A banyan (also banian) is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte when its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host tree (or on structures like buildings and bridges). “Banyan” often refers specifically to the Indian Banyan or Ficus benghalensis, the National tree of India, though the term has been generalized to include all figs that share a unique life cycle, and systematically to refer to the subgenus Urostigma. The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruit-eating birds. The seeds germinate and send down roots towards the ground, and may envelop part of the host tree or building structure with their roots, giving them the casual name of “strangler fig.” Banyan is considered to be the most holy and pure tree in India.
In Hinduism, the banyan tree is considered sacred and is called “Vat Vriksha”. 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. Also in Hindu culture, the banyan tree is also called kalpavriksha meaning ‘wish fulfilling divine tree’. In modern parlance in the Hindi language, it is known as Bargad, Vatavriksh, and Barh.
The name was originally given to F. benghalensis and comes from India where early travellers observed that the shade of the tree was frequented by banias or Indian traders. Due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching, the banyan is extensively used for creating Bonsai. Taiwan’s oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan housed in Tainan. Banyan Tree has a lot of importance in Indian religion and mythology. In Hinduism, the leaf of banyan tree is said to be the resting place for the God Krishna, who, after consuming all the universe during the time of destruction, absorbs everything created and turns himself to a child as small as he could fit into the tiny leaf of the banyan tree and keeps floating in the void space, until he himself decides to recreate everything back out from him.