The sacred banyan tree

Have you ever noticed shrines beneath gigantic banyan trees? Or have you seen banyan trees dressed in checkered cloth?

In Hindu lore, the banyan tree is considered sacred because it is said to be where the gods and spirits of deceased ancestors love hanging out. Shiva and Durga love hanging around the banyan tree, making it emit large amounts of spiritual energy. Thus, shrines are built to appease the gods and give them a nice place to rest!

Additionally, some locals believe the banyan tree’s spiritual energy attracts demons. Cleansing ceremonies are performed routinely, especially in banyan trees near cemeteries, and there’s usually a special shrine dedicated to appeasing these demons and possibly warding them off.

The belief that banyan trees are sacred is not exclusive to Balinese Hindus. In fact, the banyan tree is featured in countries and religions all across Asia-Pacific.

The banyan is depicted on the national coat of arms in Indonesia. It is a symbol of the unity and power of Indonesia. With its roots capable of expanding to far places and its sheer size, it’s a perfect symbol.

In India, where Hinduism originated, the banyan tree is the country’s national tree. It is also highly revered. The sacredness of the tree comes from the belief that Lord Krishna rests on the leaves of the banyan tree.

In Buddhism, the banyan tree is often used as a metaphor for lust overcoming humans. This is related to the epiphytic nature of the tree, where the banyan often harmlessly overtakes plants surrounding it during its expansion.

The banyan is also considered sacred in the Philippines, as it is a home for both good and evil spirits alike. It is customary in the Philippines not to directly point at a banyan tree because it may offend the spirits dwelling inside. When near a banyan tree, one must utter words of respect to prevent provoking evil spirits.

So next time you pass a banyan tree wearing checkered cloth and its shrine loaded with offerings, don’t think the Balinese literally worship trees. It’s the Balinese way of giving the gods a nice place to relax on Earth!