Flush with Palash

My best Basant song is Ketaki gulaab joohi champakban phoole sung by Bhimsen Joshi and Manna Dey. Penned by Shankar Kesarilal who later came to be known as Shailendra, its composers were Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal and Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, the duo world knows as Shankar-Jaikishen.
We are in midst of Basant. In fact, the Basant is already three weeks old. Basant Panchami marks the beginning of spring and falls on the fifth day of Maagh each year. The month of colours, Phagun, is still a few days hence. In Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Kasur and across all of the Punjab, this festival is energetically celebrated as ‘Jashn-e-Baharaan’ (Celebration of Spring).
cropped-flame-of-forest.jpgThe song, Ketaki Gulaab…, was playing on the mobile as I chanced upon patches of ‘flames’ on the horizon on my way to my farm. As I proceeded I came across the roadside littered with ‘flames’. By flame I mean Flame of the Forest or Palash flowers. Its botanical name is Butea monosperma.
The name ‘palash’ comes from Plassey in West Bengal which the world knows. The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757. The battle established the Company rule in Bengal which expanded over much of India for the next hundred years. The battle took place at Plassey (anglicized version of Palashi).
palash on roadsideI have written about Palash earlier but this time around experienced something different: I enjoyed the nectar which sits between the receptacle and peduncle (stalk of the flower). I squeezed it and several drops of liquid, like honey water, entered my mouth. So this is what brings the bees, the ants and the birds in hordes to the orange-red flower of Palash! You need to drink the nectar early in the morning for as the sun rises the nectar dries up, again to be restored in the morning.
I didn’t know that Nature has designed Palash flower to be very energy efficient until I came across a longest piece ever written on the flower. Shubhasish Mitra @muktadhar.org on Flower of Shantiniketan: Palash elaborates: The different orientation of individual buds suggest that each flower of Palash will be aligned differently to the Sun, so that some faces of the whole bunch will always face the Sun. As the petals of an individual Palash flower open at least in 3 directions, combined with each flower making a different angle with the branch, Palash looks bright from all angles of Sun- whether it is dawn or dusk. This is the first rule of geometric symmetry Palash follows- orientation towards the Sun from all conceivable angles. It is in fact a quality most of the flowers adapt, but none so magnificently like Palash.
Calling it an ‘intelligent tree’, he writes further: Imagine solar panels of smaller dimensions (maybe at size of a palm) arranged in a 3D geometrical space like the petals of Palash and then arranged perhaps like the branches- the design may be complex, the idea quite wild perhaps, but it has every theoretical chance to be more energy efficient than flat solar panels!
Though Palash is attributed to have medicinal properties, I came across a first person account in Ashok’s blog, someitemshave.blogpost.in, here he mentions that taking tea made of dried Palash flower has helped him to get relief from his stiff back, acquired due to long hours sitting in front of the computer.
This Sunday I plan to collect as many flowers I can and dry them to be used later.


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