BY ASAVARI KULKARNI
Vat Purnima is a significant festival observed by married Hindu women in India. On this day, married women keep a severe fast and pray to the banyan tree for the long life of their spouse. The mythical narrative centres around Savitri's determined attempts in resurrecting her spouse from the god of death, Yam Raja.
She did so beneath the banyan tree, and Hindu women still use this tradition to pray for their husband's long life and health. Ladies perform pooja by offering seasonal fruits in banyan leaves and tying a cotton thread to the banyan tree (as a metaphor for binding the life of their spouse) and praying for the same husband for the next seven lives!
Our festivals and ceremonies are well-known for predominantly including nature worship. Our forefathers, who lived in harmony with nature, knew the importance of natural elements in human life.
As a result, all of those components, whether alive or non-living, were worshipped in some way. This assured the survival of vital species or the environment. Myths and legends as well as metaphors were utilised to help people grasp essential truths.
The Vat Purnima celebration is founded on the notion that the banyan tree is one of the forest's keystone species. It supports a diverse range of living organisms by providing food and dwelling space.
According to a study, the banyan tree has the potential to emit a huge amount of oxygen. The tree grows from tiny seeds that land on other trees and send their roots down to cover their hosts, eventually developing into smaller branch-supporting pillars that resemble a new tree trunk.
It is called Akshay Vat (never dying or long-lasting tree) because of its ability, and it is the primary reason why women pray for the long life of their husbands. Over time, the tree came to represent fertility, life and resurrection.
It also serves as a source of medication and nourishment. As a result, it is also our national tree. Previously, women were relegated to the home. As a result, rituals such as Vat Purnima, or the daily worship of the tulsi plant in the courtyard of the house, were created to provide access to a fresh source of oxygen
The banyan tree is a member of the genus Ficus, which has roughly 700 distinct species. Many of these species are essential forest keystone species. In Goa, there are at least 15 different species of Ficus thriving in our woods.
Ficus religiosa (peepal tree) and Ficus racemosa (rumad) are religiously significant trees. Other significant species in our woods are Ficus hispida (ran umbar), Ficus amplissima, Ficus arnottiana (ashti), Ficus macrocarpa (ghol), Ficus costata, Ficus exasperata (kharvat), and others.
Because of its tasty fruits and large canopy, it attracts a wide variety of living forms and is hence known as a keystone species. Ficus trees, particularly racemosa (rumad) and hispida (ran umbar), are water indicators and are thus utilised to locate a suitable location for digging a well. The presence of Ficus species suggests a healthy environment.
Unfortunately, we have lost sight of the true meaning of our festivities and are now limited to following just rituals. In Goa, ladies celebrate this festival with all the religious sentiments. But instead of visiting the tree, many prefer to cut the twigs and bring them home to be worshipped.
A large number of leaves and twigs are cut before the Vat Purnima festival to be sold in the market. We have forgotten that visiting the banyan tree would be more beneficial than merely worshipping a twig in the house.
What if we changed the perspective of the celebration of the festival? What if we planted a banyan tree and followed all the necessary rituals as per tradition? If not a banyan tree, then any other Ficus species found in Goa would do.
There are small saplings of Ficus found germinating near drains, wells or old houses. They are wiped out whenever there is a cleaning drive in these areas. What if we bring these saplings home and give them a chance to thrive?
It is said that one tree can provide enough oxygen for three individuals. So, by planting a tree, we would not only give our spouse a longer life but also our family. For the past six years, I have planted one tree on this day.
Narayan and Krutika Gawas, a young couple from Keri, planted a banyan tree on their first Vat Purnima day last year, providing a positive example for the younger generation.
Festivals are crucial for maintaining our country's cultural ethos, but knowing the underlying meaning of these festivals and enjoying them in harmony with nature is the genuine way to preserve our planet.
(The author is an environment enthusiast who writes on biodiversity, culture and ecology)