IN JAIPUR AUTUMN SETS IN. AND AT SAVISTA THE PARIJAT BEGINS TO BLOOM.
October and November – the all-too-brief autumn months in Rajasthan – are among the best months of year to be in Jaipur. At Savista, the weather is perfect. There is a delicate chill in the air, a thick carpet of early morning dew makes the spider webs in the grass glitter like diamonds, and the hibiscus flowers lining the pathways shine and sparkle.
This morning we brought in the first blooms of the Parijat. As we write this sitting in the front office, the whole space is redolent with the perfume of the beautiful small white and coral flowers sitting in an antique lamp below the wooden sculpture of the Ashtavinayaka (Ganesha) on the wall.
It is interesting that the Parijat’s blooming has come late this year. In a usual year, the flowering begins in August and more or less coincides with the petering off of the rains. With the gradual onset of autumn, the tree becomes heavy with blooms and by around mid-December, when the coldest season of the year sets in, the flowers stop appearing. During these four months of autumnal weather – one of the best seasons in Rajasthan – the Parijat’s fragrance suffuses the night and early morning air.
But this year saw an unusual monsoon season in our part of the country. The rains began earlier than usual, were heavier than usual, and the season more prolonged than usual, so it was end-September when we received the signal of the impending end of the monsoon, and the accompanying gift of the rainbow (that we reported in our last post ).
Suddenly this week – well into October – we had a storm and what seemed like the final seasonal signal. It rained heavily through the evening and night, and the next morning when we woke up it was to clear skies and a sharp nip in the air. Autumn had set in. And out in the front garden we discovered that the Parijat tree, that had started a hesitant flowering a few days earlier, was already as if overnight weighed down with flowers… Nature making up for lost time…
Incidentally, the flower is the inspiration for one of our garden rooms which is called the Parijat; it is decorated in fuschia and coral, offset by mango yellow and silver grey.
The aromatic and exquisitely beautiful and delicate Parijat flower is celebrated in Indian folklore and mythology. The Parijat tree is worshipped in India as a celestial tree that was brought down from the heavens through divine intervention. It is a symbol of eternal purity and goodness, one of the many things – good and bad – that were thrown up when the oceans were churned during an epic battle between the gods and the demons, the samudramanthan (“churning of the ocean of milk”) symbolic of the never-ending struggle between good and evil. Indra – the king of the gods – wanting to have monopoly control of the tree, carried it away to his own paradise, and it was only due to the efforts of Lord Krishna that the tree was brought down to earth and today continues to delight human hearts.
The Parijat’s intriguing quality of flowering only during the night, and the flowers falling to the ground before the first rays of the sun, has spawned many beautiful myths. One is that the flowers are voluntarily offering themselves to Mother Earth in worship. For this reason, the Parijat flower is associated with the worship of Durga the Earth Mother, and is the only flower that is permitted to be picked up from the ground to be offered in worship (as against the injunction that flowers used in worship must be freshly plucked from the plant).
Incidentally, today is the culmination of the nine day Puja festival – also called Durga Puja and Navratri – an important Hindu religious festival worshipping the Mother Goddess. It is celebrated across India. Today is celebrated as the Tenth Day of Victory ( Vijayadasami), symbolising the victory of Durga also known as Shakti, over the forces of evil (Shakti in Sanskrit means “energy”, the “creative principle in nature”). In essence, Navratri or Durga Puja is a nine day period of prayer and single-minded focus to cleanse ourselves of our own negativities. The tenth day is the day of annual renewal, the day of auspicious beginnings, the beginning of new learnings (vidyaarambham).
There is also the romantic myth of the princess Parijataka who is believed to have fallen in love with the sun god. Despite all her efforts to win his love, she was rejected by him. Heartbroken, she committed suicide and from her ashes sprang a tree with the most beautiful and fragrant flowers. Unable to stand the sight of the heartless lover, the flowers bloom only at night and fall to the ground like tear drops before the sun rises.
As with almost all trees and flowers that are traditionally grown around homes and temples in India, in the case of the Parijat too the flowers, leaves, bark, seeds and fruits are all prized for their multiple functions, including medicinal – immunostimulant, hepatoprotective, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-fungal – properties. Native medicines are made from them in the ancient Ayurvedic tradition. The flowers are also used in homeopathic medicine. Oil from the flower is extracted as perfume. And the colours of the flower – brilliant white petals with orange-red centres and a glowing orange-red tube – were traditionally used to dye the yellow silk and cotton robes worn by Hindu priests and Buddhist monks.
The Parijat is native to south Asia, and can also be found across south-east Asia. It is the official flower of the Kanchanaburi province of Thailand (called Karanikaa in Thai), and the state flower of the Indian state of West Bengal (called Shefali in Bengali).
Some botanical information about the Parijat (source Wikipedia):
Botanical name: Nyctanthes arbortristis (night flowering jasmine) also called coral jasmine;
It is classified as a shrub or small tree, growing to 10 m tall with a flaky grey bark. The leaves are opposite, simple, 6 to 12 cm long and 2 to 6.5 cm broad. The flowers have a 5 to 8 lobed white corolla with an orange-red centre; they are produced in clusters of 2 to 7 flowers, with individual flowers opening at dusk and finishing at dawn. The fruit is a flat brown heart-shaped or round capsule, 2 cm diameter with two sections, each containing a single seed. The tree is sometimes called the “tree of sorrow”, because the flowers lose their brightness during day; the scientific name arbor-tristis also means “sad tree”.
Extracts of the seeds, bark, leaves and flowers possess immunostimulant, hepatoprotective, antileishmanial, antiviral and antifungal activities in vitro. The leaves have been used in Ayurvedic medicine and Homoeopathic medicine for sciatica, arthritis, fevers, for various painful conditions, and as a laxative. The flowers and leaves are ingredients in Assamese food recipes.