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Banyan Tree Stories in Hinduism

Banyan tree, known as Vata in Hindi and Aal in Tamil, is a highly auspicious tree in Hinduism. Here is a look at some of the important banyan tree stories in Hinduism. The name banyan is said to have been given to the tree by the British when they saw merchants (baniyas) assemble for business under the tree. The Sanskrit word ‘vata’ means to surround or encompass, derived from the tree’s ability to put down aerial roots and cover an enormous area.

The tree is mentioned in Rig Veda (1.24.7), Atharva Veda (IV.37.4; V.5.5) and Aitareya Brahmana (VII.30.31.)

At end of a cycle of creation, there is a great flood ad Narayana sleeps on single leaf floating in the turbulent waters. The single leaf is described as that of a banyan tree. (Srimad Bhagavata Purana 3.33.4).

The tree is mentioned in Ramayana (2.52.68) – the latex of the tree was used to braid the hair of a sanyasi. Ramayana (2.55.23) also mentions about the enormous tree. The tree is part of the Panchavati (3.13.21) and Sita compares it to Rama (3.47.34). The marching army of Vanarasena comes across the tree (6.4.73).

Uttara Rama Charita mentions about an eternal banyan tree, akshaya vata, at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati at Prayagraj.

The Mahabharata narrates the birth of Sage Vishwamitra and Rishi Jamadagni and connects it with the banyan tree. It is said that a mother and daughter embraced the banyan tree and thus became the mother of the two great sages.

The story of Savitri and Satyavan in the Aranya Kanda of the Mahabharata took place under a banyan tree. Satyavan lost his life beneath the tree. Savitri courageously entered into a debate with Yama, the god of death, and won back the life of her husband.

Vishnu Purana I. XII compares universe appearing from Brahman as the banyan tree sprouting from a small seed.

Yakshas, Kinnaras (horse head and human body), and Gandharvas (celestial musicians) live on the banyan tree. Ghosts and demons also reside in the tree. Hindus do not sleep under the tree at night as the tree is the abode of spirits.

Shiva as Dakshinamurti is depicted as seated under a banyan tree.

As per Vamana Purana (23.1-36, 24.1-31) the tree was created by yaksha Manibhadra. The tree also fulfills the desire of a devotee who meditates under it.

According to Kurma Purana (I.37.8-9), one who dies beneath the Banyan tree will reach the Rudra Loka.

The meeting of gopis with Krishna took place under the tree and the banyan trees along the banks of Yamuna witnessed numerous incidents in the life of Bhagavan Krishna. Gopis worshiped the Banyan tree considering it as a representative of Bhagavan Krishna.

There is a famous banyan tree at the Puri Jagannath temple and it is believed to have witness all the four yugas in Hindu cycle of creation.