I suppose many people think that some things are really not of very much use. A few days ago, I read a news item that said that 11 subjects had been dropped from a state school curriculum because there weren’t enough students interested in studying them. Among them were Drawing and Painting, Indian Music and Western Music. It’s one way of looking at things, I guess. For example, how will knowing to play the piano or recognizing Raag Khamaj or drawing a crayon sun shakily rising up between some un-mountain-looking mountains help to make your child a better software engineer or a doctor? Has a poem ever been known to increase the GDP or a song made the Sensex soar? And therefore, what is the point of a tree that doesn’t seem to do much but stand around and scatter the ground with a carpet of white-orange fragrance every morning? No fruit, not much in terms of shade either because it’s often not even a full fledged tree. And what silly flowers, many would say! They bloom at night when we are all asleep and in the morning, they have all fallen to the ground.
Which is why the West calls this tree Nyctanthes Arbortristis. Meaning the night-flowering tree of sorrow (or sadness) because by the time it’s morning, the tree has shed all those flowers like so many cream-and-orange tears. And there’s nothing much you can do with these flowers anyway (sell, wear in your hair, fill a vase with, make into a bouquet to send to your boss/girlfriend/MLA) because they are so fragile that in a matter of hours, they shrivel up into tiny bits of nothingness. Here, in India where this tree probably originated, we call it the parijata. (English – night jasmine, coral jasmine, Indian coral; Hindi – harsinghar, shefalika; Kannada – parijata; Bengali – shiuli; Malayalam - pavizhammalli, parijat kam; Marathi - khurasli, parijatak; Oriya - ganga shiuli; Tamil - manjhapu, pavazhamalligai; Telugu - pagadamalle, parijatamu)
According to the Agni Purana, one of the first things that the Sagar Manthan or the churning of the ocean brought up – after Surabhi the cow and Varuni – was the parijata tree. And then, it went to live in Devaloka as one of the 5 divine Kalpavrksas or wish-granting trees that have the power of granting any wish. I haven’t really tried sitting near a parijata tree and wishing for anything but I thought to myself that it’s not for nothing that it was given this pride of place in the heavenly gardens. So, maybe there’s more to this tree than just pretty little flowers….And there was…
Ayurveda, homeopathy and Unani are all unanimous about the many medicinal properties of the parijata. Almost every part of the tree has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments from rheumatism to dandruff to piles to skin diseases like ringworm. But it’s the leaves that seem to be most commonly used, decoctions of it used by all three systems of medicine in the treatment of all types of fever, especially the persistent type that occurs daily. Ayurveda also uses the leaves to treat sciatica, liver related ailments, arthritis, as a tranquilizer, laxative, purgative and to expel intestinal worms, especially in children.
But what about the flowers, you ask. Ah yes, the flowers. First, indulge me a small eulogy. For me, one of the most wonderful ways of waking up each morning is to rush outside and harvest the parijata flowers. I say “harvest” and not “pluck” because there’s not much to pluck since many are already on the ground, lying there so fragile and defenseless. (According to the Hindu scriptures, flowers found fallen on the ground should not be offered in puja, with two exceptions – the parijata and the bakula!) And the ones still left on tree just need the gentlest tug – anything harder and they despair and disintegrate and leave you feeling the cruelest ogre in the world. And as I gather them one by one, the softest, most exquisite fragrance surrounds me and fills me up every time I breathe – a faint but undeniable presence, just like the flowers. In a few hours, they will be gone, but don’t underestimate these little blooms. Frail and ephemeral as they are, they do more than just fill the morning air with their wonderful scent, packing in a lot into their short lives! The Unani system of medicine uses them as a stomach medicine, to treat flatulence and even as a hair tonic! In Ayurveda, their essential oil is used in treatments. Traditional folk medicine in Central India uses them to treat gout and adds them to the daily bathwater, not just for the fragrance but also because traditional healers believe that they “keep the skin smooth and free from all troubles.”
The parijata flower also has non-medicinal uses, befitting one so beautiful and fragrant. Its tiny, tubular orange stalks have been traditionally used to make a saffron-coloured fabric dye that according to one version was once used to dye the delicate Tussore silks of Bengal! Even to this day, in many parts of Bengal, the sari used to adorn the Goddess Saraswati during the ritual puja is still dyed with this dye! “The parijat is an integral component of home gardens in Chhattisgarh. It is a common belief among the natives that the presence of this herb in home gardens keeps the family tension free.” (Pankak Oudhia in www.botanical.com) And rightly so! How can anyone have angry, quarrelsome thoughts after sniffing the fragrance of the parijata gently wafting in with the early morning air?
But even if the parijata was the most “useless” tree in the world, I will still have at least one in my garden. Because picking the parijata flowers teaches you the lesson of gentleness and patience. That some of the most beautiful things in the world are fragile. Like children and love. Grab greedily or handle roughly and the damage is irrevocable. Touch gently and with gratitude and your life will blessed with their fragrance and with a sense of wonderment. Also, never underestimate Nature or indeed the nature of things. Just because we can’t see the “purpose” or the “use” of a thing, does not mean that it does not have one. So the flautist or the cartoonist in your child may not get him that all-important “percentage” in his PUC or admission into that fancy college. But imagine a world without Lata Mangeshkar or the Beatles or R. K. Laxman’s the Common Man! Or without the parijata.
Source material : Pankak Oudhia’s article in www.botanical.com , Central Council For Research In Homoeopathy (www.ccrhindia.org), Indian Journal of pharmacology and other websites.
There are many versions of the story of Lord Krishna and the parijata tree. Here’s my favourite:
Ever since she saw the parijata, Satyabhama had been fascinated by it. When Lord Krishna killed the demon and went to heaven to return the ear-rings of the Lord Indra’s mother, Aditi, which had been stolen by the demon, Satyabhama accompanied him and sighted the parijata tree and insisted on taking it back with her and Lord Indra had no choice but to part with it. The tree was planted in Dwarka in Satyabhama’s palace. But Rukmini was jealous that Krishna had so favoured her “rival”, Satyabhama. So, Lord Krishna arranged the parijata tree in such a way that it would remain in Satybhama’s palace grounds, but the flowers would fall in Rukmini’s garden!
Maya Tiwari, Vedic monk and world-renowned practitioner and teacher of Ayurveda in her book, “Ayurveda: The Secrets of Healing”, lists seven sacred daily actions which “when observed, bring complete peace to the body, mind and spirit”. Of these seven, “he fifth action is to play, to revel in the universe’s beauty, to appreciate the flowers, streams, light and love cast within nature……..”
The colour of ancient wisdom
“In the ancient times Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics dyed their robes a rich fiery color to show that they had renounced the world. This dye was produced from the very same orange centers of the parijat. When the flowers would fall to the ground, people would collect them and separate the orange tube from the white petals and dry them. Once they were dried they could be used for making this saffron-colored dye. At one time an attempt was made to commercialize this dye as it gave a fine color to cotton and silk but due to the labor intensive nature of its collection and the fact that a good means of fixing it were not obtained the concept was abandoned. Perhaps in the future the study of this dye will be resumed and a cottage industry developed where its beautiful color could be extracted.” Plants of India: by Christopher McMahon