Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
A single magnificent banyan tree with an altar around it is a common sight in even the simplest of Hindu temples in Kerala. There is one in the temple near our home too. When I was little, I used to to go the temple holding my grandmother’s little finger 🙂
I used to imitate whatever she did and she used to fold her palms and pray to the banyan tree, looking at three parts – the roots, the bark and the branches. She told me to do the same and told me that it is believed that the banyan tree represents the Trimurti – Brahma (the roots), Vishnu (the bark) and Shiva (the branches).
Banyan trees are called aal maram in Kerala. The leaves have a special significance to the Hindus of Kerala. Our thaali or the wedding pendant that is worn by a married woman to show that she is married, is shaped like an aal ila or a banyan tree leaf.
There is an elaborate choker necklace that is a part of our ancient traditional jewelry called ilakkathaali. It is comprised of tiny golden banyan leaf shaped charms arranged in three or four parallel rows that quiver with the slightest movement. When worn, it is extremely beautiful to behold, and it is a bridal favorite.
There are several stories related to the significance of the banyan tree in Sanatana Dharma. If you’d like to read more, you can find them here →.