Sunday, April 01, 2007

Blissful Bananas

Bananas, the universal fruit that has its place in all auspicious occasions in our culture. This is the third of the Mukkani, called the Vaazhai Pazham. It is available throughout all the seasons in the year. However, the windy season that falls around July-August is when the plantain gets destroyed by winds and that might cause a bit of lag in the arrival of bananas to the market. Its availability througout the year has made it a fruit for all auspicious occasions. Be it a marriage, a celebration or a temple festival, the banana takes the first place among all the fruits. The occasions are celebrated at least with the banana if not the other fruits.

There are many varieties that are available such as the Poovan, Moreese, Rasthaali, Robusta, Sevvaazhai, Naadan, Karpoora Valli, Nendhran, Mondhampazham. Each of these varieties has a unique taste and aroma. Poovan is the most common variety. Nendhran is the one used to make chips when it is unripe. The Karpoora Valli has a very good taste. The Naadan is a variety where people also eat, besides the fruit, the inner side of the peeled skin that has soft layer. Apart from these varieties there are varieties that grow in the mountains, called the Malai Pazham. They also have a very good taste. Normally, the word Pazham, that literally means a fruit, is used to indicate a banana in the common sense. The other fruits are addressed with their respective names like Maampazham, Palaapazham and so on. Though there is a name Vaazhai that is also common, the word Pazham is used more often to indicate it.

The speciality of banana as plant is that all the parts of the plant are used by us - the whole plant, the leaf, the stem, the bark, the flower and the fruit. The parts of the plantain plant are being used by humans since the old ages. The whole plant is used in all auspicious occasions mostly marriage and temple festivals etc. It is used to indicate the prolonged existence of the family for a generations. People tie is at the entrance where the auspicious event occurs as an indication of successful chain of existence. As the term, "Vaazhai Adi Vaazhai", which means, as the young sapling that grows beside the fully grown tree, the family would also sustain its chain the the plantain.

The plantain leaf is used a disposable plate after serving food items. People eat food being served and then they dispose it. This is the first known disposable, eco-friendly utility used by humans. Though there are others like the Paaku mattai and other leaves that are broad enough to hold food, the plantain is more common and being used widely. It is said that eating food served in has some medicinal value and keeps us young. There is even a record about a poet named Pisiraanthaiyaar, who was a dear friend of a great Chola King called Ko Perum Cholan, ate food being served only on a plantain leaf and his appearance remained young that he did not have a single grey hair till his death. Before food is being served, the plantain leaf if washed with water and then food is served. The plantain leaf is used in all occasions like marriage etc for serving food and they disposing off after the meal is over. It is the one of the hygenic ways of taking food. The plantain leaf is very fragile that it could tear off easily, and that is the reason it becomes very costly during windy season.

The stem of the plant called the Vaazhai Thandu, is also used as a recipe. The common recipe is the Kootu, Porial. It is more fibrous and good for health. People cut is across and then into small pieces and collect a fibrous thread that appears while cutting across and then they soak it either into the water in which the rice was washed called the Kazhani Thanni or simple plain water or in the water mixed with dilute curd, so that its colour does not become pale after chopping. It is recommended as a medicine for people who have kidney stones. The Vaazhai Thandu has the ability to dissolve kidney stones, and also alleviate the problem if it is worse. The juice extract is also recommended for these patients. It is also used as a medicine to stop severe diarrhoea. The fibrous thread that comes out when the stem is cut across is collected, dried out and used as a oil-wick for lamps

The bark is stripped of the plant, dried out and then torn vertically as strings that is used to make garlands that is used to decorate the Idols, Statues of Gods in temples. It is called the Vaazhai Naar. Even today it is used by many to make garlands.

The flower called the Vaazhai Poo, is also used as a recipe. People pull out a strong string like structure from each bud of the flower and then cut it across into small pieces and they put it either into the Kazhani Thanni or Plain Water or in the water mixed with dilute curd. The Vaazhai Poo is used as a cure to constipation and his a healthy diet.

