Butea monosperma (Lam.) Taub. or Dhak or Tesu or Flame of the forest or Bastard Teak with whatever name you call this beautiful and sacred tree, the beauty of this tree is such that it attracts the on looker from a distance.
Such is the sight of this tree it mesmerises the person looking at it. Palash or Dhak or Tesu has been videly used by poets in their composition. Jayadeva in Gitagovindam compares the flowers of these trees with nails of cupid or Kamadeva with which he wounds the hearts of lovers.Rabindra Nath Tagore was so fascinated with the colour of these flowers that he too described these flowes as connotation with celebration of life through his famous “Ranga hashi rashi rashi shokey palashey”. Rudyard kipling’s “Plain tales from hills ” describes the onset of summer and wildlife turbulence in Jungle. His famous creation “Jungle Book” where his famous character keeps on saying,”Laal phool jab khilenge ,tab hume shikar milega”. Such is the importance of this tree that it has ben declared as State tree of Jharkhand and Uttar Pardesh.
Palash is also worshipped in India , many ceremonies are linked with it, be it Holi festival of Bengal especially, in Rabindra Bharti University that a festival is held every year. Fire ritual in southern india is incomplete without flowers from this tree.The flowers are offered to Lord Shiva on Shivratri.
Distribution: The Tree is widespread in Indian subcontinent and South Asia as a whole. It ranges from Sub Tropical to Tropical forests.
Uses: The tree as described is a sacred tree whose flowers are offered in prayers , sacrificial rituals, in indian weddings , the tree leaves are made into cups and donas. The leaves are a source of fodder also for the cattle , the tender leaves are often fed to goats and sheep which are a threat to its natural regeneration.The flowers are used for making colour and dyes from the time immemorial.
Palash tree is also used to host lac insect which produces Shellac which finds use in industries for producing jewellery,miniature crafts and it is also used in Pharma industry.
In Ayurveda the tree finds tremendous utilities as a medicine. Palash has almost everything a patient needs, right from eye diseases to diseases of liver, gynaecological disorders, urinary disorders, contraceptives etc.
Eyes: drops of fresh roots extract can cure eye disorders such as cataract etc .
Epilepsy: drops of grinded fresh root is known to cure epilepsy.
Swelling : crushed flowers reduce swelling when tied on the affected area.
Urinary disorders: boiled flowers when tied on the lower abdomen can cure stopped urine.Overnight soaked flowers water when taken with Mishri can cure kidney pain,it can also stop flow of blood in urine.
Seeds: fungicidal and bactericidal property is exhibited by seeds of Palash, which are videly used in case of such disorders.Seeds are also known Antihelmintic. Seeds can also stop pregnancy.
Wood: the wood of tree is not of much industrial importance but it is sometimes used to make charcoal. The wood forms excellent coal thats why its called ‘Bastard Teak” because of its strength and high calorific value.
Gum: Butea yields significant amount of gum also known as “Bengal kino” which is further used as a dye or tanin.The tanin obtained is used in tanneries for leather tanning.
Waste land management: the palash tree is used to manage field bunds erosion, because of its hardy nature its planted in open areas which reduces soil erosion.The tree has good fibrous root system which binds the soil very well thereby reducing erosion.
Conservation of Palash: Due to lack of proper conservation the no. of trees are reducing .Due to overpopulation the forest land is shrinking which is adversely affecting the Palash. Also because of over use of plastics the villagers are no longer making donas and cups thereby weakening of rural economy. Insects and pest damage all parts including leaves, roots , seeds etc. which can also be managed by various IPM techniques available. A park dedicated exclusively to Palash may be made in the vicinity of Jammu district near Mahamaya hills where some trees are in full bloom.
In the end, I would like to say that Palash is a mesmerising tree, a tree of heaven I must say. No one can escape turning head when a palash is in bloom. Praising such a wondeful tree is like putting ocean in a pot . I remember a line from Doordarshan serial which was used to be aired in the Nineties ( namely pachhpan khambe laal deevarein)
“Jab Jab Mere Ghar aana tum, Phool Palash ke Le aana Tum.”
(The author is a KAS officer, and is presently serving as Secretary SSB)