Akṣayavaṭa

(‘the imperishable Banyan tree’)

Performing the śrāddha (obsequial ceremony) at Gayā (the famous place of pilgrimage in Bihar) has been a very ancient custom. One of the places where such śrāddha can be performed in Gayā is the Akṣayavaṭa, a huge Banyan tree considered to be extremely ancient. If piṇḍas (obsequial offering of rice balls) are offered under this tree to the departed ancestors, they are believed to enjoy its fruits eternally. Hence the appellation ‘akṣaya’ (= imperishable; hence, eternal).

The śrāddha at the Akṣayavaṭa is to be performed on the northern side at its bottom. Honouring the brāhmaṇas who assist in the ceremony and bowing to the tree itself are important aspects of this ritual.

There is another Akṣayavaṭa in Prayāga (modern Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh). Death at its foot is considered to ensure attainment of the city of Viṣṇu.

One more Akṣayavaṭa exists at Kāśī.