In Hinduism, trees have held great significance. They are considered sacred and are often associated with Gods and goddesses. The Vat, Bargad or Banyan tree is one of the most venerated trees in Hinduism. It has the ability to grow and survive for centuries and is compared to as God’s shelter to his devotees. It has large leaves, which are commonly used worship and rituals.
The banyan tree is considered as the symbol of immortality. It has aerial roots that grow down from its branches forming additional trunks and anchor the tree to the ground, therefore this tree is also known as Bahupada, or the one with several feet. This tree symbolizes the creator Brahma, as it symbolizes longevity.
Banyan is also associated with Yama, the God of death. This is why it is planted outside of villages near crematoriums. This tree does not let even a blade of grass grow under it. That is why it is not used for any fertility ceremonies like childbirth and marriage, as it does not allow renewal or rebirth.
The Hindu religion considers two types of sacredness, temporary material reality, and permanent material reality. Trees like the coconut and banana fit in the first category as they represent the flesh, constantly dying and renewing itself, while the Banyan represents the latter, it is like the soul, neither dying nor renewing. The Banyan represents one’s spiritual aspirations. It is said to be immortal or Akshaya, and can even survive Pralaya or the destruction of the world. The banana tree is considered an equivalent to the householder, while the Banyan is considered and equivalent to the hermit.
Just as a hermit cannot raise a family or support a household and only has spiritual aspirations. The same way, the banyan tree represents the spiritual aspirations; free from materialism. Under the banyan tree are usually seen hermits who have left the materials aspects of their lives. They reject the flesh in search of the soul alone. The greatest of hermits, Shiva is represented as a stone called Lingam under the shade of the banyan tree. Shiva was never part of the village, he didn’t fear ghosts or spirits, and used to stay comfortably in the shade of this immortal tree.
Lord Shiva is seen as Dakshinamurti or the one who faces south, which is regarded as the direction of change and death. In iconography, he is usually depicted sitting under a Banyan tree, the embodiment of universal soul. He faces the terror of change and death and looks unafraid because he possess all the knowledge in the world. At his feet are the recipients of his knowledge. This is usually depicted on the south-facing wall of the temple.
This tree is also highly regarded in Buddhism as it is believed that Gautam Buddha sat under this tree for seven days after he attained enlightenment to absorb his new-found realization.
The banyan tree also has medicinal properties and is used extensively in Ayurveda. The bark of the tree and its leaves can be used to stop excessive bleeding from wounds. The latex of the plant is used to cure piles, rheumatism, pain, and lumbago.
There is science behind every mythological significance in the Hindu religion, we at RGyan try to explore & educate our readers about every scientific reason behind these mythologies & beliefs.