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Parijat (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) or harsingar is considered to be the flower that is fit for the Gods. The word ‘parijat’ literally means descended from or celestial. While flowers like jasmine, rose or marigold are plucked in the daylight to offer them at the altar, the flowers of parijat are the only one picked from the ground and deemed to be as sacred as any other- to an extent that they have attained the special status of being God’s favourite flowers. No wonder, the name ‘Harsingar’ translates into God’s ornament. The flowers of parijat bloom in night and this is why they are called night-flowering jasmine. In Bengali, it is also called ‘Shefali’. In Sri Lanka, it is known as sepalika. It is also called Kalpavriksha – a tree that fulfils every desire in your heart and what you may ask for it. In the local language, it is also referred to as ‘raat ki raani’- simplifying the supernatural phenomena that the plant can thrive without the Sunlight.
If you thought that parijat has an only rich mythology and romance culture associated with it, you are in for a surprise. The flowers have richer culinary associations too. In North-East India, parijat is known as bewail or shiuli. In an Assamese household, it is a common sight and not only is an ornamental flower but also a delicacy. Assamese believe it to have a myriad of health benefits and use it in a number of dishes. It is bitter in taste but is said to be beneficial for digestion and gut health. In Bengal, it is added to fish recipes and to make the fish curry more aromatic. Since the flowers are very delicate, they are picked from the ground very carefully and washed very gently. Other than fish, Bengalis also fritters and use it as a side dish with sweet potato. The flowers are picked in bulk during their blooming season and are sun-dried. They are stored in air-tight containers and used throughout the years for the recipes. In some houses, the traditional breakfast still comprises boiled rice and shiuli flowers seasoned with oil and salt with a side dish of chilies and fried onions. The residents believe that shiuli flowers aid in immunity and prevent flu-like symptoms. The flowers are also used as a natural food colorant and a cheaper alternative to saffron.
The flowers also have its roots in Assamese literature where it symbolizes various phases, from freedom to romance and life. Jyotish Bhattacharjee weaved the magic ofl yrics around parijat flowers in one of his very popular songs- JuwarPorot where he writes: