Banyan Tree

Location in BHU campus : BHU campus has a large number of different fig trees which are found growing along the roadside and at different road crossings ,temple complexes, department premises, houses ,Botanical and Ayurvedic gardens

Botanical name : Ficus benghalensis L.

Family : Moraceae, the fig family

Vernacular / local Name : Bengali-Bar, bot ;Gujarati-Vad, vadlo, vor ; Hindi-Bar, bargad, bor ; Kannada-Ala, alada mara, vata ;Malayalam-Ala, vatam; Marathi-Vada, wad, war; Sanskrit -Bahupada, Vata,Nyagrodha,Kalpavriksha; Tamil-Al, Alamaram;Telugu-Marri, peddamarri, vati .

English /Trade names : Banyan, Indian/Asiatic Fig

It is the National Tree of India

The English name Banyan comes from the word ‘Bania’ for the Indian traders, who were seen resting or carrying out their business under the canopy of the fig tree. The Portuguese picked up the word to refer to specifically the Hindu merchants and passed it along to the English as early as 1599 with the same meaning. City of Vadodara in western India is named after banyan tree.

Banyan is epiphytic when young and sometimes while growing on young trees, strangle them with its roots.

A massive evergreen tree with a spreading crown; numerous aerial /prop roots arise from the branches which enter the ground ,thicken ,become trunks and support the crown. The tree spreads by aerial roots which emerge from the branches, descend to implant themselves in the soil and eventually become accessory trunks. Bark is greyish and exudes milky sap when cut.

Leaves are large, alternate, 25x17cm, ovate to elliptic, obtuse, leathery, smooth on top but hairy underneath.Leaf stalk thick; Stipules sheathing and cover the leaf buds. Figs/Receptacle in axillary pairs,globular,sessile, 1.2 to 2.00 cm ,red when ripe, and subtended by three bracts.

Flowers are numerous, minute, unisexual (male, female and gall types), line the inner surface. Male flowers are near the mouth of the receptacle,perianth -4, stamen 1; Female flowers with shorter perianth, style long.Gall flowers with perianth as in the male ,style shorter than female; pollinated by two types of wasps, one (Blastophaga genus) pollinates the smaller flowers and the other (Apocrypta genus) pollinates the large flowers.

Fruit is a syconium( called figs) and has hollow receptacle with a narrow aperture at the top, about 1. 8cm in diameter, orange-red turning scarlet when ripe. Sessile in pairs and so grow very close to the branches. The sticky seeds are dispersed by a variety of fruit-eating birds and bats.

Flowering and Fruiting: March - June

  • Sacred value
  • The religious Fig tree is supposed to be an incarnation of Vishnu, the Indian Fig tree of Rudra and the Palasa of Brahma.

    Nyagrodha or Banyan trees are sacred in South Asia, and feature as an important venerated tree particularly to Hindus and Buddhists . Banyan is mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales .Figs are revered by Christians, Jews and Moslems of the Middle East. The tree is held in great adoration since Vedic times. The tree represents immortality and there are many stories about it in ancient literature.

    It is referred to as “Wish fulfilling tree or Kalpa Vriksha ” in Matsya purana . The tree represents eternal life because it supports its expanding canopy by growing special roots from its branches. These roots hang down and act as props over an ever widening circle, reflecting the Sanskrit name bahupada, meaning ‘one with many feet’. It is a symbol of long life and is associated with divinity.

    It is worshipped as the abode of the trimurthis as stated in the following sloka:

    Moolatho Brahma Roopaya (Brahma shaped at the root), Madhyato Vishnu Roopini (Vishnu shaped in the middle), Agratas Shiv Roopaya, (Shiva shaped at the top) Vriksha Rajayte Namaha (we salute you, the king of all trees).

    Kubera the treasure keeper of the Gods is also known by the name Vatashraya meaning one who lives in the banyan tree.

