The Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing shrub or small tree which grows 5-8 meters tall. It is believed to be native to Persia, but the fruit is now grown everywhere in the world. The apple-size fruit contains a sack of edible seeds and a juicy pulp. Traditionally, the fruit has been used as a medicine in the Middle East, Iran, and India to cure a variety of diseases. For instance, an infusion of the rinds was used for a sore throat, a paste made out of the leaves was believed to treat baldness when massaged into the scalp, and pomegranate juice was used to cure anything from stomach problems to cuts and bruises.
The ancient Persians believed that Eve was tempted with a pomegranate in the Garden of Eden, and in Persian mythology Isfandiyar eats a pomegranate and becomes invincible. In Hebrew tradition, the pomegranate was said to have 613 seeds representing the 613 commandments of the Torah, and the fruit was used to decorate the Torah and its coverings. The ancient Greeks knew pomegranate as the fruit of the dead and in Greek mythology, Hades offered a seed of the fruit to Persephone who took it because she thought it looked like a jewel and thus condemned herself to spend some time with Hades in the underworld every year. The Prophet Mohammed is said to have encouraged his followers to eat the fruit to purge envy and hatred. In China the fruit symbolized longevity, and in the mythology of ancient Babylonia, pomegranate was believed to be an agent of resurrection.
Pomegranate as a Religious Symbol
In Hinduism the pomegranate was considered as a symbol for fertility and prosperity, and it was revered for its beneficial qualities. It is often seen in the hands of Hindu gods and was one of nine plants offered to Durga, the 10-armed goddess of deliverance.
In Buddhism, the pomegranate is believed to be one of the three blessed fruits, the two others being the citrus and the peach. Buddha received many valuable gifts during his life on earth, but it is said that what delighted him most was a poor old woman's gift of a small pomegranate. It is also said that he offered a pomegranate to the demon Hariti and with it cured her of her habit of eating children.
In Judaism there are some scholars who believe that the fruit responsible for Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden was a pomegranate and not an apple. The fruit decorated the robes of priests and also some pillars in the temple in Jerusalem. The pomegranate was believed to have 613 seeds and thus represented the 613 commandments of the Torah. Today, pomegranates symbolize fertility and are part of the Rosh Hashana celebrations.
In Christianity, the pomegranate with its many seeds unified in one fruit is seen as a symbol of the universal church. The bursting open fruit is a symbol of Christ's suffering and resurrection. The fruit can be seen in many religious paintings, the most famous of which is Leonardo Da Vinci's „The Madonna with a Pomegranate".
In Islam, the gardens of paradise hold pomegranates, and traditionally it was believed to be important to eat every seed of a pomegranate, as one can't be sure, which aril came from paradise.