Medicinal value of plants is indicated in folk songs of India; Life style diseases have cure in reverting back to nature
By Ashwani Kumar
| September 20th 2009 12:11 AM | Print
References to the trees and flowers are found profusely in folk song, particularly in songs of worship of plants. Folk songs in praise of Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris Schard. ex. J.C.Wendl), Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.), and Amaltas (Cassia fistula Linn.) are sung, believing these plants are the abode of several Gods and Goddess (Agarwal, 1997).
Religious songs have references to offering of flowers and fruits Palas (Butea monosperma O. Kuntze.), Kachnar (Bauhinia variegata Linn.), and Mahua (Madhuca indica Gmel.) etc bear flowers and fruits which are offered to Gods and Goddess to invoke blessings for the fulfiliment of wishes (Matiyani, 1957).
In Bundelkhand, at the time of the festival of Mamulian girls decorate the spiny, green branches of Babul (Acacia arabica Willd.) with colourful flowers. They offer various fruits to the trees for the fulfillment of their wishes (Sankrityayan and Upadhyaya, 1960). Certain trees like Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.), Palas (Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.), Sandal wood (Santalum album Linn.) find a prominent place in songs sung in religious rites. On auspicious occasions, such as birth of babies, thread ceremonies, marriages and other religious functions, all have associations with mandaps made from bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris Schard. ex. J.C. Wendl) and plant culms, the paintings of floors with sandal (Santalum album Linn.) and the decoration of doors with mango leaves. In thread ceremonies Palas (Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.) is an essential item (Uppadhyaya, 1960).
On important occasions, when man feels that his efforts and work are enough to bring forth result, he begins to depend on good and bad omens and oracles and totems Anonymous (1959). To get leaves of peepal ( Ficus religiosa Linn.), to burn camphor in a sandalwood (Santalum album Linn.) lamp, to wear a garland of Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.), or to keep plants of basil and sandal wood in the house are symbols of wealth and religious faith. It is believed that if basils fruits are put on the head of a person at the time of death, he goes to heaven. It is considered bad to pluck flowers in afternoon. In Uttar Pradesh even folk songs for children prohibits the cutting of peepal (Ficus religiosa Linn.), banyan (Ficus bengalensis Linn.) and sandal (Santalum album Linn.) trees . In Kumoan , cutting of timber after sunset is believed to attract illness of children (Anonymous, 1959) .
Childless women do a number of totems for having a son . In Bhojpur, the offering of sesame (Sesamum indica Linn.), rice (Oryza sativa Linn.) etc to the sun near a river bank is a totem (Upadhyaya, 1960). Tribal women offer many totems on bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris Schard. ex. J.C.Wendl) or babul (Acacia arabica Linn.) for successful completion of son’s marriage. The people of Oudh believe that if flowers of Ketaki (Pandanus fascicularis Linn.) and Palas (Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.) are touched to the body of a snake bitten person accompanied with some Mantras, he is cured .
The use of flowers in decorating hair is a speciality of Bihar, Gujrat and several other states. According to Gujrati folk songs Rama fell in love with Sita mainly due to the beautiful floral decoration of her hair.
Sandal (Santalum album Linn.), turmeric (Curcuma domestica Valeton.) and other plants are used in the formation of a paste for improving the complexion of a bride . Brides use sandal (Santalum album Linn.), rose (Rosa damascena Mill.) to perfume their body. References to the use of palas(Butea monosperma O.Kuntze.) for dying clothes are common in folk songs, particularly of Kumaon. In Bengali songs, references are made for decorating the walls of houses with straws of rice (Oryza sativa Linn.) and several flowers (Agarwal, 1997) .
The vast knowledge of plant utility, geographical occurrence and biology and phenology in whatever crude manner the man understood them, resulting in such an association with them that the plants entered his folklore, idioms and phraseology. Scores of examples of this can be picked up from Indian folk literature. Plants have been used to characterize the different region of the states also. For example:
Aonla , aonla Mewar Bawul , bawul Marwar:
Here plants are used to distinguish Mewar from Marwar. English rendering would be Cassia auriculata Linn. Characterizes Mewar, whereas Acacia nilotica Indica. characterizes Marwar.
Below is the statement of Raja Bheem where he uses names of plants to distinguish his own land from that of his enemies in Rajasthan.
“Wherever the Aonla (Cassia auriculata Dell.) put forth its yellow blossom, the land is of right ours; we want nothing more, let them enjoy their stunted Babuls (Acacia nilotica Indica.), their Kureels (Capparis deciduas), the aak (Calotropis procera) but give us our sacred Peepal (Ficus religiosa Linn.) and the Aonla of the border .” [ English rendering by Todd , (1829) ]
Like songs and folk proverbs, the folk tales also have references to the association of plants with good and bad omens. They discuss the resemblance of human beings with birth and several other characteristics of plants.
In the story of Tulsi, it is said that when Sati Vrinda cursed Vishnu and made him a black stone (which the Hindus call Shaligram) then Vishnu also cursed Vrinda and made her the Tulsi - the plant Basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.). About the Peepal ( Ficus religiosa Linn.) and Palas (Butea monosperma O. Kuntze.), it is said that once Parvati became angry with Vishnu and Brahma and cursed them. The result was that the first Peepal (Ficus religiosa Linn. ) tree was created from the body of Vishnu and the first Palas (Butea monosperma O. Kuntze.) tree was created from the body of Brahma ( Chaturvedi , 1965 ).
Thus, from the very ancient times, Indian folk life has not only been including trees, plants and flowers as members of their own family but has also found in them the image of God (Jain, 1958). It is for this reason that the songs, tales and other expressions are replete with deep affection for trees and plants .
Every plant existing on this planet has economic qualities either edible, medicinal or commercial (Kaushik , 1988). The plants used in cosmetics donot merely enhance beauty but have definite medicinal value also (Sharma, 1979). They are being tested since time immemorial and proved to have side benefits in place of adverse effect generally produced by synthetic and chemical based harmful products (Parashar, 1965). A number of plants may be processed in cosmetics which are in great demand in India and abroad likely (Upadhayaya, 1985) For Chunekar , 1969 ; Nandkarni , 1975 , Acacia concinna DC. Vern. Shikakai ; Pods are blended into shampoo and hair cleanser with Sapindus mukorossi Gaertn Vern. Ritha to promote hair growth and to stop hair splitting, falling and dandruff.
Dyes are also obtained from flowers of Butea monosperma O. Kuntze. (Palas) , Caesalpinia sappana Linn. (Bakam) and leaves of Tectona grandes. Red dyes from Caesalpinia coriaria Willd. (Divi-divi.) . Indian ink is prepared from the bark and leaves of Terminalia catappa Linn. Blue dyes from leaves of Indigofera tinctoria Linn.(Neel) and the root of Petrocarpus santalinus Linn. (Rakta Chandan) ( Jain , 1997 ) .
Khejiri ( Prosopis cineraria Linn.) is most common tree in the Thar desert of Rajasthan . They are grown all over the crop fields . Crops like millets, moth ( Phaseolus aconitifolius Jacq.),Curry beans ( Phaseolus lunatus Linn.), moong (Phaseolus mungo Linn.) leaves and oil seeds grown well in combination with it . Recent researches indicate that it brings up moisture and nutrients from underground soil for crop grown above . The leguminous plants or trees in field also fix nitrogen by nitrogen fixing bacteria in the root nodules and green manure to the soil by their leaf fall .
Leaves of Trigonella foenum - graecum Linn.(Methi) are placed with clothes to protect them from insects . Oil used as luminant and cooking medium is obtained from seeds of Derris indica Benth.( Karanja ). Being fragrant , Sandal ( Santalum album Linn.) and wood is burnt in temples . Twings , wood , bark of Indigofera oblogifolia , Acacia nilotica spp. and A. indica are used for brushing teeth . The vegetable lime used in Ceylon in betels is obtained by burning the bark of Terminalis alata Heyne . ex.Roth.(Asan , Sain , Saj ). Charcol of Acacia catechu Willd. (Katha)is used in iron smelting. The stem of Abrus precatorius Linn.(Chrimiti)is used by jewellers to increase adhesion while soldring delicate ornament
A few trees such as Santalum album , held sacred by Hindus . Dried inflorescence of Prosopis cineraria Linn. ( Khejiri ) is held sacred by the Vaishnavas . Achyranthes aspera Linn. ( Chirchiri )is used scared payees in Rajastan desert. Leaves of Bauhinia racemosa Lam.(Mawal ,Ashta)and B.vahlii Wight. and Arn. ( Mahul )are used . Cooling screens in hot weather are prepared from Alhagi pseudo-alhagi Linn.(Javasa)
Marking of the foreheads by Hindus .
Paste of sandalwood ( Santalum album Linn.) and shikakai ( Acacia concinna DC. Vern. ) shikakai is used for marking on the forehead. Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb. (Bijsal) ( Papilionaceae ) provides gums useful for medicines and industries . The local tribal usually collect gums for contractors . A number of timbers are used for making instruments particularly Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb. ( Bijsal ) ( Papilionaceae ) and Terminalia alata for drums (Jain, 1965a ).
The adulterants or similar crude drugs, which are of low value, are sometimes used as substitutes, which results in poor effects and whole sustem is discredited. Thee is an urgent need to develop a system based on herbal medicinal of two basic philosophy of the Ayurveda based on vatta, pitta, cough which aims on improving the inner strength of the body and not only causing symptomatical affects.
During recent conference Japan, it was agreed that a large number of disease of modern society are of life style disease and the use of herbal medicines can over comes such problems (Kumar 2000). More over several difficult diseases have problem related with vitality, diabetes, memory loss, could be cured effectively by use of herbal medicine, which is generally not possible by the Allopathic medicines. However, there is no systematic documentation of this information.