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 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.
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