According to Hindu mythology, the Nyctanthes arbor-tristis commonly known as the Night-flowering Jasmine first appeared as a result of Samudra Manthan , the churning of the milky ocean. Even the Gods couldn’t resist themselves on seeing its ethereal beauty. Lord Krishna battled the King of Gods, Lord Indra, to win over the Parijat ( Sanskrit name of the tree) and so his first wife Satyabhama demanded the tree to be planted in her backyard. The flowers of the tree, however, always fell on the adjacent backyard of Queen Rukmini, Krishna’s other wife and his favourite, which Satyabhama resented. This story speaks volumes about the skills of the clever Krishna who never failed to maintain peace between his two wives, both of which wanted the Parijat exclusively for themselves
My mother, however, told me a different version, one much closer to my heart. It talks about the princess Parijat who fell in love with Surya, the Sun God. Surya, however, had a condition before she could marry him – she should never turn away from him. Parijat agreed as she couldn’t even imagine turning away from her beloved. They married in Autumn and never knew when winter and spring flew by. During Summer when Surya’s power became immense, it became difficult for Parijat as even going near him would burn her. One day at noon Surya suddenly appeared at her door and Parijat flinched for a second. Becoming angry, Surya’s powers knew no bound and Parijat wilted. Surya, on coming to his senses, realized his mistake and turned to the Gods for help. The Gods knew Parijat had loved Surya with all her heart and so granted her another life as a tree. The sun now visits her during the night and the flowers are so fragrant because they have been kissed by the Sun. They, however, still can’t bear the rays of the sun during the day and so the tree sheds its flowers at dawn.
In childhood during my Durga Puja Holidays, a cane basket in hand, I would assist my mother to gather the fallen flowers from the ground. Later we would sew them into a garland to be offered to The Gods. I noticed that these were the only flowers which were picked from the ground; the others we plucked from trees. My mother explained that Parijat has a special status as the Gods’ favourite flower and so they didn’t mind giving it the loving name of Harsingar, the ornament of The Gods.
The Parijat, or Shiuli as we Bengalis lovingly call it, signals the arrival of Sharad and thus the Sharadotsava or the Durga Puja, a time for all Bengalis to shed our worries, spring clean our lives and rejoice.