Have you ever noticed shrines beneath gigantic banyan trees? Or have you seen banyan trees dressed in checkered cloth? Ever wondered why the Balinese do that?
In Hindu lore, the banyan tree is considered a heavenly tree because it is said to be the place 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 chill!
Additionally, there are some locals that believe the banyan tree’s spiritual energy to attract demons. Cleansing ceremonies are performed routinely, especially in banyan trees near cemeteries, and there’s usually a special shrine dedicated for 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 across Asia-Pacific.
The banyan is depicted on the national coat of arms in Indonesia. It is a symbol for the unity and power of Indonesia. With its roots capable of expanding to far places and its sheer size, we think it’s a perfect symbol.
In India, where Hinduism originated, the banyan tree is the national tree of the country. It is also highly revered. The sacredness of the tree comes from the belief that the Lord Krishna rests on 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 the 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!