Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Significance Of The Banyan Tree In Hinduism

The Vat, Bargad or banyan tree is one of the most venerated trees in India. It has the ability to survive and grow for centuries and is often compared to the shelter given by God to his devotees. It also symbolizes 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. Its aerial roots grow down into the soil forming additional trunks and therefore called Bahupada, the one with several feet (Bahu-several, Pada-feet). It symbolizes longevity and represents the divine creator, Brahma. We find this tree invariably planted in front of many temples. The numerous stems of the banyan tree are regarded as the home of gods and spirits.

The Rishis and Munis (Sages and Seers) sat under the shade of this tree to seek enlightenment, held discourses and conducted Vedic rituals.In Hindu mythology, the tree is called Kalpavriksha, the tree that provides fulfillment of wishes and other material gains. It symbolizes Trimurti – Lord Vishnu is believed to be the bark, Lord Brahma, the roots, and Lord Shiva, the branches.

The banyan tree is said to have nourished mankind with its ‘milk’ before the advent of grain and other food. According to the Agni Purana, it symbolizes 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-the Lord of Death 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.

On the full-moon night in month of Jyeshtha (June), all 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, Lord Vishnu sleeps on a banyan leaf. It also compares Lord 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.

Another legend states that this 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 Lord Shiva’s help, Amba managed to obtain it.

This tree is also sacred to the Buddhists. After attaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha is believed to have sat under a banyan tree for seven days, absorbed in his newfound realization. The worship of the tree is also represented in a Buddhist sculpture with its long hanging roots dropping gold pieces in vessels placed below.

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