Botanical Name: Tamarindus indica Sanskrit name: Tintrini Hindi Name: Imli
The name Tamarind is derived from the Arabic word, Tamar-Hind meaning Indian Date.
Although tamarind has been used in India from the most remote times against scurvy, it is also known for its effectiveness against mouth and throat infections. Indeed, the most famous tamarind tree
in India stands over the tomb of the legendary Indian Singer, Tansen, whose golden voice led the Great Moghul, the Emperor Akbar, to name Tansen one of the nine gems of his court. Four centuries later, India’s finest classical singers still travel to Tansen’s
tomb to pluck leaves from this tamarind tree to make into throat gargles, in the hope that their voices will become as pure as their legendary predecessor’s.
Tamarind is a large, handsome, symmetrically spreading tree. It has small compound leaves, yellowish flowers with reddish streaks and fleshy, brown fruits. The seeds are dark brown and shiny. The fleshy
fibrous pulp of the fruit is acidic.
Tamarind was an important item of diet of sailors in olden times as its acid and sugar content helped them to offset their starchy diet.
Being such a popular tree from ancient time, many stories, both mythological and tribal, is happening to associate with it.
According to a Bihar tribal story, ”the reason for Tamarind leaves to be small is because Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Sita while on their exile of fourteen years came to a forest that grew Tamarind trees.
The tamarind those days had large, well-developed leaves. Rama, his wife and brother made a hut under it. The large leaves of the tree sheltered them well. Rama said that they were supposed to suffer inconvenience during their exile but this tree was sheltering
them from rain and sun, giving them protection from the intense heat and cold which were city comforts. He ordered Lakshmana to shoot at the leaves with his bow and arrow and since then the leaves are finely divided.”
Tamarind tree got famous in Hindu mythology because of Usha, the adopted daughter of Parvati. It is in her memory that no salt is taken in the month of “Chaitra”(Chaitra is one of the months from Hindu
Almanac) and instead, food is seasoned with imli, the pulp of the tamarind fruit which is exceedingly sour.
The story goes back to Lord Ganesha getting an elephant head. “One day Lord Shiva was coming after his bath when he saw his daughter usha playing with Ganesha. He was in angry mood and finding the two
playing and ignoring him, his anger rose further and he cut off his son’s head. Parvati lamented the death of her son and insisted that he be brought back to life. To pacify her, Shiva replaced the severed head of his son by that of an elephant, and thus revived
the child. Usha had witnessed the scene and in fright, hid in a barrel of salt. When Parvati found her, she was annoyed at her for not looking after Ganesha who because of her negligence had to have an elephant head. She cursed Usha to be born on earth as
the daughter of Banasura of Tezpur in Assam. Usha protested that on earth she would die unrecognized and ask for forgiveness. But a curse once pronounced could not be revoked. Parvati relented and gave Usha a boon that in her memory that no salt would be taken
in the month of Chaitra but instead the juice of Tamarind fruit would be used to season the food, because Usha had hid in a barrel of salt to escape the wrath of Shiva.”
The pulp of the tamarind fruit, an important source of Viatmin C, is a popular ingredient in the curries, rasams, chutneys and preserves of South India. Valued as an antidote to heat stroke, tamarind
pods are often preserved in salt and are sold by weight. The whole plant has medicinal virtues. Its leaves are cooling while bark and seeds are astringent, a tonic and reduces fever. The fruit pulp is digestive, cooling and laxative.
Importance of Indigenous plants in Indian Mythology and folklore—Compiled by Ms. Priti Sawant