The parijatam is in bloom these days. There are many stories surrounding this sacred tree that has delicate flowers and a divine fragrance.
A story about the parijatam tree’s origin is found in our ancient scriptures called the Puranas. The devas, at the behest of Vishnu -the Preserver of the Universe, churned the cosmic ocean to obtain certain boons to help protect the good - the parijata tree appeared as one of the divine treasures. Its perfume was said to permeate the entire universe.
Because the tree holds such an elevated place in India’s sacred lore, devout Hindus revere the tree. The story, on one level, clearly illustrates that trees, flowers and fragrance are the finest boons for humankind.
After the parijatam tree emerged from the cosmic ocean it was taken to the heaven and planted in the pleasure garden of Indra- the King of the Devas.
One day, sage Narad Muni visited this garden and saw this tree emitting its divine perfume. Using his yogic powers he gathered up some of these ethereal blossoms and brought them back to the physical plane and gave them to Rukmini, the favorite wife of Lord Krishna, who was at that time dwelling in Dwaraka in north India. The flowers were so lovely and the fragrance so delicate that Satyabhama another wife of Lord Krishna became desirous of possessing that celestial tree and having it planted in her own garden. She was jealous of the attention Krishna was showing to Rukmini and wanted him to give more time to her. She implored him to obtain the tree for her.
To satisfy her desire he entered into a state of deep meditation and in that state plucked up the tree from the garden. This incurred the wrath of Indra as the tree belonged to his wife Sachi. But Satyabhama would not be put off by any obstacle and said that the tree was the common property of all and had as much place on earth as it had in the heavens. As a result, Krishna waged a war with Indra.
Krishna’s strength prevailed and Indra was forced to retreat. Satyabhama taunted Indra for being a coward but decided to give back his celestial tree. Krishna also consented to return the tree to its celestial abode. But Indra said that there was no shame in being defeated by the avatar of Vishnu and that the tree should be taken to earth and planted it in Dwarka where its fragrance could be enjoined by all the people of the earth.
Tree of Sorrow
There is another story about the flowers of this tree that bloom at night and fall to the ground at daybreak. Once a royal princess fell in love with the sun god-Surya Dev. She was enamored by his brilliance and beauty as he daily passed through the sky from east to west in his fiery chariot. Her devotion attracted his attention for some time but after awhile he was distracted with other interests and she was deserted. In despair she killed herself and from her cremated ashes the parijatam tree arose. Since Surya Dev rejected her, the flowers of the tree only bloom at night. Before the sun rises the flowers fall so its rays will not strike her. Based on this story the tree was given the species name arbor tristis, which means tree of sorrow.
Buddhists also cherish this flower and use it for worship. It is said that the Buddhist monks use the saffron stalk of the flowers to make a vegetable color to dye their robes.