Nature Diary: Amaltas, The Golden Shower Tree!
PALASH TREE, TESU FLOWER – THE NATURAL WAY OF PLAYING HOLI
Holi, The festival of colours, is one of the most important festivals of India. My memory of Holi dates back to my childhood when we used to stay in Modi Nagar. I remember how I played Holi in the colony, with my friends. We used to drench ourselves in a pool full of coloured water, dance to popular songs, and eat delicious food. The gujias and thandai were my favorite! We later shifted to Mumbai and enjoyed a colourful Holi with friends each year. The colours we used were mostly kumkum, yellow and green colours.
One day, in Mumbai, I visited my relative’s place with my parents. It was the first time that I was meeting them. I met my cousin, Tesu, while there. Tesu is a name that I had heard for the first time as it is an uncommon name. So I asked my aunt what it meant as we usually keep names with beautiful meaning to them.
And she told me that its the name of a flower that belonged to a tree called Palash. The flower is an attractive orange in colour and is used for making Holi colour. I was reminded of how children from earlier days collected these fallen orange flowers. They collected them along with the broken tree stems much before Holi. These flowers were then soaked overnight in a tub full of water a day before Holi to get a rich yellow colour. This colour was used for playing Holi. It is soothing and good for skin. The stems collected from the tree were used for Holika Dahan.
She explained to me that the close relation between Holi and Tesu flowers was because the season of Holi and the flowering of Palash were both aligned with Spring.
I heard the names of prominent Indian fruit bearing trees such as mango, flowering trees such as Gulmohar and giant Indian trees such as Neem, Peepal, Banyan, etc. before, but Palash tree was something that I had heard of for the first time. So a new name was entered into my tree dictionary .
As the years passed, I saw new Holi colours enter the market and the children using these dangerous chemical colours.Throwing water balloons became a common practice. New styles of celebrating Holi such as rain dance, DJs and loud music became more common. Although I still enjoyed the festivity, thoughts of wastage of water, damage to skin and environment, and hurting people accidentally started concerning me.
The concept of organic colours started making the headlines and I heard of various organic colour workshops. When I attended one of these sessions, I heard and was reminded of Tesu flower and the yellow colour made from it during the olden days.
To my surprise, when I checked with some of the elderly people that I knew, they were either unaware of it or perhaps it was something that had gotten erased from their memory over the years. And the thought behind it was that since there were so many new varieties of colours in the market, there was no need to take the trouble of making colours at home. One can easily make Holi colours at home with locally available dried flowers like Hibiscus and Marigold and wet colours with dried Palash tree flowers, Beetroot or Palak.
It’s quite surprising that over the years our style of celebrating festivals has changed drastically and so much so that we have lost the true essence (colour) of the same. As they say, change is the only thing constant in this world. We human beings are always engaged in finding new ways of doing things. But newness at the expense of the environment should not be acceptable as it takes years to rectify its side effects.
And hence my quest for finding Palash tree grew deeper. First I tried to find out how the tree looked and I came across the following information and facts about the tree.
Palash tree is native to India. It is a medium sized, sacred tree and it is referred to as the treasurer of Gods and symbolizes the moon. It is also the State flower of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
The leaves are large and they are in trifoliate formation. Most of it’s leaves fall during Dec and Jan before the bright and pleasing orange flowers start to bloom in clusters on its branches. This tree is a sight to behold when in full bloom, especially so because most trees around it are bereft of leaves. It is called The Flame of the Forest for this reason. Once these flowers fall off the tree they decorate the ground with hundred of scattered flowers that appear to be a beautiful orange carpet .
This flower has a historical and cultural legacy in history, art, literature and fiction. Ranging from Rabindranath Tagore’s Ore Grihobhashi to finding its mention in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Palash is in its full glory, just before Holi, and is emblematic of prosperity, according to many indigenous communities.
In India, Palash is an important host for the lac insect, which produces shellac. Of all the lac trees, it yields the most lac stick per hectare. The tree is very useful in the recovery of salt lands. Farmers frequently use Palash to stabilize field bunds as well as for erosion control. According to experts, this tree can make livable conditions for other trees even on a salty land, where otherwise they can’t thrive.
There are also white and yellow flowered Palash trees which are very rare to find. The petals of the flower are curved and have a beak shaped keel that looks like a parrot and hence it is also known as the parrot tree.
These flowers are also used to worship Shiva on the occasion of Shivratri. The flowers are visited by a host of organisms – birds and butterflies. Because of the peculiar shape of the flowers, mosquitoes get trapped in them and larva laid by them don’t get hatched. Even when the tree is not in bloom, it is frequently visited by a number of birds.
The tree is of great medicinal use. Its flowers as well as seeds are used for curing many health ailments like joint pains, diarrhea, urinary disorders, etc. The tree’s leaves resemble banana leaves and are hence used for making degradable, environment friendly disposable plates. The tree grows in dry conditions and is drought resistant.
The tree’s wood is used in Hindu fire rituals called yagna and is also used in various other important ceremonies. The tree provides wood, resin, fodder, medicine, gum and dye. The fruits that the plant bears are shaped like flat pods and each fruit contains a single seed within itself.
But alas to my surprise, the tree which is so useful and an indispensible part of the celebration of spring is hard to be found anywhere. When I searched for this tree in my vicinity, I could locate only one and that too without many flowers on it. I know that this tree can be propagated through seeds, so I decided that I would collect its seeds and make saplings to distribute.
These trees are not only important for us, but also for birds and butterflies. If you notice during spring and summer, we can see trees with lots of orange flowers around. It’s probably nature’s way of attracting birds. Birds get attracted to orange and red colour flowers. They come and sit on them and feed, thus helping trees pollinate. And this is the way they help balance the ecosystem. Thus is the relationship between plants, animals and trees. They look after each other and provide service to each other.
Although we humans regard ourself as superior and are supposed to be the guardians of mother earth, we only enjoy one sided relationship with other creatures, where we just believe in taking and not giving. This one sided relationship results in natural disasters and calamities.
It’s very surprising that most of the trees I have written about till now are sacred trees of India. This shows that traditionally as well culturally we have always worshipped trees. Then why is it that today these trees are not much in number? Why is it that their medicinal uses have remained more in books than in practice? Why is it that today’s generations have not been made more aware of them?
Time has come that as guardians and intelligent creatures on this earth, we celebrate festivals in an eco friendly way by not wasting our resources and using natural colours. Let’s play Holi how nature plays its Holi. Don’t forget to plant a Palash tree so that our future generations have more of these flowers available to them for playing with natural Holi colours. And of course, these natural colours are made from flowers that have fallen to the ground and not by plucking them from the trees.
Let’s all take a pledge this Holika Dahan to make this Flame of the forest, Palash Tree, the Fame of India. And also, we wish you all a Very Happy and Wonderful Holi!
Palash Tree – The Holi Tree!
Picture source: https://i.ytimg.com, https://4.bp.blogspot.com, http://www.photoferry.com, https://pbs.twimg.com
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