Bilva, a simple leaf yet swollen with divinity is one of the most sacred ingredients that enhance the presence of Lord Shiva in the heart of the devotee. Emotion that is so strong it becomes a song when the perfect offering of bilva is made to the Lord.
This excitement is triggered at the moment of picking fresh bilva for puja, while washing these sacred leaves and while offering them as one’s own eyes at the divine feet of the Lord.
According to ancient scriptures like Skanda Purana, the bilva tree grew out of the sweat droplets of Goddess Parvati, which fell on the Mandrachala mountain.
It is said that she resides in these trees in all her forms in the leaves, flowers, fruit and roots. Due to this reason Lord Shiva is extremely fond of the bilva tree and its leaves.
According to the Agni Purana, on any auspicious day in Bhadra, Shiva should be worshipped with a daylong fast and the eating of bilva leaves at night.
The Padma Purana and the Brahma Purana say that Lord Shiva once hid in a bilva tree to escape conquering demons.
The three leafs of bilva signifies three eyes of lord shiva. In a battle with the devatas, the great demon Tarakasura gathered the most destructive things in the universe. With them he made a weapon to destroy the earth and to prevent Lord Shiva from establishing the 51 Shakti-peethams formed out of the limbs of Sati fallen on the Earth. Lord Shiva absorbed the weapon in his body and it formed the third eye, the eye of destruction. It is opened by Lord Shiva only when he wants to totally destroy someone. Some believe that the third eye signifies wisdom and is the source of his untamed energy.
At the moment of worship, with the Lord present at his seat, with the lamp light flickering and illuminating this moment and the incense that brings fragrance in the air one should chant the following Ashtakam.
tridalam trigunakaaram trinethram cha triyayusham |
trijanma papa samharam Eka bilwam shivarpanam. ||
The leaf, my humble offering that is like the three eyed Lord Shiva Trayambakeshwara, I bow to you to bestow in me three qualities. This leaf which has three leaves in it, is like the triad of weapons that destroys all the sins I have committed in my last 3 births.
trishakhai bilwapathraischa hyachidrai komalai shubai |
shiva poojam karishyami, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
I offer this leaf to you Lord, that has 3 shoots which have no holes, nor are they torn. Their freshness and their beauty, I hope my Lord, it will please you.
aganda bilwa pathrena poojithe nandikeshware |
shudhyanthi sarva papebhyo, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
I worship Lord Nandikeshwara with this uncut Bilva leaf. I pray to you O Nandikeshwara, the divine vehicle of the Lord, that my sins be destroyed forever. I offer you this leaf.
salagrama shilamekaam vipranam jatha cha arpayeth |
soma yagna maha punyam, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
In these times of ignorance and delusion, I offer you Lord, this sacred leaf with all my devotion. This offering I make is equal to making an offering of a Salagrama to a Brahmin or being blessed with the magnitude of virtues that one is blessed with by performing the Soma yagna.
dandi koti sahasrani vajapeya sathani cha |
koti kanya maha danam, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
I offer the tender shoots of this divine leaf to you O lord. I wish to make this offering with the same intensity that will equal the gifting of a thousand elephants to you or equals the strength in making a hundred fire sacrifices. I make this offering as profound as making an offering of a million young maidens who will serve you devotedly.
lakshmyasthanutha uthpannam mahadevasya cha priyam |
bilwa vruksham prayachami, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
This small offering I make to your O Lord Shiva, I hope, will have the same energy as that of a Bilva tree offered to you. Such a pure Bilva tree is very dear to Lord Shiva.
darshanam bilwa vrukshasya, sparsanam papa nasanam |
aghora papa samharam, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
I offer this leaf to you O Lord Shiva, this leaf that is so pure, that if I touch it I will become pure, or even seeing this leaf will rid me off all my Karmic sins.
kasi kshethra nivasam cha kala bhairava darshanam |
prayaga madhavam drushtwa, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
I consider myself blessed if I can live in the holy city of Kasi and worship Lord Shiva in the form of Kalabhairava and be blessed by him. I would be cleansed off all my sorrow.
moolatho brahma roopaya, madhyatho Vishnu roopini |
agratha shiva roopaya, eka bilwam shivarpanam ||
This verse I sing, realizing the utmost beauty of this tender leaf I hold. Shiva reigns supreme at the Bilva tree.
bilwashtakam idham punyaam, padeth shiva sannidhou |
sarva papa nirmuktha shiva loka maapnuyath ||
Having worshiped Lord Shiva, I sing these divine verses that describe my being. To the Lord who saves my from my sins and at the end takes me with him to his abode at Mount Kailasa.
According to Ayurveda too, bilva leaf is packed with many medicinal and healing properties. The leaves are antibacterial, anti fungal in nature. The trifoliate shape signifies the three components or ‘gunas’, namely the Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. And the center portion of the leaf is concentrated with the perfect balance of the three.
So the next time you see the bilva leaf in Puja offerings, you know it is there for a specific reason.