Counted among the most venerated trees in India, banyan or vat vruksh holds special significance in Hindu mythology and religious rituals. It is worshipped on vat savitri, being celebrated on Thursday and Friday. The full-moon night in month of Jyeshtha (June) is when women keep fast and worship the tree by tying a thread around it.

It is this sentiment that has helped green activists protect them, feels Kaustav Chatterjee founder of Green Vigil. "People's support is available if a tree that they have worshipped is to be chopped," says Chatterjee citing recent example of a peepal in the Tekdi temple premises that was to be felled to make way for reconstruction of the temple.

"We got calls from devotees asking us to do something as they had worshipped that tree," he says. "Slight structural changes helped in saving that tree. But the sad part is people only react in this manner when a banyan or peepal tree is to be chopped but remain indifferent for other varieties," he adds.

Trees are considered ones that bestow wealth and prosperity and have been worshipped as van devta. "Hindu religion has assigned different categories to trees depending upon their use and significance. Various rituals like worshipping, tying a thread or lighting a lamp have been prescribed for various trees," says green activist Shubhangi Girgaonkar. "Though planting a tree is considered a sacred act, now we notice people cut branches and bring them home for worshipping, thus causing more harm than good," she laments.
Putting environmental conservation as the basis of most rituals,Swanand Soni, founder of Srushti Prayavaran Mandal, says, "Religion introduces an element of faith and fear. For this reason nobody chops down a peepal or banyan tree even when highways are constructed. We can plant more trees for religious reasons rather than scientific ones," Soni says and adds his organization undertakes activities like distribution of banyan saplings on the occasion of Vat Savitri.

Trees in Hindu mythology are worshipped as 'yoni', says religious scholar Prabodh Vekhande. "Hindu scriptures suggest we have to take permission even before plucking leaves of a bel tree or that of tulsi by saying it is being done to make an offering," explains Vekhande stressing the fact Hindu religion has always been in sync with environmental conservation. "We have always been a part of the environment as we worship trees, rivers and mountains and cannot think of disturbing them. This sentiment needs to be propagated more," he says.

Source: Jun 9, 2017, The Times of India