Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis).
* Large-canopied tree. One planted 200 years ago in the Calcutta Botanic Garden (India) has a crown of average diameter over 430 feet.
* Tangled branches.
* Aerial roots hang down from the branches.
* A banyan by the Nebudda River (east of Bombay) has a canopy diameter of 637 feet.
* Mature trees develop multiple main stems (320 are reported for the Nebudda banyan) and small stems (3000 for that same tree).
* Banyan is sacred in India, China, southeast Asia.
Vat (ficus indica)
Tree of immortal refuge
The vat or banyan tree is one of the most venerated trees in India. Because of its ability to survive and grow for centuries, it is often compared to the shelter given by God to his devotees. It also symbolises the personality of a benevolent ruler or head of family who nourishes and looks after all those under his care. Its large leaf is a motif commonly used in worship, rituals and festive sacrifices. The Banyan tree is mentioned in many scriptures as a tree of immortality.
Trees with spiritual attributes
The banyan tree occupies the pride of place amongst the sacred trees of India. It has aerial roots that grow down into the soil forming additional trunks. It is, therefore, called bahupada, the one with several feet. It symbolizes a long life and also represents the divine creator, Brahma. It is invariably planted in front of temples. The numerous stems of the banyan tree are even regarded as the home of gods and spirits. It was under a banyan tree that the Hindu sages sat in a trance seeking enlightenment and it was here that they held discourses and conducted holy rituals. Some banyan trees reached a height of over 100 feet and more than 1000 feet in circumference. No wonder, it is stated that 10,000 men could be covered by a single tree. We come across a mention of the banyan tree in many travelers accounts. Bishop Heber (1825) was so impressed by the sight of this tree that he exclaimed: "What a noble place of worship". Travelers tales even inspired the great English poet Milton to give description of the banyan tree in Paradise Lost in the following lines.
The fig-tree at this day to Indians known
In Malabar or Deccan, spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that on the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother tree, a pillard shade,
High over-arched and echoing walks between."
In Hindu mythology, the tree is called Kalpavriksha, the tree that provides fulfillment of wishes and other material gains. The worship of the tree is also represented in a Buddhist sculpture with its long hanging roots dropping gold pieces in vessels placed below.
It was under a banyan tree that the Hindu sages sat in a trance seeking enlightenment and it was here that they held discourses and conducted holy rituals.
A quote from Vishnu Purana states::
"As the wide-spreading nargodha (Sanskrit for banyan) tree is compressed in a small seed,
So at the time of dissolution, the whole universe is comprehended in Thee as its germ;
as the nargodha germinates from the seed, and becomes just a shoot and then rises into loftiness,
so the created world proceeds from Thee and expands into magnitude."
Phallic amulets play an enourmous part in the life of everyone in Thailand. They are an amalgamation of popular belief in spirits and genii, and also of the way in which their leaders and Buddhism itself are linked with magic powers. These amulets can be found in every temple and every shop, and worn by every man or woman ! They give a remarkable picture of the merging of popular religion, Buddhism, Hinduism and animism. Many amulets are small, and they can be made of all kinds of materials. These little amulets or ´ palat khik ª are worn around the loins and protect the wearer from harm. They are also worn by little boys to protect them from snake poison and being bitten by dogs.A larger model of a phallus is called ´ dokmai cao ª - the flower of the spirit ñ and is intended for the female spirits in nature. Young girls come to praise Mae Thap Thim, the goddess of the banyan tree (in India, this tree is dedicated to Shiva), while they make offerings for help to meet the person who will give them their Children !
in the South Indian tale Luxman accompanies Rama, who is carrying home his bride. Luxman overhears two owls talking about the perils that await his master and mistress. First he saves them from being crushed by the falling limb of a banyan-tree, and then he drags them away from an arch which immediately after gives way. By and by, as they rest under a tree, the king falls asleep. A cobra creeps up to the queen, and Luxman kills it with his sword; but, as the owls had foretold, a drop of the cobra's blood falls on the queen's forehead. As Luxman licks off the blood, the king starts up, and, thinking that his vizier is kissing his wife, upbraids him with his ingratitude, whereupon Luxman, through grief at this unkind interpretation of his conduct, is turned into stone.
Daily brushing of teeth with the Banyan tree (Alan,) roots, or a country tree called the Velan's sticks or with the sticks of the Margosa (Veppai,) tree is a common practice with the Tamils. The roots of 'Nayurivi' also used for brushing.
Also known as bargad or vata (Ficus bengalensis linn), the banyan is an evergreen tree and grows to a height of about 100-ft. It is easily identified by its aerial roots, which hang from its branches. These roots often get embedded in the ground and become minor trunks. The leaves are broad, oval and glossy. If broken, a white, milky fluid oozes out of the leaves.
The tree symbolises the Trimurti. Vishnu is believed to be the bark, Brahma, the roots, and Shiva, the branches.
The banyan is said to have nourished mankind with its 'milk' before the advent of grain and other food. According to the Agni Purana, the banyan symbolises fertility and is worshipped by those who want children. For the same reason, it is never cut. Even its leaves, which are used as cattle fodder, are broken only when there is a famine. It is believed that if the tree is cut, a goat should be sacrificed in atonement.
The Puranas tell the story of Savitri, who lost her husband a year after their marriage. He died under a banyan tree and by worshipping it, Savitri was able to follow Yama himself and win back her husband's life as well as secure prosperity and progeny. This powerful legend has made Savitri an ideal of Indian womanhood and established the Vat-Savitri Vrata (see vrata). On the full-moon night in Jyeshtha, married women fast and circumambulate the banyan to pray for the long and healthy life of their husbands.
According to the Vishnu Purana, during the deluge at the end of an epoch or yuga, Vishnu sleeps on a banyan leaf. It also compares Vishnu to the seed of the banyan: just as a huge tree originates from and is contained in one little seed, the entire universe is reduced to its germ after these periodic deluges. This germ is contained in Vishnu, who then recreates the universe
According to another legend, Banyan Tree is believed to have originally been situated in Vasuki's garden. Amba or Mother Earth, wanted it for her children. After a fight with Vasuki and by invoking Shiva's help, Amba managed to obtain the banyan.
This tree is also sacred to the Buddhists. After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha is believed to have sat under a banyan tree for seven days, absorbed in his newfound realisation.
Other symbols of Batak (Lake Toba, North Sumatra) mythology include the baringin or banyan tree as the cosmic tree uniting the levels of the Batak cosmos, the hornbill, aboriginal boy-girl twins, star constellations, magic numbers, and the magic colours red, white, and black. Besides the traditional houses, these symbols are found on textiles, funerary masks, boats with hornbill figureheads, the wooden staffs of datu, and megalithic monuments.
Statt eines mächtigen Stamms besitzt die aus Indien stammende Banyan-Feige (Ficus benghalensis, grosses Foto) sehr viele Stützen. Die fast horizontal wachsenden Äste der Feige bilden zahlreiche Luftwurzeln, die sich in Stämme verwandeln, wenn sie den Boden erreichen. So breitet sich der Baum immer weiter aus. Die Banyan-Feige kann auf diese Weise sogar ihren Standort wechseln.
The Banyan Tree and changing times
June 16, 2000 is signified in the Hindu calendar as Vata Poornima (the full moon day of Jyestha ), a day to honour the Banyan tree and Savitri the legendary chaste wife who fought with death to recover the life of her husband.
On this day, devout Hindu married women worship the Banyan Tree by tying threads around its bark. The ritual is performed to obtain ëdivine graceí to secure the life of their husbands and get the same groom for several births to come.
In the past, this festival was a social gathering for ladies when there were no ladies clubs, kitty groups or even ëofficesí. It provided entertainment in a social, religious and environmental context. Ladies walked to the tree to worship it and in the process showing faith and respect for the tree. In effect, they worshipped mother nature.
Now ironically the very festival which treasured nature has become its bane what with people chopping branches of the Banyan tree and taking them home for worship. So what in effect happens is that we mock the festive event and cut branches of the tree to get them for worship.
The tree is not a crass market commodity. In fact, it is a lovely, but a very ecologically important species quickly getting endangered, due to sheer negligence and materialistic greed ñ like wider roads for our cars or fodder for our cattle and of course for multi-storied shopping malls.
Let us go to this tree of ëenlightenmentí to seek blessings and not vice-versa.
Use the opportunity to energize yourself and soak in the aura of the tree. Remember we are co-inhabitants of this wonderful earth and not its owners.