Golden Chandeliers!

Golden Chandeliers!
Golden Chandeliers!


If you ask anyone from Kerala, he/she will tell you that konna flowers are one of the very important components of Vishukani, the set of auspicious objects that are viewed first on Vishu, the Malayalam New Year. In fact the tree is called kani-konna. The konna or Golden Cassia is also Kerala’s State flower and can be easily identified with yellow coloured flowers that hang like golden chandeliers when in full bloom. The flowering season for this tree begins in the middle of April when Vishu is celebrated and the flower bunches hanging from the almost leafless tree look like a shower of gold coins signifying prosperity (another name for this tree is the golden shower). It is also the national tree and national flower of Thailand.

Scroll back in time a couple of thousand years ago to the Sangam Age and the landscapes described in the poetry of the Tamil Sangam literature. While Neithal was identified with coastal regions and Paalai with deserts, Mullai was the land of the forests and pastures where the crop Konrai (as referred by the Tamils) is found in abundance.

The flowers are also beloved to Lord Shiva. You may have heard of the Thevaram Hymn – Ponnarmeniyane puli tholai araikkachaiththu minnaar chenjchadaimel milirkonrai aninthavane – meaning “O gold-complexioned one, garbed in tiger skin, wearing shiny Konrai on your russet tresses…” There are at least 15 Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu whose stala-vriksham is the konrai tree!

Konrai is not a tree only of Southern India. Konna or Konrai or the Indian Laburnum or the Golden Cassia is a native of India and south-east Asia and has been around for thousands of years. Hence it has names in many Indian languages. In Sanskrit, it is referred to as Aragvadha, the disease destroyer and Suvarnaka, the golden shower. It is referred to in both Ramayana and Mahabharata as Karnikara. In the Ramayana, while at Pampa Lake, Lord Rama draws Lakshmana’s attention saying: “O Soumitri, look at the southern hillside of the Pampa – the flowering karnikara trees appear splendorous indeed!” In the Mahabharata too, there are many references and most importantly, it was the emblem on the flag of the famous warrior, Abhimanyu.

In Hindi, Konna is commonly known as Amaltas, in Bengali it is Sonal, in Odiya Sonaari, Raela in Telugu and Bahava in Marathi. Botanically, it is known as Cassia fistula belonging to the pea family Family Fabaceae and sub-family Caesalpinioideae, the same as the Gul Mohar, one of our well known avenue trees.

Cassia fistula is a moderate sized deciduous tree reaching upto 9-10 metres in height, with an irregular canopy. The bark in younger trees is greenish grey and smooth but as the tree grows older, the bark turns brittle and yellowish grey. The wood is reddish, hard and heavy and is used for making cabinets, agricultural implements and also used as fuel. The rich green coloured compound leaves have 4-8 pairs of leaflets. The flowers arise in drooping pendulous racemes, which is why they appear like hanging chandeliers. Each flower has small green sepals that support the five golden-yellow petals.

The cylindrical fruits that are about two feet long look like pipes; so it is sometimes referred to as the pudding pipe tree. A hundred fruits may hang from a single tree and the pods fall to the ground without breaking up. Each fruit is almost black in colour and has crosswise lines showing inner partitions with each of those partitions having a seed. While different kinds of bees and butterflies are known to be pollinators, the seeds are believed to be dispersed by jackals, civet cats and sloth bears which feed on the fleshy pulp that is found on the walls of the fruit. In fact, in the wild, unless the seeds pass through the stomachs of such animals, they are not likely to germinate! The fleshy pulp within the fruit is used as a gentle laxative in Ayurveda and is a source of various micronutrients. Researchers have found that the pods contain a natural polyelectrolyte that can be used as a coagulant to clarify turbid water. The bark is used to treat skin infections and for tanning and dyeing.

இதையும் படியுங்கள்:
இரண்டு நந்திகள் உள்ள கோவில் எங்க இருக்கு தெரியுமா?
Golden Chandeliers!

Cassia fistula is popular in the tropics as a roadside or avenue tree serving multiple purposes – for its beauty (especially when in bloom), for controlling air and noise pollution and for its medicinal uses. While April-May is the season when most of the trees begin to flower, there have been instances when the trees have begun to flower very early or very late and this has been attributed to climate change. The trees have begun to bloom in Kerala in February itself this year – does that indicate that spring has arrived early? Maybe someone can analyse and tell if this tree is an indicator like the cherry blossoms of Japan heralding the arrival of spring. During the season, the flowers bloom and fall and form a golden carpet on the ground. It is not surprising that the nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu had this to write about the Golden Cassia:

O brilliant blossoms that strew my way,

You are only woodland flowers they say.

But, I sometimes think that perchance you are

Fragments of some new-fallen star;

Or golden lamps for a fairy shrine,

Or golden pitchers for fairy wine.

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