A flame in the forest

The nondescript tree that some even refer to as ugly in its non-flowering stage, comes alive with life and colour in spring.

Written by Pankaj Sekhsaria | New Delhi | Published:March 27, 2016 12:00 am
A flash of vermilion: A favourite of Rabindranath Tagore. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria) A flash of vermilion: A favourite of Rabindranath Tagore. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

It was a favourite of Rabindranath Tagore, finds extensive mention in Punjabi literature, is the state flower of Jharkhand and is compared by Jayadeva in his Gita Govindam to the red nails of Kamadeva with which he wounds the hearts of young lovers. It is an integral part of celebrating Basant Panchami in Bengal and Shivaratri in parts of peninsular India, and its names are as varied as the geographies and the languages of this land — Palash, Dhak and Tesu in Hindi, Palas in Marathi, Pangong in Manipuri, Kesudo and Khakda in Gujarati, Moduga in Telugu.

The flower is an integral part of celebrating Basant Panchami in Bengal and Shivaratri in parts of peninsular India. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria) The flower is an integral part of celebrating Basant Panchami in Bengal and Shivaratri in parts of peninsular India. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

With petals the shape of a parrot’s beak and colour the vermilion of a forest fire, if there is one flower that epitomises the spirit of spring in South and Southeast Asia, it is Butea monosperma, known in English as the ‘Flame of the Forest’. Spread across the rural and forested (and often urban landscapes too), the nondescript tree that some even refer to as ugly in its non-flowering stage, comes alive with life and colour in spring.

A squirrel makes it way to the Flame of the Forest. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria) A squirrel makes it way to the Flame of the Forest. (Photo: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

No one — be it man or woman, the purple sunbird or the little squirrel — can escape the lure of this flower that has, at this very moment, set the landscape ablaze with its fiery colours and striking beauty.

Pankaj Sekhsaria is the author of The Last Wave — An Island Novel.

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