Varanasi Again – 29: A Minor Detour

Cassia fistula/Amaltaas – the Chandelier of the Gods

One of the trees that blossoms with beautiful flowers during this time, this season of Vasant, in the month of Vaishakh, is the Cassia fistula, commonly known as the Amaltaas, or the Golden Shower, and aptly rechristened by Vaishali, my wife, as the ‘Chandelier of the Gods’. True that. It indeed is the chandelier of the Gods. When it blossoms in Vasant, Spring if you will, the tree bursts forth with the most beautiful hue of yellow that one can imagine. In the beginning the tree may have few leaves remaining, to offset the bright yellow, but soon, as the season progresses, the leaves fall off, leaving the whole tree a riot of stunning yellow blossoms. It is a very pleasing color for the eyes. The tree is native to India, and south east Asia, and is also the national tree of Thailand. When the flowers are shed, they carpet the ground beneath the tree in the most wholesome yellow that man can imagine.

Butea monosperma or Palash

The second, (no this is not a ranking system, it is just how the names come to my mind) flower that comes to my mind is the Butea monosperma, or the Palash flower. The tree, again, is native to India, and the Indian subcontinent, and is supposed to have originated in the Indian states of Bihar/West Bengal (ancient names of these states were Anga, and, yes you guessed it right, Vanga). The tree is deciduous in winter, and the flowers blossom in the season of Vasanta (ok, ok – Spring, if you will). The flowers, or the plant, is also known as Kinshuk or Dhaak in some areas of India. They are a deep orange color, tending to red, flame red, and that is why they are also known by some as the ‘Flame of the Forest’. The legendary Indian poet, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Thakur was especially fond of these flowers, and no ‘Spring Festival’ in his ashram Shanti Niketan is complete without these flowers. The flowers can be dried, and crushed to yield a very beautiful dark orange color known as ‘Kesari‘. The tree yields a certain kind of dark wood which is used in many religious rituals, like the fire ritual or agnihotra, and thus the wood is indispensable in several communities across India. Often, when winter is just about to yield to Vasanta, the tree will shed all its leaves, and then the flowers will blossom, presenting a striking contrast against the dark color of the bark of the tree. It is an image one doesn’t forget easily once one has seen it.

Bombax ceiba or Semal

Last, but not the least, comes the Bombax ceiba, known popularly as the Semal tree, or the Cotton tree, or Silk cotton tree, or Malabar cotton tree. The tree is also deciduous in winter, and bursts forth with bright red, or flaming orange, or pale vanilla flowers during Vasanta. The tree is native not only to India, and south Asia, but also to south China. The red flower has five leathery petals which can be used to make color, or prepare a sumptuous feast (yes, they are edible). The capsule of the flower yields very soft cotton, which are actually seeds of the plant, and this cotton is used as filling for pillows. The flowers of this plant vie with those of Kinshuk, or Palash, in beauty and their ability to knock the senses out of any casual observer by the sheer richness of their color. This tree also, like others, is almost totally bald, devoid of leaves, when it blossoms, and thus the naked tree with huge, leathery flowers, shocking red in colour are straight out of a master painter’s palette.

But I have deviated again; wilfully this time, to tell the story of ‘the season’. I will return, presently, to my trip to Varanasi Again……

To be continued……

Check out these Amazon Bestsellers from the author –

The Battle of Panchavati and Other Stories from Indian Scriptures
Daffodils: A Bouquet of Short Stories

By Divya Narain

Additional Professor in Plastic Surgery, doting father, loving husband, newbie author. Love travel and literature. Love reading religion, politics and history!

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