On Saturday as the day started, the first thing Manisha Abhyankar did was to get ready and head to a banyan tree for prayers as Saturday marked Vat Purnima, which is celebrated mainly by the Hindu community in Maharashtra and other states. On this day, married women fast and pray for the good health and well-being of their husbands.
The ritual and the reason
"Since we have a banyan tree in our society compound itself, I did not have to travel. We tie a ceremonial thread by taking seven rounds of the banyan tree. This is done on the full moon day of the 'Jyestha' month of Hindu Calendar. The seven rounds are said to represent the bond for seven lives but the other more accurate reason for doing this ritual is to pray for the long life of one's life-partner. It is said that cells take around 12 years to regenerate and one round is equal to 12 years. Seven rounds add up to 84 years which means long life for the husband," said Abhyankar who observed a fast besides adhering to the rituals.
Practice has its root in the Mahabharata
Even the Mahabharata mentions a tale related to the Vat Purnima. The epic narrates the story of King Asvapati and his consort Malavi who wished to have a son. They prayed to God Savitr whose boon helped them have a daugter. They named the daughter Savitri. After growing up, when she decided to marry her husband, Satyavan, sage Narada told her father that Satyavan would die in a year's time. Three days before the scheduled death, she kept a fast. After Satyavan died, she kept his body under a banyan tree and followed Yamaraj, the God of Death, who was carrying the husband's soul to Yamalok (Yama's land).
She managed to convince Yama to give back her husband's life. The tradition continues and women pray on this day for long life and association with their husband.
The search for Banyan Tree
The banyan tree is considered auspicious also because of this tale. Those who cannot find a banyan tree due to increased urbanisation can get a plant of the banyan tree at home for prayers. For others if that is also not possible, they merely fast for the long life of their husband. Ketki Patwardhan was one such person. "I kept fast because we were travelling and it was difficult to find a tree close by," said Patwardhan. Some others visit temples in the locality as they normally have a banyan tree.