Last week during
my visit to a relative, i went around her beautifully manicured garden. Among
the flowers with brilliant colours, i noticed a creeper with green heart-shaped
leaves, luxuriously growing from a pot. It was the paan (betel) vine.
I requested her to
give me a cutting and she immediately obliged. Back home, i cut the longish
cutting into two pieces and planted in my garden, one in a pot and the other on
the ground near a wall. Both the pieces responded to my love and care and
started growing. Here they are:
Pot and pan
Climbing the wall
In India, the
English word ‘betel’ for paan is
generally not used; it is simply called ‘paan’.
Many people love to have a paan
leaf, or a half of it, stuffed with spices, after a meal. Paan
is taken with zarda (a
tobacco-preparation). Those who do not like the intoxicating taste of tobacco,
take paan with spices like cardamom. Paan leaves are generally chewed in combination
with slaked lime, flavoured areca nuts and other exotic stuff like aniseed,
spices and, sometimes, other sweetening agents.Often, the folded loose ends of paan
are fixed with a clove. When tobacco-preparation is added, sweetening agents
are not used. Catechu, a gum extracted from a kind of acacia trees (katha in Hindi, khaira
in Odia) is also added to paan. Catechu
makes the mouth and saliva red when paan with
catechu is chewed. Paan without betel-nut
and catechu is called 'bidia' paan in
Odia. Such a paan is taken by persons who do not like lime.
Preparation of paan is an art. There are several ways
in which paan can be folded. Paan can be rolled to become like a
cone or can be folded to look like a triangle.
In rural India, paan is offered as a gesture of
hospitality.As paan-chewing makes the
mouth red, in ancient India, it served the purpose of lipstick; many folk songs
refer to red lips of young women.
Paan leaves are considered as
holy and are essential in many religious events in India. In Odisha, money
offered to priests is placed on paan
leaves.Paan leaves are an essential part of marriage-rituals of Hindus. In
West Bengal, the bride comes to the marriage pandal, covering her face with two
large paan leaves. She removes them
at the auspicious time for exchanging the first glance with the groom.
Paan is popular among many people in Odisha. Earlier, at the time of marriage, a paan bataa (small box with two layers
and several small compartments to contain paan
leaves, betel nuts, lime, khaira,
various spices etc.) formed an essential part of the things given by the
bride’s family. The box was usually made of brass and had several
embellishments to make it attractive. It had a small handle at the top. People
used to carry a batuaa (a small handy cloth bag) with three or
more compartments to contain various items for making paan and a betel-nut cracker.
It could be closed by pulling the attached strings from the two sides. Some batuaas had colourful appliqué stitched
on the sides. During modern times, it became fashionable to carry a modified
version of batuaa to carry lip-stick,
and other beauty-aids. Batuaa was the earlier version of ladies’ purses.
is the central object in a legend associated with the construction of the
Konark temple. This temple was built by Langula Narasingha Dev, the then king
of Kalinga (Odisha). Bishu Maharana was the chief sculptor. He used to work on
the sculptures on the temple with full concentration and uninterruptedly. He
had the habit of chewing paan
endlessly. When one paan was
finished, he needed another immediately. An attendant with paan used to stand behind him at all times. In order that Bishu
would not have to interrupt his work even for a moment, he used to extend his
palm back as soon as one paan was
finished and the ever vigilant attendant would immediately place another paan on the sculptor’s palm.The latter would put it into his mouth
without taking off his eyes from the sculpture under carving. One day, it so
happened that the assistant had moved away for a moment. Exactly at that time,
the sculptor extended his palm for another paan.
The King, who had come to personally satisfy himself about the progress and
quality of the temple-construction, was passing by that spot at that time. When
he saw Bishu’s extended palm, he took out one of his own paans and placed it on the sculptor’s palm. The latter immediately
put it into his mouth. He felt that the flavor was different; it was more spicy
and more fragrant. Surprised, the sculptor turned back. He was astounded at
what he saw; the King and not the assistant, was standing behind him. He
realized that the King himself had handed him one of his own paans! The attendant was not there. He
bent down to touch the King’s feet but before that, the King embraced him and
said, “I know about your love and need for paan;
when I saw your extended palm and did not find your attendant, I gave you one
of my paans so that your work should
not be interrupted.”The King’s paan had his own favourite flavor.
Paan leaves are heart-shaped. Since love is a matter of the heart, it is
graphically represented by a paan–shaped
drawing with an arrow – arrow of Cupid.
Paan is an
antiseptic that freshens breath and is also an ayurvedic medicine. It helps in
The term ‘chai-paan’ has a special connotation.
Although literally it refers to hospitality by offering tea and paan to a visiting guest, it also means
‘speed-money’ to grease the palms of persons who have official power and
authority to do something especially in government offices. ‘Chai-paan’, which is money several times
the cost of a cup of tea and a paan,
has sometimes to be given to move a file stuck in a Government office red tape
or to grant a special favour, which may be legal or illegal.
I have seen some paan shops sport name-boards like
‘Beetle Shop’, ‘Bittle Shop’ etc.