FLOWERING TREES IN INDIA by M. S. RANDHAWA

I also saw the white
champak, Plumeria alba, prodigally scenting the air with its fragrance in obscure
corners of the grounds of many bungalows. Scattered in the Civil Lines were many
frangipanis, conspicuous on account of their gaunt limbs which in the month of April
were clothed in clusters of giant leaves and capped with the most delicately scented
pale yellow flowers.

In a corner of a Deputy Collector's house was a Kleinhovia,
its branches crowned with delicate pink flowers and covered with heart-shaped
leaves. At the entrance of my house was a clump of Easter trees which in the month
of April appeared most attractive, their fragrant white flowers contrasting with
their dark branches. Captivated by their beauty, I felt annoyed with the person who
gave them the horrid name of Holanhena anti-dysenterica.

However, it was in the fifth century A.D., when Kalidasa and Vatsyayana
flourished, that the Hindu mind was fully in touch with nature, the beautiful trees
and flowers and graceful sarus cranes with the countryside resonant with their
melodious voices. Kalidasa describes the asoka tree in most of his plays, and
in his Ritusamhata he gives charming descriptions of most of our indigenous
beautiful trees which flower from month to month. In his description of spring he
describes the mango tree bent with clusters of coppery red leaves, and their branches
covered with light yellow fragrant blossoms shaken by the March breezes, which
kindle the flame of love in the hearts of women. He describes the asoka trees with their
graceful drooping young leaves hanging like tassels of silk, covered with coral red
blossoms which make the hearts of young women sasoka (sorrowful). He describes
jungles of dhak (kimsukd) resembling a blazing fire waving in the wind, making the
earth appear like a newly-wedded bride with red garments. How aptly he compares
the scarlet flowers of dhak with the bright red beaks of parrots ! In his description
of women's toilet he mentions that they paint their bodies with the fragrant paste of
white sandal and cover their breasts with garlands of snow-white jasmines, and
perfume their beautiful heads with champak blossoms. In the rainy season, women
decorate their heads with garlands of kadamba, kesara, kakubha and ketak flowers. It
is thus that Kalidasa describes the toilet of Shakuntala :
The siris blossom, fastened o'er her ear
Whose stamens brush her cheek;
The lotus-chain like autumn moonlight soft
Upon her bosom meek.


The kachnar trees, which in February appeared so unattractive with their
dark, leafless branches, produce a rich harvest of pink, white and purple-mauve
blossoms, and for full one month they add colour and charm to the landscape. The
delicate blossoms of kachnar trees fill one's heart with bliss and soothe the eyes.
Kachnar s are followed by semal, the giant silk-cotton trees, so common in the Kangra
Valley. The gaunt limbs of the semal are decorated with cup-like scarlet flowers,
and the tree reminds one of the goddess Lakshmi, with numerous arms, holding scarlet
lamps on the palms of her outstretched hands. The sombre mango groves suddenly
begin to pulsate with life and produce pale yellow blossoms in profusion. Attracted
by the fragrance of the mango blossoms, kotls come to the mango gardens, which are
filled with the pleasant echoes of their calls. By the middle of March, spring is in its prime.

Swings are put up among the blossom-covered branches of trees in which bees
are humming, enjoying the fragrance of the flowers. The spring is in full bloom and
great are love and joy. Jasmines open their buds and fill the air with their perfume.
The sky is clear blue like the Mansarover lake, and the sun and the moon are its
giant blossoms.


The spring slowly ripens into summer. By the first week of April it starts getting
warm. Most of the trees produce new leaves, and the umbrella-like pakurs get covered
with coppery leaves and appear most charming. When the slanting rays of the even-
ing sun strike the young leaves of pakur, they appear like a cloud of fire. In damp
places, myriads of fire-flies are seen twinkling like stars, and "weaving aerial dances
in fragile rhythms of flickering gold." Dry leaves of trees fly about, and weird
bonfires are seen under mahua trees. The air is heavy with the fragrance of nim
and sirisha flowers, and the quiet of the night is disturbed by the rattling noise
of sirisha pods. The rust-red young leaves of mahuas are tipped with gold in
the rays of the morning sun. Gul mohurs are flushing into vivid scarlet, and it is
getting warm.


The moist air of Sawan is drenched with the fragrance of jasmines, and the
Queen of the Night and mehndce exhale delicate fragrance. The white flowers of
gardenia are studded over the hedges like stars in the dark blue sky. "The golden-
glowing champak buds are blowing by the swiftly flowing streams."

Describing the toilet of women of his age, Kalidasa observes : "The women
of Alakapuri rub the dust of lodhra flowers on their cheeks, maghya flowers decorate
their temples, kuruvaka flowers hang from the knots of their hair and sirisha flowers
decorate their ears. In the monsoon, kadamba flowers glorify the heads of these charm-
ing women and they carry pink lotuses in their hands." Even now the women of
Maharashtra decorate their tress-knots with the white champak, "the moon hanging
by the mountain", and wear bracelets of jasmine round their wrists. Garlands of
jasmine and bela are popular all over India during summer, for we have always
had a sensitive appreciation for the fragrance of flowers. While the Europeans
feasted their eyes on colour and developed beautifully-coloured flowering annuals,
Indians packed their gardens with sweet-smelling flowering creepers, shrubs and
trees.


