Vata Vriksha – The Banyan Tree
Vata Vriksha, the Banyan tree is intertwined with the traditions of India from time immemorial. The botanical name for this tree is “Ficus Benghalensis”. It is a tree that grows all over India.
Vata Vriksha, Banyan tree
Vata Purima and Savitri -Satyavan
The legend of Vata Purnima is connected with the story of Savitri and Satyavan.
Savitri and Satyavan were a young married couple. One day while resting, with his head on Savitri’s lap, under a Banyan tree, Satyavan breathed his last. Savitri, a devout wife could feel the presence of Yama, the Lord of death at this moment. When Yama turned to leave with Satyavan’s soul, Savitri with determination, started following Yama, to ask him to return Satyavan’s life.
Savitri debating with Yama
Savitri’s dogged pursuit of Yama and her winning debate with him, made Yama restore Satyavan’s life as a boon to her.
Savitri returned to the Banyan tree, Vata Vriksha and found Satyavan stirring back to life. This Banyan tree, which was a witness to the death defying devoutness of Savitri, came to be associated with the power of faith and perseverance and with longevity.
This event gained popularity through the ages and came to be observed as Vata Purnima festival. For, it was under the Banyan tree, that Satyavan’s life was plucked and later restored. The perseverance of Savitri in a trying circumstance, her overcoming the odds and winning over Yama with wit and thereby getting back her husband to life, is a story that finds resonance with every devout married woman.
Vata Purnima – The Fasting Festival
Praying for a long life for their spouses and a timeless togetherness, women observe a fast and tie a string around a Vata Vriksha on Vata Purnima.
The tying of the string around the girth of the Vata Vriksha is a gesture to symbolize that the bond between the husband and the wife should be as strong as that between Savitri and Satyavan. That their progeny should grow as the roots and shoots of the Banyan too.
Vata Purnima celebration by women in India
While the Vata Purnima festival is celebrated in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat to commemorate Savitri-Satyavan legend, similar festivals are also celebrated in other parts of India on other days. For example, the Karadaiyan Nombu is celebrated in Tamil Nadu around March where married women and girls tie a yellow thread around their neck to symbolize a strong, immortal bond between husband and wife.
Vata Patra Sayi
The Vata leaf is found in art forms as a leaf floating on waters with the divine child, Balakrishna sucking His toe in the classic pose of a baby. This depiction of Krishna is called Vata Patra Sayi. Patra means leaf and Sayi, is one who is resting. It comes from Sayana meaning to repose, recline.
Vata Patra Sayi
Vata Vriksha, the Tree of Knowledge
The Vata tree also symbolizes knowledge, the timeless knowledge of the land. For, it is under this tree that Dakshinamurthi, the divinity associated with knowledge, imparts knowledge in silence to his four Sishya, disciples.
Vata and Gita
Lord Krishna gave the Gita Upadesa beside a Banyan Tree, Vata Vriskha, in Kurukshetra. Portions of this Banyan tree are believed to have survived to this day. The Vata Vriksha in Jyotisar, Kurukshetra, is believed to be a part of the original tree that was a witness to the Gita Upadesa.
Banyan Tree at Jyotisar, Kurukshetra
Vata and Nothing
An interesting point to note is that, the seed of such a mighty tree like Banyan is so small and when you break open that small seed, what you see inside is a hollow space. Indeed it is hollow and empty!
Similarly the vast Universe that we see around us too has come from such nothingness, Shunya. Shunya is not literally nothing. It is referred to as there is no point of reference to this tattva, concept in Creation. In reality, this nothing is everything, the source of whole Creation. This nothingness is also referred to as Chit. The sublime consciousness.
The Shunya Vada discussion, takes us there.
This timeless truth was revealed to Shweta Ketu by his father Rishi Uddalaka. This incident is recorded in the Chandogya Upanishad.
Vata Vriksha – A Meeting place
It is under a banyan tree that travellers rest. For, this tree is wide enough to accommodate even a caravan full of travellers and provide shade from the heat that beats down most parts of India. It is during this rest that people are regaled with stories and legends are told and retold across generations, across time.
The Vata Vriksha has been a focal point for the culture of the land.
It has been one of the favoured spots for trading. Traders in India are called baniya. The common name “Banyan” for this tree, originated from the fact that this tree was the meeting center of the baniya.
Vata Vriksha – Tree of Life, Fertility
Banyan tree is a tree that sprouts roots, also from its branches. They grow downwards from the branches, go into the ground, to give rise to an extension of the tree. The Banyan tree is hence also called Nyagrodha meaning that which is growing downwards too. The Banyan tree is considered timeless, for, its aerial shoots spread wide and develop roots that support the spreading branches, enabling the tree to spread far and wide.
This is how the Banyan tree, over time, spreads wide over many acres.
Due to this felicity to propagate far and wide, across time, across generations of trees, the Banyan tree has connotations with life, longevity, fertility and timelessness. In many parts of India, the placenta of a newborn child is buried at the foot of a Banyan praying for its longevity.
With the legend of Savitri-Satyavan, the Banyan came to be connected with timeless bonding between a couple.
In common parlance, fertility which gives rise to a new life, is synonymous with the biological functions in the female gender, a woman. It points to the progeny arising from the union of a man and woman alone.
Fertility concept however, extends beyond, to encompass everything that creates and sustains life such as
- the land resource which acts as the womb from which grows our food
- the water resource which helps germinate anything on the land,
- the seeds that germinate life every season and
- the cows and other organisms that nourish the soil – in short fertilize the soil.
It is this encompassing nature in Nature that is also to be venerated as fertility – fertility in Mother Nature. The Banyan tree, as the Tree of Life reminds us of this aspect in Nature.
Significance of Vata Purnima
The Vata Purnima fast, not only signifies an everlasting, timeless, strong bonding between a husband and wife, but the association of this fast with the Vata Vriksha ascribes a deeper significance to it.
A message that, the timeless association between the husband and wife, is for the creation of progeny who will take the roots of the family, civilization and mankind far into future.
A message that, fertility that gives rise to life is not limited to that which springs from the womb of a woman alone but encompasses everything in Mother Nature too, which sustain life on earth.
Vata Purnima is the occasion to pray that the thread that binds man and woman as well as the fertility chain, stays timeless, sustained year after year, generation after generation, century after century, millennia after millennia.