By: Peggy Willms
(3 min read)
Over a decade ago, when visiting a friend here in Florida, I first entered the presence of a sprawling banyan tree. I say entered because banyan trees take you to an entirely new world. You can feel them breathing…or at least I can.
The banyan is an exquisite, living being and not just in its physical form but with its mystical presence extending life into the spiritual world.
Banyans have been considered by some cultures to be the mighty chain of life—the ladder of being, which is a hierarchical structure of all matter and life. The chain begins with God and descends through angels, humans, animals, and plants to minerals. I love that.
James Cameron has admitted that the Tree of Souls in his movie, Avatar, draws parallels to Hindu mythology—the tree is believed to fulfill wishes and provide material gains. Ancient Indian texts and scriptures also state that the banyan represents the divine creator and symbolizes longevity.
In its literal form, banyans are vascular plants that begin with a single cell formed by fertilization of an egg cell by a sperm cell dividing to create a plant embryo. Once this plant’s embryo germinates from its seed or parent plant, it produces additional organs (leaves, stems, and roots). Ultimately, one end becomes the first root while other cells form the tip of the shoot. This living plant always has embryonic tissues.
By contrast, an animal embryo will very early on produce all of its body parts, structures, and functions needed to grow larger and more mature over a lifetime. However, the banyan’s single mother root continuously creates new growth.
After living in Florida for a year, Hurricane Irma swept through Florida, and I witnessed the first death of one of my favorites. Irma sadly uprooted the beauty, and I never saw her alive again. But, as they say, wait a bit because, after a loss, a gift sooner arrives.
In 2020, we moved to Punta Gorda, and what a gift I received. As a new city resident, I ventured out on my bike. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon an apartment complex with my favorite tree in its name. Hmm. I thought that if the apartment complex was named after a banyan tree, there must surely be a reason. I took a sharp left and entered the parking lot. After circling all of the parking garages, I stumbled upon an open pasture, and guess what — I stood before a hyper-natural connection between me and the divine. It sounds insane that a tree can do that for you, but hey, it is my story, after all. (PS: Hurricane Ian did not affect these banyans).
I spent hours and hours in this spot, feeling transported from the busyness of the 3-D world. Banyans have a way of embracing you in their comfort while introducing you to new life. The Banyans are alive.
Little did I know before my discovery that the second largest banyan in the world is in Ft. Myers, Florida, at the Edison and Ford estate. It has over 400 feet in circumference roots. The largest banyan is in Kolkata, India, covering 4.7 acres.
There is much reference to the banyan in many cultures. For example, in Hinduism, the banyan tree leaf is said to be the resting place for the god Krishna floating on the cosmic ocean of life. Krishna is one of the most widely revered and most famous of all Indian divinities.
In the Bhagavad, Krishna said, “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.” (Bg 15.1) Here the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward, and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The secular world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow, there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow, we can understand that there is substance and reality.”
Well, it is time for a mic drop! Bam – the Banyan rules!