June 7, 2013


The Pagoda Tree, known as ‘Ezha Chempakam’ (genus Plumeria), is found throughout Tiruvannamalai District. This plant more often known by its more common name of Champa or Frangipani, can grow to a height of five to six metres and has low, narrowing straight branches with broad lance-shaped leaves. The plant is sometime leafless but is rarely out of bloom. Profuse flowering, which form in clusters at the tip of branches, take place throughout the year. It is a quick-growing, medium-sized, deciduous tree. 

The name, Frangipani, comes from the Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves in the 16th century. When the Frangipani flower was discovered its natural perfume reminded people of the scented gloves, and so the flower was called Frangipani. Another version has it that the name, Frangipani, is from the French Frangipanier which is a type of coagulated milk that the Plumeria milk resembles. The name, Plumeria, is attributed to Charles Plumier, a 17th Century French botanist and traveller throughout the world 

Less Common hereabouts, the Rubra Frangipani

Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure moths to pollinate them. The flowers have no nectar, however, and simply dupe their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar. In India the Frangipani is a symbol of immortality because of its ability to produce leaves and flowers even after it has been lifted out of the soil and for this reason is often planted near temples and graveyards. Frangipani won't burn except in extreme temperatures (over 500 degrees). 

Alba variety most common at Arunachala

Hindus consider it one of the holiest trees and plant it near temples with the flowers being offered to the deity. The tree is considered sacred to Kamadeva, the God of Love, and it is inauspicious to cut it. In Hindu culture this flower represents loyalty and is often used in wedding rituals. It is also believed to have a calming influence on the mind, and is utilised in various Ayurvedic concoctions. 

Pure White Frangipani

Many stories are associated with this beautiful plant. In “1001 Arabian Nights” there is a story of this plant which involves the tale of two sisters jealous of their younger sibling, check this link for the story. 

Another story related to this beautiful plant appears in the Vishnu Purana; it is entitled “The Seven Princes,” and the story goes thus: 

There once lived a King with two wives. The older, senior wife was cruel and greedy, the junior wife who was mute, was tender and gracious. The first wife was struck with extreme jealously when she learnt that the younger wife was pregnant and made a plan to kill the child to protect her position of authority. In the King’s absence from his capital, the older Queen stole the son born in his absence and then killed and buried it. In place of the newborn child she substituted a monkey in the baby crib. 

The King was shocked to learn on his return that his young Queen had given birth to a monkey, but because of his love for her, he did not banish her, and the junior consort, continued to live at the palace. 

In the following years, the younger Queen gave birth to seven sons and a daughter. Each time, the older Queen found a pretext to send the King away and each time she substituted a monkey for the baby. The eight children were killed and buried outside the palace wall. Even his great love for the junior Queen couldn’t prevent the King’s horror and unhappiness and swayed by the continual poisonous words of the older Queen, the King finally banished the innocent young girl to a hut outside the palace wall. 

Over the years outside the hut appeared seven beautiful trees with fragrant flowers and a smaller more delicate tree. The large trees were named Champa and the little one Parul. The trees with fragrant flowers became famous throughout the Kingdom. However the only person able to pick flowers from the trees was the young Queen. The King on hearing of the wondrous flowers of fragrant scent commanded his gardener to pick blooms for the palace, but when the gardener approached the trees, the smaller one (Parul) called out that the King himself should come to pick the flowers from any of the eight trees. 

The King with his senior wife went to the garden to learn the truth of the gardener’s story. As soon as the trees saw the senior Queen, they called out, “Murderer!”, and shouted out that their mother was the young, junior Queen. In the face of such allegations, the older Queen confessed her dire sins and was immediately banished from the Kingdom. 

Thereupon the King brought his younger Queen back to the palace. The Champa and Parul trees were brought into the Queen’s garden and both the King and Queen treated them like their children for the rest of their lives. 

1 comment:

Marshmallow said...

Love the story and the info is very helpful. Although I've been wondering how they survive in very high temperatures?