Dec 23, 2008

'Legends of the Ancient Ones' Series

So I finally managed to make Iruvâkshî speak to me of the legends of the plants and trees and here is a really concise version of it –

She inhaled the perfume of the bunch of flowers that set the tree aflame upon which she was leaning. She heaved a sigh and moved a step further, attracted by a bushy growth of Jasmine. Its fragrance filled the air. Jasminum sambac var. 'Belle of India' - Arabian Jasmine 'Belle of India'

She breathed in its strong fragrance and sighed heavily. The thought of her lover afflicted her. Manmatha was agitating her mind with his flowery arrows. The cool blue blooms of the butterfly peas lighted up the early morning sky.Clitoria ternatea - Aparajita (Sanskrit) - Butterfly Pea

It was twisted around a Bilva tree like a lover hanging onto her dear one.

Aegle Marmelos - Bilva/Sivadruma (Sanskrit) - Bael

The sight brought a heavier sigh and her lips dried up. She immediately picked up a bunch of Lantana and sucked its nectar that wet her tongue.Lantana camara var. aculeata - Lantana

As the drops of honey trickled down her throat, a cool breeze whispered something in her ears, carrying with it a stronger fragrance of the nearby rose bush.

Rosa - Rose

Her eyes litup, as though the breeze had informed her of her lover’s arrival. But no! A small hunched figure walked towards her. His disfigured legs crunched the leaves beneath and his yellowing teeth and matted locks made him a terrible sight. Frightened at this sight, she stumbled backwards and leaned once again against the Sorrow-less tree. The touch of it and its fragrance removed her fears away letting her mind think.

She looked at the hunched dwarf in front of her, wearing a beautiful garland of forest flowers around him. She immediately recognized him as her lover, who’d come in disguise. She decided to play his game and looked at him innocently. She greeted him with respect; offered him water to wash his feet, water to quench his thirst, and a mixture of curd, honey, and clarified butter to energize him. The old dwarf looked into her deer-like eyes and said, ‘I’d like to marry you, O’ lady with plantain-like thighs!’

‘I am under my father’s control and hence you should ask him for me,’ replied the beauty shyly.

The dwarf too went to her father and asked for his daughter. Her father replied, ‘My daughter would choose her groom among the assembly of all men.’

Disappointed he came back to the woman who was still leaning against the tree dreamily and said, ‘You father wants you to choose your groom among capable princes. Why would you choose an ugly dwarf among handsome ones!’

At this, the beauty plucked a bunch of flowers and leaves from the tree and placed it on his shoulder and said, ‘I have chosen you right this moment!’

Saraca indica - Asoka - Sorrowless tree

The touch of the nosegay, the fragrance of the flowers, and the promise filled his mind with indescribable delight and he spoke to the tree joyfully, ‘O’ Asoka! I’ve been chosen with your highly pure nosegay and hence you’d be freed from aging and become immortal. You can attain any form that you desire and will bloom flowers as you wish. You’ll be the bestower of desires and endowed with fruits and flowers for all forms of adornment, you’ll be very dear to me. When eaten, your fruits would taste like Amruta (nectar). All kinds of fragrances would emanate from you and would be very dear to the gods. The world would become fearless and happy because of you and this hermitage – highly regarded by Vedas would come to be known as Citrakûta. One who visits this auspicious place gets the fruitions equivalent to Asvamaedha yagnya (a kind of sacrifice) and one who gives up his life here would attain the world of Brahma after death. Since Devî (Pârvatî – wife of Siva) performed tapasya here, she would beget Mahâganapati (Lord Ganesha).

The divine woman described above is Pârvatî and the dwarf is Siva. It’s an incident before their marriage that made the Asoka tree so special and divine. When you say Ashoka, many think of only Polyalthia Longifolia which grows really tall like a narrow pyramid, but the actual Ashoka described in ancient Hindu legends is Saraca indica, which is actually an endangered species. It is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the forests. So anyone who has some space for a tree, get this beauty and help it survive for ages. Its flowers are beautiful and very fragrant and those who grow trees/plants to used its flowers for worship, this is your best choice.

I bought one myself and potted it up. I know, I know, it’s a tree, but someday when I buy a place it’ll go to mother earth directly and flower crazily. Of course it’d be a treat if it flowers in pot but the woman at the Horticultural Society – where I bought it from, looked at me crankily when I said I’m going to pot it up and as ked if it’d flower when small. She said, ‘No way! It needs space,’ (as if I don’t know that) but hoping against hope, I hope it does flower or at least grow some in the pot.

Note: For those interested in the legend's actual source, it's from Brahma Purâna. The description has been changed a bit to suit the post.


splummer said...

I really liked your story! It was very beautiful! Would love to have one of those trees, but it wouldn't live here. I'm a zone 5, freezing cold in the winter! Thanks for stopping by my place!


Gail said...

A lovely story! Your culture has so many riches! Thank you for sharing~~gail

Chandramouli S said...

Hi Sherrie! Welcome to Plantville. Glad you liked your stay.

Hey Gail: Thank you so much.

Thanks For 2 Day said...

Every time I visit I am greeted with a beautiful story! You think such lovely thoughts! And the pictures go along with everything so perfectly...or is it the other way around?! Pictures first, then come the thoughts?? Hmmm...
Anyway, take care of yourself!! Jan

Chandramouli S said...

Hi Jan, Thank you for the comments. They make me come up with more innovative ideas. Thanks to you all!
I go crazy with my cam initially and then link them with the posts that I write.

Rose said...

Chandramouli, You are so creative! I enjoyed how you linked this ancient story with your plants, and I appreciated the explanation. Although I wasn't familiar with the story, I have heard of Siva.

I googled the Saraca indica to see if we had a similar tree here, but it is native to India and other nearby countries only. The photo there showed what a beautiful tree it is. I hope more people would plant it to save it from extinction. Good luck with growing it in the pot--maybe by the time it's big enough, you'll have a permanent place to put it.

Chandramouli S said...

Thank you, Rose. This tree in fact is so sacred especially after that incident and its flowers are dear to Siva (one of the trinity gods in Hindu Legends) but not many people know this. BTW, Pârvatî is wife of Siva and the daughter of Mount Himalaya (personified).

I too hope people save it from extinction but planting it in their gardens. It's so fragrant that you'd know by the smell feet away!