Saturday, December 3, 2011

A tree of sorrow and its flowers that are teardrops

Once upon a time in a kingdom in India was a princess. Her name was  Parijathika. She fell in love with the Sun. After years of waiting and pleading, she realized that her wishes were in vain. She committed suicide. From her ashes arose a plant. It grew fast, and started flowering. The plant and its flowers were named parijatham, after the princess. The fragrant blossoms opened only at night so that they won’t have to see the Sun. They fall off in the morning. They are the teardrops of Parijathika.

Parijatham thirumizhi thurannu…. (parijatham flower has opened its royal eyes….) is a famous song that the Malayalis (Mallus) have loved for decades. Though it is a native of Southeast Asia (Pakistan to Thailand) not many people are familiar with parijatham. Actually I don’t even remember seeing one. We have a plant with beautiful white flowers which is locally called parijatham. But it is a day-flowering one. I have given its photo in the post Can you help identify these flowers form Olavipe?

Then, last week I met Prof. Joy Joseph at a luncheon party at the Cochin Suburban Club. He had been the Secretary of Ernakulam District Agri-Horti Society for nine years and has organized several flower shows. I asked him about parijatham. He got me its botanical name Nyctanthes arbor-tristis and said that in English it is called night flowering jasmine. Later on I found that it is also referred to as coral jasmine and tree of sorrow. I believe that arbor-tristis literally means sad tree. It belongs to the Oleaceae family. Parijatham is the Malayalam name. Some of the names in other languages are given in the ‘Labels’ section below.

Well, parijatham is not really a tree. It grows to a height of only a few meters. More like a shrub. The 1-2 inch flowers are beautiful and highly fragrant. Though they fall off in the morning, the aroma lingers in the air for hours. Parijatham is a divine flower and is used for worship by the Hindus and Buddhists. I believe that they are not to be plucked from the shrub. Only the fallen ones are taken.

Apart from the story of the princess falling in love with the Sun, there are two other stories that I came across about its origin. One is that, according to the Puranas, parijatham was found during the Palazhi Madhanam (Churning of the Sea of Milk)

Another episode states that Sri Krishna stole a branch of the parijatham tree from the heavenly garden of Indra. His wives Satyabhama and Rukmini were staying in adjoining houses. Each wanted parijatham to be planted in her garden. Sri Krishna placed the plant in a slanting manner in one garden so that when it grew up the flowering would be over the other garden.     

It is claimed that all parts of parijatham except perhaps its roots have great medicinal value. It is used for gout, piles, dry cough, skin problems, ring worm, intestinal worms, certain gynecological troubles, chronic fever and as purgative. Hair tonic is also made from parijatham.

Parijatham is not to be confused with ‘nishagandhi (Queen of the night or night-blooming Cerus plant). Incidentally, in the post Visit of a queen I have given sequential photographs of a nishagandhi flower opening. Please do have a look at it.

West Bengal State, India and Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand have parijatham as the official State flower.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The ancient painting of Sri Krishna uprooting or planting parijatha is in the public domain and is taken from Wikimedia Commons.

The photos are by  J.M.Garg of Calcutta. 
They are reproduced here from Wikimedia Commons under



Very interesting post. The coral stems have given the flowers the name pavazha malli in Thamizh, and their smell is divine. Garlands are made threading the flower through the stems so that the coral colour alternates with the white petals, and the result is simply beautiful. As children we used to thread them on the stems of the coconut leave (kuchhi). We had one in our garden dosnstairs but lost it when the there was water shortage here in the 90s.

Jai Valan said...

Without knowing the name or story behind Parijatham plant i have planted it out side my neighbour identified n said the flower was Parijatham... and she said this was kept only in temples..the flowers r so beautiful....I searched in google n your blog interesting n came to know abt the story behind the i want to know if this plant can be planted in houses?