I’ve grown up seeing the women in my house worship the Banyan tree on a special occasion every year. This ritual involved offering prayers to the tree and winding the sacred thread around its trunk. As a kid, the sight of these white threads wound around several Banyan trees used to fascinate me!
As an adult, understanding the relevance of these rituals has become quite easy. Now I know, the fun-filled Banyan tree festival is widely known as “Vat Purnima”. Vat Savitri Vrat is an important observance for married Hindu women. This festival falls on the no moon day or full moon day of the Hindu month Jayestha.
The story of ‘Vat Purnima’
Vat Savitri Vrat signifies the love and devotion of a wife towards her husband. Out of various fasts and rituals associated with well being and prosperity of the spouse, Vat Purnima festival is observed by married Indian women with great dedication.
The story of Vat Purnima is dedicated to Savitri, the brave wife of Satyawaan, who is believed to bring back to life her dead husband. Savitri was a charming princess of Madra Desh. She had chosen Satyawaan, a prince in exile, as her husband. The princess gave up the luxuries of the palace and started living in the forest with her husband. She took up the responsibilities and aspired to be a devoted wife.
One day, unfortunately Satyawaan fell off a tree while cutting its wood and died. When Yamraj, the Lord of Death, appeared to take away the soul of Satyawaan, Savitri begged and pleaded for his life. She observed severe penance to please Yamraj. When nothing seemed to shake Yamrajs determination in taking her husband away, Savitri decided to end her life. Yamraj was moved by her sheer determination and brought her husband back to life.
The significance of sacred thread
In Maharashtra, the Vat Purnima festival has great importance. Vat means Banyan tree; it holds a significant place as it was under this tree Savitri got back her husband’s life from the clutches of death. The roots of the Banyan tree grow deep and spread across a wide area. Married women worship this tree believing that the roots of the tree close by her in-law’s house might in some way connect to the tree that was close by to her maternal home. This way a feeling of a deep connection and strength between people, homes, and relationships.
As a part of the ritual, a married woman walks 108 times around a Banyan tree tying an unbroken length of cotton thread around its trunk.
Why the sacred cotton thread?
The cotton thread represents the fragile nature of life, love, trust, faith and all things that go on to make a relationship. A single thread may be weak, but when it is wound 108 times around the trunk, it becomes strong. It is no longer fragile and no longer easy to break!
By walking around the tree 108 times, the wife contemplates on these matters. Love can only be strengthened by trust, faith, and a desire to make relationships work! With each step, the woman strengthens her relationship with her husband. She prays not just for her husband’s long life, but an enduring relationship that will last forever.
Rituals during Vat Savitri Vrat
Women wake up early and take a bath in Brahma Mahurat. Then they wear new clothes, apply sindoor and wear new bangles. Prayers are offered to the Banyan tree as it is symbolic to ‘Trimurtis: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.’ According to legends, the roots are considered as Brahma, stems are considered Vishnu and the upper portion is considered to be Shiva. Paintings of a banyan tree on a plate of wood are also made with the application of turmeric and sandalwood paste. The untold glories of the Vat Savitri Vrat are mentioned in several Hindu Puranas like the ‘Bhavishyottar Purana’ and ‘Skanda Purana’.’Bhog’ is offered in the form of wet pulses, mango, rice, jack fruit, banana, and lemon. The fruits offered as prasad can be consumed. Later in the evening, one can consume sweets. All the rituals are observed with lots of zeal.