A mythical journey across the world…
I remember the first time I saw a banyan tree. Its wide trunk held these endless branches that seemed to grow right into the ground. My eyes were confused. I couldn’t tell where the tree started and where it began. It was everywhere! I bolted over to inspect this curious find. I had to get to the bottom of this…or the top, I still am not sure.
I was at A.L. Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida when I saw my very first banyan tree. I had been here a few times growing up and had never noticed it before. It seemed out of place, near the water all alone. At first I thought it must be an anomaly. Nevertheless, it was perfect for climbing.
It was about 6 months later when I spotted my second banyan tree in Sarasota, Florida. I was smitten that there was another tree, even bigger and more intricate than the first one I had seen. Then another, and another… They were everywhere in Sarasota. How is it that I had spent 16 years in Florida and had never known about these?
Soon after I moved to Sarasota and began to see banyan trees everywhere. They started to become a part of my daily life. Pretty soon I was sitting beneath them to write, my son climbing them and running between their confusing labyrinthine branches, or trunks, or whatever they are…I still can’t tell. The banyan trees were so curious, so extraordinary, that finally one day I had to know more, and so I began to research the life of a banyan tree.
The banyan tree is most commonly found in India and Bangladesh where it is considered sacred in both places. Naturally this would be the case as I am almost always most attracted to places and things related to legend, myth and lore. I don’t know why this is but these sort of things just stand out to me…and so I read on.
The tree begins life as an epiphyte on a host tree, gathering its nourishment and water from the air. As it grows, its lateral branches send down supporting roots that become absorbing roots when they reach the ground. Eventually, the host tree is smothered as the banyan continues to send out more branches and roots. The mature Banyan’s canopy may cover an area more than 1,000 feet in diameter. The stems below the canopy form a kind of columned room. – Banyantree.org
So where did this thing come from? Like most things in Florida, someone brought it here… That someone was good old Thomas Edison who planted the very first banyan tree in the Continental U.S. right in Fort Myers, Florida in the late 1800′s. That’s right, just an hour south of Sarasota, Florida (light bulb turns on, pun intended).
This banyan tree, a gift to Mr. Edison from Harvey Firestone which once stood just 4 feet tall, now covers a colossal acre of land on the Seminole Lodge Estate (the former Florida retreat for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Edison currently operated as the Edison and Ford Winter Estates). Pretty cool when you think about it, and that’s just a small part of the life of a banyan tree.
In Hinduism it is believed that the resting place for the god of Krishna is on the leaf of a banyan tree.
There is a banyan tree which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.” -Krishna, in the Bhagavat Gita
Wikipedia notes: The banyan tree is also considered sacred and is called:
“Vat Vriksha” in Sanskrit, in Telugu known as: ‘మర్రి వృక్షము ‘ ; Marri Vrikshamu and in Tamil known as: ‘ஆல மரம்’ ; Ala Maram. The god Shiva as Dakshinamurthy is nearly always depicted sitting in silence under the banyan with rishis at his feet.
It is thought of as perfectly symbolizing eternal life due to its seemingly unending expansion.
The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are banyan and a popular shrine in Hong Kong near the Tin Hau Temple. These sacred trees attract thousands of people to make their wishes by tossing paper into the trees. The higher the paper lands, the more likely it is for the wish to be for filled. (source discoverhongkong.com)
In Philippine Mythology, the banyan is thought of as home to a host of spirits and demonic creatures.
Duende (elves), kapre (forest monster) tikbalang (half-man half-horse creature), manananggal (monster witch)….the list goes on, Philippine mythology is often a goldmine of fantasy and horror creatures. -365 Great Pinoy Stuff
Filipino children are taught to never point at a mature banyan to avoid pissing off any spirits. Instead they are to whisper words of respect to the spirits to avoid harm, illness, suffering and death. (source Wikipedia)
In Guam, Chamorro people believe and tell legends of Taotaomona (prehistoric peoples), Duendes (fairies, goblins) and other spirits of the ancient Chamorro that are thought to be guardians of banyan trees. (source Wikipedia)
All in all, my research turned out to be quite for filling. My attraction to these mysterious earthbound wonders led me far from this tangible planet on a journey through thousands of years of mythology. I never would have imagined that my curiosity of a tree 10 minutes from my home would have taken me around the world. The life of a banyan tree is far more complex than just this very superficial blog post. It is an interesting wonder that I will continue to investigate with time.
As always your suggestions, experience and questions are thoroughly enjoyed in the comments below. Happy fairytlale travels!