Betel leaves…

I posted a pic of betel leaves, and a comment by asakiyume set me thinking….it’s amazing how betel leaves are part of religion and spirituality, and also a symbol of licentiousness at the same time….betel leaves, along with supari, bananas and a broken coconut, are offered as “thAmboolam” during worship; but they are also associated with moral decadence, indulgence in vices (especially sexual)….a woman would only offer “pAn” or “beeda” or “thAmboolam” to a man if she were “interested” in him or married to him….can someone explain this dichotomy to me? Or is a god or goddess who is being worshipped, also offered all the marks of “lAsyam” or luxury, which explains all the decorations, offerings of fruit and flowers, and so on?

When combined with tobacco, we actually have names for pAn like “palang thOd” (break-the-bed!)…surely nothing hidden in that meaning.

Even today, after a particularly heavy meal at a wedding, I do like to have a “pAn” or a “beeda” (though not so fond of doing the smearing-of-lime on betel leaves and adding supAri and stuffing them into my mouth together!)…It’s supposed to be a digestive. The lime-areca mixture is also supposed to be very good for the teeth.

And yet, I have heard from my mother that in the old days, all respectable women were supposed to have betel-stained teeth from chewing the leaves daily, and it was a woman of easy virtue who had white, shining teeth. “veLLai palla pAru, thEvadiyA mAthiri!” was the derisive comment on white teeth, apparently!

Hmm…I am not able to reconcile all that…..

Here’s a video of a song where the “nautanki” (theatre woman) sings about her lover who chews betel, and his fine cotton kurta has red stains….

This movie is one of my favourites. An innocent villager falls in love with a woman from the touring theatre company *he refers to her respectfully as “kampni…company” throughout)…but she, and therefore he, must face the reality of her needing a wealthy “sponsor”. The village atmosphere is so authentic, and it’s very moving. It has other beautiful songs, too.

Another song about betel leaves is the famous Dev Anand song “khaikE pAn banAras wAlA”….

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