    According to one belief the tree is visited by Lakshmi on Sundays. In Hindu mythology, Vishnu was born under the shade of this tree.As per Matsya Purana, Lord Krishna in his child form sleeps on a leaf of nyagrodha during the universal deluge .The tree is compared to Visnu in Visnu Purana:-

    As the wide –spreading nyagrodha tree is compressed in a small seed, so at the time of dissolution, the whole universe is compressed in thee as its germ. As the nyagrodha germinates from the seed and becomes first a shoot and then rises into loftiness, so the created world proceeds from thee and expands into multitude .

    In the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ Krishna uses the banyan tree as a symbol to describe the true meaning of life to the warrior hero Arjuna. According to Hindu mythology Brahma was transformed into this tree.

    Srivana (local village or town forests), one of the three types of vana of ancient times that were managed by village and town panchayats had pipal and banyan as two of the five types of trees that were must in Srivana. Minor deities such as yakshas (tree spirits), Kinnaras (half-human, half-animal) and gandharvas (celestial musicians) are believed to dwell in the branches on banyan trees. Ghosts and demons are also associated with its branches. It is believed that many spirits are harbored in the banyan and so people do not sleep under it at night .

    It is commendable for a person to plant a young banyan close to a peepal, and this is done with a ceremony similar to that of marriage. It is customary to place a piece of silver money under the roots of the young banyan. According to Hindu mythology the Banyan tree is viewed as the male to the Pipal. It is considered as sin to destroy either of these trees.As per the story of Satyavan, when he died under a banyan tree ,Savitri emerged triumphant after her famous argument with Yama -the Lord of death and won her husband his life. In Maharashtra and Gujarat women worship this tree to honor the memory of Savitri on the 15th day of dark –half (Krishna paksha) of the month of Jyestha (May-June) .

    On every Saturday of Jyestha, women worship this tree for long life of their husbands. In the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh ,the women recite the story of Bata-Savitri and worship. The women water it, wind thread around it, and offer flowers. They go around the tree (pradakhshana), praise the tree and pray for the survival of their husbands and for the fulfillment of their wishes. The young women of Bengal worship this tree to get good husband. Often the large trunk of this tree is surrounded by numerous stones, all smeared with vermillion and worshipped as a symbol of Lord Shiva. The tribal people also consider it as the abode of gods and hence sacred.The Saoras honour the banyan tree and consider it there mother and source of life. As per their belief the banyan tree succored two fatherless children whose mother had abandoned them under its branches. The children survived because of the milk of the banyan tree that dripped into their mouth.

    In Gujarat the tribal prepare the idol of Goddess Akashimata from a stone, keep it under this tree and worship it . In Jharbuni in Bengal villagers worship the serpent deity Manasa situated under a huge Banyan tree .

    In some parts of south India, Aiyanar, the guardian deity of the village is installed under this tree. Banyan trees are often grown in close proximity with the neem tree. The intertwined branches of the two are considered as holy union by the Hindus and are not cut down. The tree enjoys a kind of Immortality. When a man plants a banyan tree or aswattha, he repeats a prayer to the following effect:

    May I abide in heaven as many years as this tree continues growing on the earth .

    For the star /constellation - Maham /makha (rigulus or palanguin) Ficus benghalensis (Banyan or Bargad) is to be worshipped and the deity is pitter.

  • Uses
  • The tree is planted in temples and places of public worship like village yards because of its sacred nature.The dry twigs are used as samidhas in preparing the sacred fire. The leaves are used as one of the panch pallavs or platters and also for pouring libations . Banyan is considered lucky if planted in east of the house but unlucky if planted in the west.

    The figs provide food for a variety of animals including man in times of scarcity. The leaves are used as fodder and to make plates.Fibre from bark and aerial roots is used to make coarse ropes. Latex is applied in rheumatism and lumbago and an infusion of its bark is considered a tonic and astringent and used in diarrhoea,dysentery and diabetes.

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