There is also another way where the banana is consumed; it is taken as a medicine. That is called the Baspam, the ash after incinerating a thing. There are many baspams the famous one is the gold baspam, very rare and very hard to prepare but very potent. The gold baspam has very strict procedures for consuming, if not followed it could be fatal. But proper usage is more powerful and enables healthy living. The Vaazhai baspam, is very difficult to prepare that many researchers have failed to prepare it. Their attempt resulted in the banana being charred and not being converted into ash. But our siddhars had an easy way of converting the banana into ash that is very cheap and simple that it uses, just the bark of the neem tree and the cloth that is soaked in red soil called Semmann and some camphor to burn it. That ash is consumed to live a healthy life. There is even a medical preparation with the banana that reduces body heat that works well than any other preparation. Also to have easy digestion, people eat a banana after their meal.

The most important preparation out of the banana is the Panchamirdham, that consists of 5 items that are sweet. Its ingredients are the Banana, Dates, Vellam (Kandhsari Sugar), Kalkandu, Honey. Of all the Panchamirdhams, the Palani Panchamirdham is the most popular one.

So the banana is such a divine fruit that the plant gives itself as a whole for the benefit of the people. There are many literary contexts of the banana used in Tamil Literature, some of which are as follows.

The song by Avaiyar in her work, Nallvazhi sings the following song that mentions the plantain

"Nandu Sippi Vei Kadhali Naasamurum Kaalathil
Konda Karuvalikkum Kolgaipol OneThodee
Podham Dhanam Kalvi Pondravarum Kaalam Ayal
Maadhar Mael Vaippar Manam"

meaning, like the Crab, Clamshell, Vengai (a species of tiger in which the cub is born by tearing its mother's stomach) and the Plantain, that dies when its offsprings arrive. Men will destroy themselves when a mind offsprings a thought for other women than their own.

The famous Kaalamegam also compares, a banana and a snake, in his pun filled poem

"Nanjirukkum Tholurikkum Naadharmudi Mael Irukkum
Venjinathil Pall Pattaal Meelaadhu Vinju Malar
Thaenpaayum Solai Thirumalairaayan Varayil
Paambaagum Vaazhai Pazham"

the meaning, first about snake - It has poison (Nanju). It sheds off skin (Thol). It is on top of Lord Shiva's head (Naadhar Mudi). If it strikes with its fangs in anger, then the poison would kill the person. Likewise for the banana - It would seems as if crushed, when it is ripe (Nanji Irukkum). You have to peel the skin to eat it. If hit goes between the teeth of a person, the banana is crushed. It stays on top of the Shiva Lingam as Panchamirdham. So by comparison, in the mountains of Thirumalairaayan, the snake is same as the banana

Both Avaiyar and Kambar have used the following lines when they realised that have to learn a lot besides being great poets.

"Karungaali Kattaikku Vaai Naana Kodari
Ilam Vaazhai Thandirkku Vaai Naanitru"

meaning, the axe that did not give up even for the hardest Karungaali (a tree) wood, gave up for a tender plantain (banana tree) stem. Actually it is hard to cut the banana stem across with an axe that is capable of cutting the hardest woods.

There are even, negative comparisons to the plantain too. For people who are the slow learners and not as smart, they are compared to Vaazhai Mattai (The bark of the banana tree). The mediocres are compared to wood, and the really smart people are compared to camphor. This comparison is based on the burning ability the above.

The other one is about the benefit derived out of friendship. The people who give are close and give benefit only if well tended and maintained are compared to the plantain. The people who help out if they are just well fed are compared to the coconut tree. The people who help out without any expectations are compared to the palm tree.

Though there are good and not good contexts about the banana. It forms a staple diet for the people in our country. The greatness of the blessed fruit that brings joy to all who eat it is a bliss for a lifetime to remember. And its place as a fruit for all auspicious occasions confers the honour for the fruit that has brought joy for generations since the old days. This post completes the information about the Mukkani (Maa, Palaa, Vaazhai).

More to come, until then...


Rhoda Alex said...

lovely post..thanks for all the information..well compiled.

Kannan said...

Nice post.

R.Prabhu said...

Thanks Rhoda Alex and Kannan!