Parijata 2, General Information
Today's newsletter will begin a series on exotic flowers with reference to their use in traditional attars, history, lore and legends, etc. Parijata/Nyctanthes arbortristis, Sona Champa/Michelia champaca, Gulhina/Lawsonia inermis, and several others will be taken up in the months to come. The information is a compositite of personal interactions with the plants, the areas where they grow, etc as well as assembled data from different resources.
In this life, each of us has certain types of experiences we naturally gravitate towards. Some are very pleasant and beautiful and others may be less so, but whatever things come in our path often prove meaningful in making our life more deep and signicant. In my life I have had a deep association with India in many different ways not the least of which has been an intimate involvement with her aromatic plants. Outwardly I do not why this attraction has been so deep, but whatever the reason the experience of connection with these precious jewels of the botanical kingdom has been present in my heart. This next series of newsletters concerns themselves with specific plants and the essences extracted from them. A number of them may not be at all famaliar to you but I hope this sharing of information may delight your heart as much as writing about them(and smelling, touching, and seeing them) has delighted mine. The first plant we are going to explore is Parijata also called Siphali or Harsinghar.
On a general note, I would like to mention that many plants of India aromatic or otherwise, have sacred status in the hearts of the people. For thousands of years these gifts of the plant domain have accompanied people through their life journey and through long experience the secrets of their uses have been revealed to those living in their(the plants) proximity. The practical uses of food, clothes and shelter have been garnered from them along with the aesthetic ones including incense, garlands, perfumes, etc. The same plant may be the source of many things which improve the physical, emotional, mental and spritual lives of the people so it is quite understandable that people should have a deep appreciation, love and affection for them. The delicate parijata flower which grows on the shrub, Nyctanthes arbortris is one such delight. Over the years I have had a chance to come near to this plant on numerous occasions and enjoy the rich odors emanating from it in the night and early morning hours-
Etymology of Nycanthes arbortristis/Parijatat
There is a small tree in India and Southeast Asia called the sorrowful tree (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) [nick tan'
thees ar' bor -- tris' tis]. Its fragrant, white flowers open at night and are a source of yellow dye and an essential oil for perfumes.
Linnaeus gave this tree its botanical name. In many of the things he classified, the names he selected came from myths and legends. Nyctanthes is in reference to the fact that the tree blooms at night. The species epithet, though, hints at a legend that has been lost in the last 400 years. Arbor-tristis literally means tree-sorrowful. It is probable that Linnaeus had read of this tree in John Gerard's The Herbal (1633).
Gerard said of this tree: "set full of leaves...among which come forth most odoriferous and sweet smelling flowers, whole stalks the color of saffron, which flourish and show themselves only in the nighttime, and in the daytime look withered and with a mourning cheer: the leaves also at that time shrink in themselves together...very sadly lumping, lowering, and hanging down the head, as though it loathed the light and could not abide the heat of the sun. I should but in vain lose labor in repeating a foolish fancy of the poetical Indians...that this tree was once a fairy daughter of a great lord, and that the Sun was in love with her."
Description (from Brandis 1906): A large deciduous shrub or small tree, branches quadrangular, rough all over with an uneven epidermis and stiff white hairs. Leaves ovate, acuminate, entire or with a few large distant teeth. Flowers sessile, in pedunculate bracteate fascicles of 3-5, arranged in short trichotomous cymes. Calyx campanulate, indistinctly dentate, corolla-lobes 5-8, white, crenate or emarginate, contorted in bud. Anthers sessile in the orange-coloured corolla-tube. Capsule chartaceous, flat, splitting into two 1-seeded cells, cotyledons flat, radicle
inferior, albumen 0.
How Parijata came to Earth
This plant is no longer available on earth. It was a divine plant that grew in the gardens of Indralok. It became a source of tension between Indra and Krishna, and Lord Krishna finally brought this plant to earth on the request of his consort Satyabhama. This plant is said to have again ascended to Indralok when Lord Krishna left for his heavenly abode. The legend is as follows:
Indra planted the Parijata tree, one of the products of the churning of ‘Ocean of Milk’, in his garden. Narada, who delighted in sowing discord, brought a flower of this tree to Dwarka and presented it to Krishna. He waited to seeto which of his wives Krishna would give the flower. Krishna gave it to Rukmani whereupon Narada went straight to Satyabhama; Krishna’s other consort wearing a sorrowful look. On her inquiry why he was sad, the sage replied that he had presented Krishna with a flower of the Parijata tree thinking that he would present it to her, his favorite wife, but was grieved to find that he had given it to rukmani instead. Satyabhama’s jealousy was roused, and she asked Narada as to what could be done to spite Rukmani. The sage advised her to ask Krishna to bring the Parijata tree itself to Dwarka, and plant it near her abode.
