Come Dasara and the entire community in the region celebrates it in a unique way by exchanging leaves of a tree of the Bahunia Species.
This custom has largely followed in parts of Maharashtra and North Karnataka for ages. What has changed however is a case of convenient mistaken identity on account of the lack of knowledge regarding Botany.
Apta Tree or Bahunia racemosa is the original species from which the leaves were taken for exchange.
Bahunia racemosa-the Apta Tree
However, the tree is rare, often found in deep forests, and a protected species on account of its medicinal properties which include anti-cancerous properties and the ability to cure gastric ailments. Quite conveniently, people have switched over to exchanging leaves of other trees of similar species especially the Basavana Pada/Phanera purpurea/the Orchid Tree which is the one that has lovely pink flowers and larger leaves. Over 90% of all the leaves sold in the market for the cause are from the species that was not marked in tradition. The Basavanapada tree is more commonly found and is grown as a short avenue tree/flowering shrub which grows to a height of about 20 ft. This replacement symbolizes how things have evolved to be a matter of convenience over time. Well, as the sellers say, Who knows the difference?!!!
In quite literally the “Golden Age”, the ritual was of exchanging gold coins as a mark of celebration of the “Victory of Good over Evil”. There are references in history that state that the custom originated during the Maratha rule when spoils of war were offered to the deity and symbolically the leaves of the Apta Tree were exchanged by people. There are also references to certain from the Ramayana and Mahabharata that contribute to the significance of the ritual. Also, the religious significance must have evolved out of the medicinal relevance which made Bahunia racemosa such a revered tree.
Although a case of convenient mistaken identity and quite a green paradox, the tradition is wonderful since it promotes bonding between people from various communities. Since the exchange is no longer real gold coins as it was, maybe once upon a time, the change in species does not make a difference as long as people get a reason to come together and celebrate. Plus, Phanera purpurea is easier to grow and adorns the spaces in and around the city in abundance.
Here’s wishing that we grow loads and loads of trees of either or both species to enhance the green cover in the region so that we have a lot of leaves to exchange in the upcoming years.
About the author: Sameer Majli- Founder of Green Saviours, Belagavi