Ever since I was a little girl I found myself utterly mesmerized at the sight of an enchanted forest. There were few things that could separate me from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Alice and Wonderland. Those dark ominous branches deep within far away woodlands meant more to me than I even knew at the time. Looking back, I now know they were a symbol of possibility, the possibility that if you challenge the darkest and most frightful of times, there’s bound to be adventure along the way -and with adventure there is always a happily ever after. Inversely, if you succumb to the darkness, you may never find your happy ending after all. So, like many times before, I found myself in search of the most enchanted forests my feet could find. I was at A.L. Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida when I saw my very first banyan tree. I had been there 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, and oh so very enchanted-like.
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 curious trees?
Soon after my second discovery 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 impossibly extraordinary -so much that finally one day I had to know more! And so I began to research the life of a banyan tree.
What I Know About the 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.
The Banyan Tree and Baby Krishna, India
In Hinduism it is believed that the resting place for the god of Krishna is on the leaf of a banyan tree. It is a sacred tree and is thought of as perfectly symbolizing eternal life due to its seemingly unending expansion.
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
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. -Wikipedia
The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are Banyan Trees, Hong Kong
A popular shrine in Hong Kong. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are located near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po Village, in Taipo Lam Tsuen. The temple was built around 1768 or 1771, during the reign of Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
During the Lunar New Year, tourists and locals frequent the banyan trees. At one time they burned joss sticks, wrote their wishes on joss paper (that they tied to an orange) and would throw them up to hang among the tree branches. If it stuck, their wish would come true. Sadly, in 2005, this practice stopped when a branch broke and injured people below. Now, wooden racks are used to replace the tradition, and the trees are well preserved.
The Banyan Tree is a Home to Evil Spirits, Philippines
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)
Fairies, Prehistoric People, and Ancient Chamorro Guard the Banyan Trees, Guam
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.
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