concentration of carbon dioxide around the trees at night. Upon sleeping under the tree at night, people felt suffocated and found it hard to breathe given the lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the surrounding. The prolonged duration of breathlessness during the sleep at times led to the person’s death.

The unique distinction about the Peepal tree is that it is very dense compared to other trees and thus produces more oxygen in the daytime and more carbon dioxide at nighttime. Given the relatively higher concentration of carbon dioxide surrounding the Peepal trees at night, the feeling of breathlessness and casualties was higher compared to other trees. In the absence of any scientific explanation, this phenomenon was attributed to ghosts residing on Peepal trees that sat on people’s chests and killed them if it found people sleeping under it.

Final Verdict

It was only in the mid-17th century that Jan van Helmont discovered the recipe of plant food until which the world was ignorant about the relation between sunlight and carbon dioxide that produces glucose for plants. It is likely that our ancestors understood photosynthesis and the effects of inhaling carbon dioxide in the night much earlier and used the alibi of ghosts to scare the villagers from taking shelter under it at night. It is also possible that they did not understand the phenomenon of people experiencing breathlessness under the Peepal tree and in the absence of any logical explanation, thought it to be the handiwork of ghosts. In either case, the superstition has survived the test of time and the Peepal tree continues to be avoided at night out of fear than for a scientific reason.

Our progeny who will be growing up in a technologically advanced world must be devoid of such unqualified superstitious beliefs and make informed choices based on facts as much as possible. It is up to us to introduce them to that world and for that, we need to bury this superstition right away and permit it to breathe only in the annals of India’s folklore – not on the Peepal trees!


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Jitesh Surjiani

Jitesh Surjiani

Jitesh Surjiani is passionate about progressive change for India and its citizens. He writes about issues that are roadblocks in improving quality of life and interpersonal interactions as well as areas of public governance that fall short in intent and action.

Sleeping under a Peepal tree at night? See a ghost? Sleeping under a Peepal tree at night? See a ghost?
Sleeping under a Peepal tree at night? See a ghost?
Sleeping under a Peepal tree at night? See a ghost? 0 min left

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