After giving this advice he went back to the celestial region, and informed Indra that thieves were about, and that he should guard Parijata tree with care. Satyabhama repaired to the ‘anger chamber’ and when Krishna came to her and tried to console her, she replied she would not be satisfied with anything less than the Parijata tree itself. Krishna proceeded to Amrawati with Satyabhama, stole into Indra’s garden and uprooted the Parijata tree. Mounted on Garuda, he escaped with the tree but Indra, warned by Narada, followed him. A battle followed and Indra was defeated and Krishna brought the tree to DwarkaNow he had to face the problem of fulfilling his promise to Satyabhama without offending Rukmani. He solved the problem by planting the tree in such a position that while its base and trunk lay within Satybhama’s garden, its branches extended over the adjoining palace of Rukmani, scattering flower early in the morning.
N.B. The parijata tree is believed to be ‘Har Singar’ (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) which shed its flowers at nighttime when they exhale exquisite fragrance
Local Names: Gangasiuli (Oriya), Gotakhadika (Kandha), Singarahara (Santal)
Description of the Plant: Under shrub or shrub. Flower colour white. Flowers in June / July. Fruits in September / October. Abundantly found in forests & uplands, rarely found in plains.
Plant Parts Used: Root / Leaf / Seed.
There is a small tree in India and Southeast Asia called the sorrowful tree (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) [nick tan'thees ar' bor -- tris' tis]. Its fragrant, white flowers open at night and are a source of yellow dye and an essential oil
for perfumes. Linnaeus gave this tree its botanical name. In many of the things he classified, the names he selected came from myths and legends. Nyctanthes is in reference to the fact that the tree blooms at night. The species epithet, though,hints at a legend that has been lost in the last 400 years. Arbor-tristis literally means tree-sorrowful. It is probable that Linnaeus had read of this tree in John Gerard's The Herbal (1633).
Gerard said of this tree: "set full of leaves...among which come forth most odoriferous and sweet smelling flowers,whole stalks the color of saffron, which flourish and show themselves only in the nighttime, and in the daytime look withered and with a mourning cheer: the leaves also at that time shrink in themselves together...very sadly lumping, lowering, and hanging down the head, as though it loathed the light and could not abide the heat of the sun. I should but in vain lose labor in repeating a foolish fancy of the poetical Indians...that this tree was once a fairy daughter of a great lord, and that the Sun was in love with her."
Spiritual Significance of the Flower
The flower itself conveys a very special message to those who know how to read its language. If one closely observes its delicate beauty one will observe that it has a vibrant orange center. This color is a symbol of fire in the Hindu tradition. Fire, in turn, is considered that power which purifies a persons heart and mind so that all desires for the world are consumed. leaving only a pure consciousness which directly communes with the Hidden Power within that has been and is called by many names. The white petals which surround the orange center symbolic of that pure consciousness. 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 separte 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.
Personal Remembrances of the sublime effect of Parijata Flowers Aroma
In India the parijat tree is planted in the precincts of temples because of the sublime atmosphere created by the aroma of its flowers. I know the fragrance of parijatak is dear to my wife Suzanne and I, as we use fo go for a walk about a small temple in the suburbs of Bombay every evening during the month of January. A number of parijatak trees were planted in the shrines vicinity and as we would inhale the deliciousodor of the last flowers of the season,the refreshing fragrance helped sustain the beautiful time we had just spent listening to the words of a great sage whose discourse we had just attended. To this day the memory of that time is quickly awakened when we smell the fragrance of parijat.
Odor of Parijata-
The only true essence of Parijata that I have encountered is in the form of a pure attar. The yield of essential oil or absolute is tiny so it is not commercially viable at this time to prepare anything but the attar. The method for making attar is clearly detailed on the Fragrant Harvest Web Site so I will not repeat that information here
The odor of the attar is deep sweet floral with a rich complex herbaceous almost saffron like note. It has a warm soft sultry nuance, in which the floral-herbaceous bouquet is embedded. It is not an odor that bears much relationship to any flower we know in the West. It is definitely in the category of being an exotic Eastern aroma. The sandalwood oil into which the essence of the flower is adsorbed over a period of 15 days of distillation gives a smoothness and richness to the entire bouquet.