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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cannon Ball Tree

During my recent visit to Ernakulam (Kochi/Cochin), on a particular day, we were roaming about the street known as Broadway. It dawned on us that there is a very old temple belonging to a rich community known as Gowda Saraswat Brahmins (GSB in short) nearby. We found our way and reached the spot where the temple stood. However, the doors were closed. Disappointed, we were just exploring the surroundings. There was a small, modern shrine for the serpent Gods. However the huge stone pillars having cavities for lighting oil lamps seemed to belong to the distant past. Needless to say that it attracted our attention for the purpose of capturing them in our cameras.

Alongside there stood a huge tree with large spherical fruits hanging on its trunk. There were very many pinkish buds as well. The flowers were quite at a distance at the top and the withered ones were scattered on the ground.

The tree was a curiosity for all of us to look at. There was a guy nearby who told us its name as Nagamalli or Naga Pushpam. He also added that Hindus revere it as a sacred tree because the bowl shaped  flower,  within which there is a  circle of barren stamen, over which a hood resembling a serpent, stands. The flower is used as an offering in all Shiva temples. Incidentally in the main temple over there, the presiding deity is Vishnu and not Shiva.

The fruits are quite large. They  fall down when they mature making some noice. This explains as to why they are termed as cannon balls. People are advised not to stand below the tree lest they get injured. However when they fall down, the pulp within, fills the air with a kind of fowl smell. Interestingly the flowers have a very pleasant but strong fragrance. There is a myth associated with that scent. My mom says that if some one smells the flowers, keeping it very close to the nostrils, blood could ooze out of the nose.

By Hans Bernhard in Wikimedia Commons

The Cannonball Tree possesses antibiotic, antifungal, antiseptic and analgesic qualities. The trees are used to cure colds and stomach aches. Juice made from the leaves is used to cure skin diseases.  The inside of the fruit can disinfect wounds and young leaves ease toothache.

Though the tree is said to be a native of northern part of South America, they are found in many Shiva temple compounds in India. Likewise even Buddhists consider this tree as sacred and plant them in their Viharas (monasteries). The trees’ Indian connection is said to be over 2000 years old.

The scientific name of the tree is `Couroupita Guianensis` In Hindi it is  known as “Shiv Kamal” and some times referred to as “Top ka Gola” literally meaning Cannon Ball.