The Night Jasmine or the Coral Jasmine has a unique story behind it. But before I tell the story I must warn the readers that our mythology and religion is rampant with intriguing stories – stories that might very well keep you awake many a thousand Arabian Nights.
Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, popularly known as the night Jasmine or as the Bangalis have named it ‘Shiuli’, is the only flower that can be picked from the ground and offered as prayers to the gods. The other flowers need to be plucked from the trees and the fallen ones are not considered holy enough to be offered. So what makes the Shiuli so special?
There are a couple of stories about Shiuli and how it came to be the way it is. It so happened that during the Samudra Manthan process, why the gods needed to churn milk from the sea waters is in all likelihood a very classified information to this day, nevertheless, without digressing further, the manthan churned up not just milk but also the enchanting Parijat, the tree bearing shiuli. Krishna was so enthralled by the ethereal beauty of the plant that he battled with Indra to possess her. It was not only Krishna who was mesmerized by the beauty and the fragrance of Shiuli but his wives too were drawn to it. He therefore planted the tree at Satyabhama’s courtyard but much to her ire the flowers fell on Rukumini’s garden. Hence ensued another bitter imbroglio amongst them. Of course Krishna with all his clever and wit put their differences to rest.
There is another lore about Shiuli. It so happened that Parijat had lost her heart to Surya the sun god. After much ado Surya agreed to marry her, but he had a condition, if ever Parijat was to turn herself away from him, she would lose him forever. Parijat was so elated that Surya finally agreed to be hers, that she was willing to accept the condition put forth without realizing the implications of it.
Parijat and Surya led a blissful married life, full of love and desire for each other throughout autumn, winter and spring. With the advent of summer the climate changed and it became excruciatingly hot, especially in the afternoons. One such afternoon, Surya wanted to visit his loving wife and be by her side. When Surya came before Parijat, the heat nearly burnt her up and she flinched for a moment, breaking the promise she made to her husband before they got married. In his rank and anger, Surya left Parijat and she soon wilted away.
But Parijat’s love for Surya was true and at the behest of the repentant Surya, the gods brought her back to life. Since then she has been bearing flowers at night and shedding them away at the first rays of sunlight. It is said that Surya visits his beloved in the night and his kisses make the flower infinitely more fragrant and hallowed so that they can be offered as prayers to the gods even though its been shed on the ground.
Interestingly the Nyctanthes arbor-tristis is not just the native of Bengal, it can also be seen in full bloom at Kanchanaburi in Thailand. The flowers have immense ayurvedic importance here. The locals of Kanchanaburi believe that this flower possess the power to heal because it can feel the pain of the wounded. Hence they use the flowers not just for offerings but also to make a yellow dye for the clotting of blood.
The myth about Shiuli has travelled from India to Thailand and is revered equally in both these countries. In one, Shiuli’s sweet fragrance ushers in Sharod Utsab and in the other it acts as a panacea for the bleeding hearts.