Importance of 'Bilva Patra' in "Shiv-Pujan" and bilvastak

Bilwa - Patra i.e. बिल्व - पत्र : It is the leaf of Aegle marmelos, commonly known as bael, Bengal quince, golden apple, stone apple, wood apple, bili; and is a species of tree native to India. It is present throughout Southeast Asia as a naturalized species. Each leaf consists of three leaflets (Sanskrut - dal; दल) arranged in nearly two orthogonal directions. When kept vertical three leaflets resembles the three eyes of God Shiva. It is one of the favorite things of Shiva. It so important that a group of eight verses (Bilwastakam-बिल्वाष्टकम्) have been composed in praise of Bilwa-patra. It describes the importance of offering of Bilwa patra to Shiva.The first shloka says:-
त्रिदलं त्रिगुणाकारं त्रिनेत्रं च त्रयायुधम्
त्रिजन्म पापसंहारम् बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।1।

Tridalam trigunakaram trinetram ch tryaudham
trijanma pap-sanharam bilvapatra Shivarpanam.

(Meaning: The three leafleted Bilva-patra that has three qualities of Sat, raj and tam, that represents three eyes of Shiva and three weapons, that destroys the sins of three births, I offer that bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

Whenever we offer Bilva-patra to Shiva we recite this first shloka. The Bilva-patra in offerings should be intact, soft and without a hole. So we can see in the second shloka:--

त्रिशाखैः बिल्वपत्रैः च ह्यच्छिद्रैः कोमलैः शुभैः
शिवपूजां करिष्यामि बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।2।
Trishakhaih bilvapatraih ch hyah chhidraih komalaih shubhaih
shivpujam karishyami bilvapatram shivarpanam.

(Meaning: I will worship Shiva with soft, hole-less, auspicious and three leafleted bilvapatra; I offer such bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

अखंड बिल्वपत्रेण पूजिते नन्दिकेश्वरे
शुध्यन्ति सर्वपापेभ्यो बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।3।

Akhand bilvapatren pujite nandikeshware
shudhyanti sarwa papebhyo bilvapatram shivarpanam.

(Meaning: Worshiping Nandikeshwar i.e. Shiva with undamaged bilvapatra, a person gets rid of all of his sins and becomes pure, So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

शालिग्रामशिलामेकां विप्राणां जातु अर्पयेत्
सोमयज्ञमहापुण्यं बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।4।

Shaligram shilamekam wipranam jatu arpayet
somyagya-mahapunyam bilvapatram shivarpanam.
(Meaning: The bilvapatra offered by me be as holy as shaligram-stone is to brahmins and as holy as hosting of somyagya. So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

दन्तिकोटि सहस्त्राणिवाजपेय शतानि च
कोटिकन्यामहादानं बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।5।
Dantikoti sahastrani wajpeya shatani ch
kotikanya mahadanam bilvapatram shivarpanam.
(Meaning: The bilvapatra offered by me be equivalent to donation of thousand crore elephants, hosting of hundred wajpeya yagya and a crore of kanyadan. So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

लक्ष्म्याः स्तनत उत्पन्नं महादेवस्य च प्रियम्
बिल्ववृक्षं प्रयच्छामि बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।6।

Lakshmya stanat utpannam mahadevasya ch priyam
bilvavriksham prayachchhami bilvapatram shivarpanam.
(Meaning: I offer this bael tree which has emerged from the heart of Goddess Lakshmi and liked by Mahadev. So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)
दर्शनं बिल्ववृक्षस्य स्पर्शनं पापनाशनम्
अघोरपापसंहारं बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।7।

darshanam bilva vrikshasya sparshnam papnashnam
aghor papsanharam bilvapatram shivarpanam.

(Meaning: Either seeing or touching the bilva-tree destroys all the sins and even the sin done towards Shiva. So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

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This sixth shloka shows how holy the Bael tree is. So the religious persons and Shiva-bhaktas make it a daily practice to say pranam to bael tree in the morning after getting up the bed by either seeing or touching it.

मूलतो ब्रह्मरूपाय मध्यतो विष्णुरूपिणे
अग्रतः शिवरूपाय बिल्वपत्रं शिवार्पणं ।8।
Moolato brahm rupaay madhyato vishnurupine
agrtah shivroopay bilvapatam shivarpanam.

(Meaning: Lower part of bilvapatra represents God Brahma, the middle God Vishnu and the tip God Shiva. So I offer bilva-patra to God Shiva.)

These eight shlokas make Bilvastakam. It explains the importance of bilva patra and bilva tree. This bilvastak should be recited near Shiva during offering of bilva patra as is said in this shloka :--

बिल्वाष्टकमिदं पुण्यं यः पठे: शिव सन्निधौ
सर्व पाप विनिर्मुक्त: शिवलोकमवाप्नुयात् ।9।

Bilvastakmidam punyam yah pathe shiv sannidho
sarva pap vinirmuktah shivlokamvapnuyat.

(Meaning: Whosoever recites this bilvastak near God Shiva,he finds a place in the world of Shiva i.e. 'Shivalok' after being relieved of all his sins.)

Shiva is Himself a devotee of God Rama, as one can see in Ramcharitmanas written by Goswami Tulsidas, He tells the story of Rama to Gouri and always praises Rama. Even God Rama says "if someone is a great devotee of mine but neglects Shiva, he is not eligible for my blessings. I hate such people". Due to such respect for each other between the two Supreme Gods, the devotees write Rama's name ("राम") over leaflets of Bilva-Patra with Sandalwood Paste (चन्दन) or Kunkum (कुंकुम) before offering to Shiva. Like the one in picture here.


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