The Rich Etymological and Mythological History of Banyan Trees

The Banyan Tree is India’s National Tree

The banyan tree is India’s national tree. It is also popular by the name of Bengal fig or Indian fig. Indians consider this tree to be a holy tree and therefore, one can easily find a banyan tree outside a temple. In Hinduism, the banyan leaf is believed to be god Krishna’s resting place. Read the complete article to know about the rich mythological and etymological history of the banyan tree. There are several Indian villages where the banyan tree is worshipped.

Nomenclature of the banyan tree

The word ‘banyan’ has been derived from the Gujarati word ‘banya’. Banya, however, has no relation to the word ‘tree’. It means a ‘merchant’ or a ‘grocer’. The Portuguese used the word ‘banya’ to refer to Hindu merchants. Towards 1599, the English also became acquainted with the word ‘banya’, the meaning remaining unchanged. By the year 1634, the English writers started mentioning the banyan tree. Under the banyan tree, the Hindu merchants used to conduct businesses. The tree gave them a cool, shady place where merchants sold their goods and village meetings were also performed. Eventually, the tree acquired the name ‘banyan’.

Basic characteristics of the banyan tree

The Banyan trees are one of the most important trees in India. Its botanical name is Ficus benghalensis. The leaves of this tree are leathery, large, green, glossy and elliptical. An old banyan tree has aerial prop roots which take the shape of thick and woody trunks. The old banyan trees are capable of spreading laterally with the help of their prop roots. The tree also has great medicinal value. Its different parts are used in curing diseases such as diarrhea, nervous disorders, dysentery, menorrhagia, and leucorrhoea.

Mythological and religious history of the banyan tree

The banyan tree is a prominent figure in the Pacifica and Asian myths and religions. Hindus have great faith in the sacred nature of this tree. The Marathi women tie threads around the ‘vat’ (banyan) tree for the long life and well-being of their men. In Pali, the holy text of Buddhists, the banyan tree is mentioned several times. Even the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Hong Kong are all banyan trees. In many tales of the Philippine mythology, the banyan referred to as ‘balite’ or ‘balete’ is believed to be the abode of several types of spirits and demonic creatures.

Banyan trees are also found in Australia, in places like Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest. The Atherton Tablelands’ Curtain Fig Tree is also well known. One of the largest banyan trees of the world, known as the Great Banyan, is present in the city of Kolkata. Great Banyan is at least 250 years of age. Several other notable specimens of the banyan tree are found in different parts of India like Andhra Pradesh, Bangalore, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. The banyan tree is also an inherent part of Indonesia’s coat of arms. It symbolizes the unity of Indonesia, a country with several far-flung roots, just like the far-flung roots of the banyan tree.

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Subhankar Bhattacharjee

Subhankar is an author, essayist, freelance writer. His writings on the environment for the popular press have covered topical issues ranging from pollution an climate change. Subhankar has a graduate in arts from the University of Burdwan.

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