Friday, 23 March 2012
The Stone Apple
The bael or bilva tree in my garden is now laden with luscious round-sized fruits with delicious core inside. (See photo below). This tree is more than 25 years old, slightly younger than my house.
I came across a piece on bael tree, by Vithal C Nadkarni in The Economic Times which I found interesting. Here it is, in a paraphrased, slightly-edited and chiseled form, and with some additional matter.
In mid-March, the thorny bael tree is bereft of leaves but is laden with large globular fruits. The British call it stone apple. There is the macabre local name ‘Sirphal’ (Sir-head, phal-fruit), which ostensibly comes from the resemblance of the hard shell to the skull that encases soft tissues inside.
Tradition likens the bael’s trifoliate leaves to Shivji’s trishul that the three-eyed God holds in his right hand.
The worship of Shiva is deemed to be incomplete without bael leaves. The connection between bael leaf and the ritual worship of Shiva is so potent that great merit is believed to accrue even to one who accidentally drops the leaves on Shiva-linga.
The Shiva Lilamrita tells the story of the hunter Suswara who spent the night one Mahashivaratri, atop a bael tree. Sleepless due to hunger and thirst, he kept thinking of his wife and family, continually and absent-mindedly plucking the leaves and dropping them to the ground. There was a Shiva-linga below the tree and the leaves fell on it. Eventually, when Suswara dies, he is taken straight to heaven, all because the virtue that had accrued to him as had virtually worshiped Lord Shiva by offering bael leaves, albeit unknowingly
Years ago, I had read somewhere about a mythological person, Ajamila, with not a very good nature who had named his son as Narayan. He committed many sins during his life-time. At the time of his lonely death, he called his son who was not around. He called out several times, "Narayan, Narayan, Narayan". Then he died. He was awarded heaven as he had uttered 'Narayan', another name of Lord Vishnu.
Along with the bael plant, I had planted a sapling of wood apple, whose fruits look like a concise edition of the bael fruit. An wood apple is of the size of, and looks like, cricket ball. Like the bael fruit, it has a hard exterior and, when ripe, a soft core but with a deliciously sour taste. It is used to make a mouth-watering chatni. Unfortunately, the wood apple plant died due to want of care which the tenants did not give it. I am looking for a sapling of it to add to my mini-orchard.
The name Sirphal reminds me of Sitaphal (custard apple). When Ram, Sita and Laxman were living in the forest during their vanavas, living off fruits, it is believed that Ram discovered this delicious fruit which he presented it to Sita and named it after her. Then Sita discovered another sweet fruit, presented it to Ram and promptly named it Ramphal!
Talking of phals, do not forget Sriphal (cocoanut), named after Shree (Goddess Laxmi). I do not know how it was named after the Goddess of Wealth. Did it come out along with Laxmiji during the mythological churning of the ocean by the Gods and demons?
There is one thing common in both Sirphal and Sriphal. Both are hard outside and soft inside. So is the wood apple. Some bosses are like this: a tough exterior and a kind heart inside.