The Palas
Distressingly, we report the loss of a tree at which we stopped regularly during our Walks. The demise of this tree took place in the last week of April.
Flame of the Forest/Mutagga/Butea monospherma
Lalbagh has two collections of Palas Trees. One collection is fairly old and all the trees were showing signs of decay. The central Palas tree has been cut down having rotted beyond repair. Mr. Futehally, who graced one of our Walks, mentioned how, when on a train journey, he stopped at Ratlam and saw what seemed like a raging fire at a distance. To his delight he discovered that what he had seen was a grove of Palas trees which had set the horizon ablaze with its flowers. Amir Khusro, the Turkoman poet, describes the Palas flowers like a lion’s claws which have drawn blood.
The Palas is known for much more than its flowers . The powdered flower is used as “gulal” in Holi, the flowers produce a dye which Buddhist monks used to dye their robes, the tree is a host tree for the lac insect and the resinous exudation of the insect gives us shellac/lac with its numerous uses such as polishing and finishing furniture. The most surprising use of lac is as confectioner’s glaze. These glazes are used across the industry including glazing of chocolate covered and sugar coated peanuts & raisins.
The Battle of “Plassey” (the English could not pronounce Palas correctly) was in fact the battle fought in a Palas grove. The Palas is deeply intervowen into our folklore and religion - the Palas flowering heralds the end of spring and the beginning of summer The Palas is sacred to Brahma . Our creation legend has it that a feather of the falcon was dipped in the drink of the Gods – Soma, to create the Palas tree. Despite its lofty mythical origins this Palas tree has now died and lies cut down on the earth from which it sprang.

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