Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - City - - FESTIVE FIESTA -

Ev­ery In­dian fes­ti­val has its share of sights and sounds. Be it the fire­crack­ers pierc­ing the night sky be­fore ex­plod­ing into a mil­lion sparkling stars on a Di­wali night, or be it the gi­gan­tic Ra­vana ef­fi­gies set aflame on Dussehra, its light re­flect­ing on the awestruck faces of hun­dreds present to cel­e­brate good win­ning over evil year af­ter year.

Sim­i­larly, the white feather-like kash phool, women clad in saris and the sound of the dhhakis cre­ate an am­bi­ence like no other on Durga Puja. How­ever, there is some­thing that sets this fes­ti­val apart from the oth­ers.

Durga Puja has a smell of its own.

Yes, you heard that right. Durga Puja has its own fra­grance. And not just the usual Puja smell of cam­phor, in­cense or ghee be­ing poured into fire. Weeks be­fore the Puja, a sweet

honey-like smell per­vades the air in Kolkata.In the pre-in­ter­net era, you did not need Google to find out when Durga Puja was — it was that very fra­grance that in­di­cated that it was time!

The fra­grance be­ing talked about is that of the Shi­uli phool or the Night-flow­er­ing Jas­mine. You might not have heard of it, but such is the unique­ness of this flower’s fra­grance, it was used as the name of a lead char­ac­ter in a re­cent Bol­ly­wood movie!

Right be­fore Puja, the air is thick with its heavy scent. One whiff of the flower’s fra­grance and ev­ery Ben­gali across the globe is go­ing to have one thought — Durga Puja!

The Par­i­jat, or Shi­uli, as the Ben­galis lov­ingly call it, sig­nals the ar­rival of Sharad and thus the Sharadot­sava or the Durga Puja, the big­gest fes­ti­val in West Ben­gal. Weeks be­fore the Puja, Kolkata changes al­most overnight. There are Pu­jath­emed hoard­ings all across town. Hordes of peo­ple throng the mar­ket ar­eas to shop for their Puja-spe­cial wardrobe. Ad­ver­tise­ments on TV in­clude Durga Puja in some or other


way. If you are in Kolkata dur­ing or be­fore the Pu­jas, the ex­cite­ment is pal­pa­ble and slowly build­ing up to a crescendo. While you are bom­barded with nu­mer­ous vi­brant im­ages about the forth­com­ing Puja, the fra­grance of Shi­uli is a much more sub­tle in­di­ca­tor of the fes­tive pe­riod.

Our sense of smell is prob­a­bly the most un­der­stated of the five senses, but also pos­si­bly the strong­est. The smell of a cer­tain af­ter­shave can take us back to the time when we, as kids, used to wait for our fa­ther to fin­ish shav­ing so that we could have a go. Our brain skips decades to take us to that very mo­ment within a mat­ter of sec­onds.

The smell of Shi­uli has a sim­i­lar ef­fect. It harks back to the child­hood days, when chil­dren would count the num­ber of days re­main­ing for the Puja hol­i­days.

The Shi­uli flow­ers bloom at night and lose their bright­ness by day. The tree, there­fore, is some­times called the ‘tree of sor­row’. Its sci­en­tific name, ar­bor tris­tis, lit­er­ally means ‘sad tree’. The Shi­uli is the of­fi­cial flower of West Ben­gal, where it is also known as the Par­i­jat.

While all other flow­ers meant as an of­fer­ing to the gods are plucked from trees, the Shi­uli is picked from the ground and of­fered to the gods. In pop­u­lar folk­lore, the Par­i­jat has a spe­cial sta­tus as the Gods’ favourite flower and they do not mind even if they are picked from the ground.

Ac­cord­ing to many-a-grandma tales, Par­i­jat was a princess who fell in love with Surya, the Sun God. Surya agreed to marry her but he had a con­di­tion — she could never turn away from him. No mat­ter what. Par­i­jat was so love­struck that she could never imag­ine turn­ing away from her beloved. So, she agreed and one fine au­tumn, they got mar­ried.

The sea­sons flew by for the new­ly­weds but once sum­mer came around, Par­i­jat faced a tough time fac­ing her hus­band. Surya’s pow­ers in sum­mer were too in­tense for her to han­dle. It be­came dif­fi­cult for her to be near him but fear­ing she would lose her lover, she sol­diered on. As fate would have it, one fine day Surya ap­peared in front of her out of nowhere and she could not help but flinch. And she turned away for a mo­ment, be­fore re­al­is­ing her mis­take.

Surya felt be­trayed and was livid. In his anger, Surya’s in­ten­sity in­creased, caus­ing Par­i­jat to wilt. By the time Surya calmed down, the dam­age had al­ready been done.

Surya rushed to the other gods for help, plead­ing them to bring her back to life. The gods knew Par­i­jat’s love for Surya was true and they granted her an­other life. But only as a tree. Surya now vis­its her dur­ing the night. It is said Shi­uli is so fra­grant be­cause it has been kissed by the sun!

Now, that’s some tale, eh? Un­like the other In­dian fes­ti­vals, Durga Pujo has a cer­tain fra­grance.Right be­fore the Pu­jas, the air is thick k with a sweet honey-like aroma that brings a smile on ev­ery Ben­gali’s face. Tatha­gata Sen takes you on a walk down the nar­row, dew-drenched al­leys of Kolkata and old Ben­gali folk­tales to tell you more about the fra­grance

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