In Hinduism the banyan tree represents immortality and there are many stories about it in ancient literature. In a song called the 'Bhagavad Gita' or 'Song of the Lord', Krishna uses the banyan tree as a symbol to describe the true meaning of life to the warrior hero Arjuna. Banyan is viewed by Hindus as the male plant to the closely related peepul or bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). It is regarded as a sin to destroy either of these trees. It is commendable for a person to plant a young banyan close to a peepul, and this is done with a ceremony similar to that of marriage. It is customary to place a piece of silver money under the roots of the young banyan.
Banyan is mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales. In the tale of Satyavan and Savitri, Satyavan lost his life beneath the branches of a banyan. Savitri courageously entered into a debate with Yama, the God of Death, and won his life back. In memory of this couple, in the month of Jyestha during May and June, the tree is celebrated. Married women visit a banyan and pray for the long life of their husbands.
The tree is associated with the life of the 15th century saint Kabir. A giant tree is said to have sprung from a twig he had chewed. People of all religions use its great leafy canopy to meditate or rest. It is said that the wise Markandeya found shelter under it during a torrential downpour.
Minor deities such as yakshas (tree spirits), Kinnaras (half-human, half-animal) and gandharvas (celestial musicians) are believed to dwell in the branches on banyan trees. Ghosts and demons are also associated with its branches. Because it is believed that many spirits are harboured in the banyan, people do not sleep under it at night.