Sawan is the month of lovers, amorous and passionate. In the cool and fragrant
breeze of Sawan, lovers who are parted feel unhappy and long for each other. Brides
away from their husbands feel sad. Lovers who are united watch the dark, rolling
clouds and the flashes of lightning. Cleaving the dark clouds with their golden legs are flights of white cranes, who provide a thrill to the lovers drunk with the joy of the rainy season.

There are also a number of trees and shrubs which emit fragrance at night
time, especially during rains, such as Gardenia lucida, G. Jlorida, G. latifolia and Cestrum nocturnum. These can be planted to their best advantage opposite windows and
doors of bedrooms, so that one may enjoy their fragrance in the evenings, particularly
in the summer months.




A native of China; propa- gated by seed. raat-ki-rani (Cestrum nocturnum), papra (Gardenia latifolid) and laung mushk fill the air with delightful fragrance and are very desirable in the hot and rainy months. I can- not forget a joyful evening in a bungalow at Dewaldhar in Almora district in the month of May where the white flowers of laung mushk were studded all over a dwarf hedge. At sunset the verandah was filled with the delicate scent of this species of Gardenia and coupled with the warmth of the air it induced a feeling of relaxation and happiness which the legendary lotus-eaters might well envy. Champa and laung mushk are great favourites with the people of Kangra Valley, and in gardens in Dharamasala and Palampur the air is filled with the heavy scent of these flowers at night time. With the background of snow-covered Dhaula Dhar which glistens like a lump of silver in the full moon, and the gurgling sound of numerous streams and rivulets, Kangra Valley appears like a fairy land. Perhaps it was an evening in this part of India that Sarojini Naidu described as :

Where the golden, glowing
Champak-buds are blowing,
By the swiftly-flowing streams,
Now, when day is dying,
There are fairies flying
Scattering a cloud of dreams.


Mehndi (Lawsonia alba) has an important function in the toilet of women in the East.
Women stain the palms and soles as well as their nails with crushed mehndi leaves.
It is also used for dyeing hair, and flame-coloured beards of mullahs owe their rich
coppery tints to mehndi. Mehndi is the Camphire of Palestine andHennah of Iran, and
Pliny called it the Cypress of Egypt. It is commonly grown in India, Afghanistan
and Iran, and is valued as much for the red dye of its leaves, as for the delicate
fragrance which its flowers exhale at evening time in the months of June and July.

A har singhar tree planted in the eastern part of the compound of a house oppo-
site the verandah used for sleeping can be a source of great pleasure during the
months of September and October. After dark, the fragrance of the night-opening
flowers of har singhar fills the atmosphere. A small cemented pool may be constructed
below the tree for collecting the flowers. Every morning in the autumn months you
will see myriads of flowers with their orange-coloured corolla tubes resting on the
surface of water on their spoke-like snow-white petals.

The champak tree was very popular with the ancient Hindus and we find it sculp-
tured in Kushan Mathura about 2,000 years ago. Even now champak flowers are
used by the women of Bengal in their coiffure, and the delicate fragrance of their
amber petals adds to their subtle charm.

The cathedral-like alignment of the shafts of chir pines shooting towards the
sky, smooth, pure and inflexible, with their round and plump crowns, is a reminder
of the Himalayan forests with their peace and silence. Kadamba groves with their
silence and perfume remind us of the happy forests of Vrindavan where
Krishna roamed with the milkmaids, and no doubt they will provide the glad-
ness and freshness of the rainy season to the citizens of Chandigarh. Forests of yellow siris with their smooth, light yellow and barkless boles emit a strange golden light ; there is a warm and russet glow at their base, and a blue ethereal mist covers their top.

The Himalayan meadows carpeted with
brilliant alpine flowers, the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas with their pine-
scented forests and the brilliantly coloured rocky trans-Himalayas will draw lovers
of natural beauty like a magnet from all parts of the world. What will they sec in
the plains on their way to the Himalayas ? If we transform the land into a colourful
place by planned planting of flowering trees, the visitors will carry back happier
impressions. Just as the Japanese invite foreigners when cherries blossom in their
country, we can also call them when the bauhineas are covered with a mantle of
purple and mauve flowers in the month of March, and when our roads become a blaze
of colour with flowers of gul rnohur, amaltas and pcltophorum in the month of May.

We also should not neglect the villages, where village schools, panchayatghars
and temples can be planted with ornamental trees. In the Punjab, the villagers plant
bakain (Persian lilac) around the bullock-runs of wells fitted with Persian wheels.
These clumps not only provide shade for bullocks and men, but also appear very
beautiful in March when they are covered with sweet-scented, lilac-coloured flowers.
Village community houses (panchayatghars) which are jointly owned by the village
and arc usually under the supervision of rural development organizers and panches
(the elected representatives of the village), provide ample scope for planting of
ornamental trees. Small nurseries of flowering trees can be raised in the compounds
of village schools and panchayatghars and can serve as foci of tree-planting activities.