INDIA: On the Banana

D iscover legends, myths and folklore of the banana tree in India and its use in traditional Indian culture.

MUSA SAPIENTUM

Family: Musaceae
Sanskrit: Rambha, Kachii
Hindi : Kela
English: Plantain, Banana

Offering and prayers to the Banana tree [Banana is not technically a tree, yet it is considered one because of its structure and size.] is something which has been carried out since time immemorial. Since life cannot exist without trees, as a symbol of gratitude and gratification it is traditionally planted during festivities like: Vaisakha, Magha or Kartika Shukla Chaturdashi. It is said that worshiping the banana tree with flowers and fruits, assures prosperity to the family.

The Vishnu Parana, a salutation to Vishnu states:

“As the bark and leaves of the Kadali tree are to be seen in its stem, so thou are the stem of the universe and all things are visible in thee”.

Kadali plants, a variety of banana, mainly grown for temple offerings, are considered auspicious by the Hindus, particularly by the followers of Vishnu and Shiva, as the plant is believed to be the incarnation of Parvati, the wife of Shiva and Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu.

The Kadali plants, particularly its leaves are considered sacred for purposes of religious ceremonies and entire plants are placed at the entrance of houses for marriage, and also to decorate the panels erected for marriage ceremonies to symbolize fertility and plenty.

The Kadali fruit is offered to the deities at the temples. The plant is worshiped in the month of Kartik (Oct.-Nov.) by women desirous of having male progeny. The plant is a symbol of fecundity and a bride is given the banana fruit to assure her having male progeny.

A life size statue is made out of the Kadali plant and dressed like a bashful bride with Bilva (Aegle marmetos) fruits as her breasts, supported by a piece of sugar cane (Saccharum officinalis), The leaves of the plant are twisted like a bow, to represent the head and hair of the deity.

The nine plants that are used include:

  1. Banana with stem and leaves or plantain symbolically represents Brahmani.
  2. Kachvi (Arum colocasia) represents Kali.
  3. Turmeric (Curcuma indica) represents Durga.
  4.  Jayanti (Hordeum vulgare) represents Karttiki.
  5. Wood apple or Bilva represents Shiva.
  6.  Pomegranate (Punica granata) represents Raktadantika.
  7. Ashoka (Saraca indica) represents Sokarahita.
  8. Manaka, also known as Arum, represents Chamunda.
  9. Rice paddy (Oryza sativa), represents Lakshmi.

This plant deity is called Navapatrika, she is worshiped as Lakshmi and is also placed in front of a Bilva tree and worshiped for invocation of Durga, sometimes also associated with the Sun-God.

Durga or Lakshmi is worshiped mainly by women for the gift of a child’s prosperous life and a husband.

According to an Oriyan tribal legend the plant was the creation of Bimma. As the plant bore nourishing fruit and every part of it was useful, Rama became jealous of Bimma’s creation and cursed it to die after producing only one bunch of flowers.

But this is not a fact. The Banana plant is a perennial plant and produces flowers and fruits season after season. The banana fruit is offered by certain tribes of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh to gods Kittungsum and Mardisum and is used in all religious and marriage ceremonies.

The reason why the Plantain bears fruit without pollination is described in a very interesting Gadaba legend.

L ong, long ago, there were five sisters called Mango, Tamarind, Fig, Jamun and Plantain. When the sisters came of age, their father was worried about having many, many children. When Plantain was asked what she desired, she said:
“I certainly want children but not a husband. And I also want to get old soon and not have to wait for a long time”.
In course of time, Mango, Tamarind, Fig and Jamun got married and bore so many children that their husbands ran away in sheer fright. The girls in their next life were born as trees and bore many fruits which symbolically are the children they bore in an earlier birth.

Plantain did not marry but produced children and grew old. And that is why, till today the Plantain plant bears fruit parthenogenetically, without pollination and the fruits do
not bear any seeds.

A story in the Mahabharata [Sanskrit epic of ancient India] says that before the outbreak of the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, Krishna went as a mediator. The Pandavas did not want to go to war against their cousins, the Kauravas. But the Kauravas were adamant and would not listen to the sane advice given by Krishna, even after he had predicted the destruction of the entire race.
Defeated at his mission of bringing peace between the two rival sections of the family, Krishna went to the house of Vidura who was a half brother, both to the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Vidura was not at home and his wife Viduri, offered Krishna a Kadali fruit. She was so ecstatic by the presence of Krishna who had graced her threshold that absent mindlessly she threw away the Kadali- fruit and offered only the banana peel to Krishna. Krishna had noticed this but kept on eating the banana peel as they were offered to him with a pure heart and devotion.

Banana Tree- Use

 

Every part of the banana plant is used:

*The fruit – has a mild laxative property.

– used as a remedy of constipation in children.

– is believed to be helpful in curing diarrhea and dysentery.

– is believed to heal lesions in the intestine.

– part of diet of children suffering from malnutrition.

-one of the best sources of potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.

*The core of the stem is believed to be useful in stomach upset and diabetes.

– is considered to be useful in dissolving the stones in the kidney and urinary bladder and in reducing weight. The inflorescence mixed with coconut oil and spices is used for flushing the urinary blocks.

*Flower – used to treat dysentery, ulcers, and bronchitis. Cooked, flowers are considered a good food for diabetics.

* Sap– Chemically, the banana sap has astringent qualities. In traditional medicine, the sap is used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including leprosy, hysteria, fever, digestive disorders, hemorrhage, epilepsy, hemorrhoids, and insect bites.

*Roots and Seeds– Treat digestive disorders.

* Peel and Pulp- Scientifically shown to have both anti fungal and antibiotic components. These structures have also been identified as containing the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.

*the astringent ashes of the unripe peel and of the leaves are taken in dysentery and diarrhea and used for treating malignant ulcers.

*the roots are administered in digestive disorders, dysentery and other ailments.

*Banana seed mucilage is given in cases of diarrhea.

*young leaves – placed as plaster on burns and other skin afflictions.

*The leaf is the most sacred and would find its usage in all Vedic rituals. It is also considered to be the holiest plate to have meals on, which is why even today many south Indians serves their food on Banana leaves. The leaves are not eaten but while steaming food some of the polyphenols are imparted to the food. In fact, in various puja ceremonies, the leaves are served as “Prasad”. It is believed that offering food on the Banana leaves pleases Lord Ganesha.

Note: This post does not contain medical advice. Please ask a health practitioner before trying therapeutic products new to you.

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