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By Shruti Pandey
Saffron Cultivation In India: Facts & Healing Benefits
Since time immortal, India has been known as a land of spices. The profusion of spices found here has allured visitors across lands and waters, being the prime contributor to the trade and commerce of the country. One such indigenous spice is “saffron” which takes on many names such as Zafran, Kesar, Kang, Kang Posh etc. Kang Posh is the flower of Kesar that allegorizes freshness and purity. In the valley of flowers and the heaven of earth- Kashmir, blooms a special flower of Kesar that has its own appellation and utility.
India Ranks At 3rd Position In Saffron Production:
India ranks third as the largest producer behind Iran (accounts for 90% of total saffron production) and Spain.
What is Saffron “Kesar”:
Saffron/kesar is the dried stigmas (top part in the center of a flower that receives the pollen) of the flower Crocus Sativus Linnaeus. It belongs to the Iradaceae family.
Here Are 7 quick facts about this momentous spice “Saffron”:
- Although the accreted usage of saffron dates back to just 3-4 centuries but its presence can be felt in ancient Greece where an anecdote from Greek mythology cites the story of its advent. A handsome mortal Crocus fell in love with a nymph; Smilax and was later snubbed and got bewitched by her into a flower crocus from which saffron is obtained. While Egyptian legends suggest its usage by Cleopatra and other pharaohs for aromatic and seductive essence. Romans had a great affinity for saffron and it is speculated that Roman king Nero got his hall and streets sprinkled with saffron upon his arrival to the city.
- Geographically, Spain is believed to be the starting point for the start of cultivation of saffron but some historians claim its inception in Iran and they state saffron as the naturally growing flower in Iran. Spain used to be its largest cultivator till 1950s where plethora of land was put under cultivation, but with time farmers became reluctant in its production and indulged themselves in cotton production and Iran took on the position of the largest producer of saffron thereafter.
- The introduction of saffron to India is credited to Chinese via Persians. Chinese medical experts cite Kashmir as the land of saffron where the flower was offered to Buddha around 3rd century while Indian legends suggest its arrival with the hands of two Sufi wanderers Khwaja Massod Wali and Sheikh Sharif-u-din Wali. They both sought a refuge in India at the time of their illness and they gave away crocus bulb as a present.
- In India, around 5,707 hectares of land comes under saffron cultivation while majority of the produce is procured from the state of Jammu and Kashmir in which about 4,496 hectares of land comes under cultivation. In the Kashmir area, Pampore is famous worldwide for its high quality saffron and from the Jammu area, Kishtwar is highly regarded. Pampore produces around 2,128 kilograms of saffron per annum. (source: agropedia, IIT Kanpur)
- It is normally planted in the month of August and harvested in October and November along with the assurance that atmosphere around is not very hot. In order to ensure this, flower plucking is done in the morning time from sunrise to 10 AM. The flowers are then dried for 5 days and kept in airy container.
- Saffron is used in cuisines across India, Europe, Middle East, and Turkey. It is regarded as the metallic honey accounting for its yellowish-orange color and sweet taste. It is widely used in India for religious purposes and offerings to gods. While in the field of medicine, it is seen as a potential anti- depressant element.
- Rs 372 Crore National Saffron Mission scheme was launched by the Government of India in partnership with the state government in 2010. The cost was to be shared by the state and central governments. The four-year scheme targeted at the economic revival of Jammu and Kashmir’s saffron sector and to increase the productivity from 3 kgs per hectare to 5 kgs. But the outcomes have not been very pleasant and farmers have blamed the use of chemicals for the decrement in production.
Healing Benefits of Saffron
The benefits and medicinal properties of this highly priced spice “saffron”, make it a valuable culinary ingredient worldwide. Modern research suggests that saffron can be used as an aphrodisiac, diaphoretic [to cause sweating], carminative [ to prevent gas] and to bring on mensuration. Some other benefits are mentioned hereunder:
- Protects against cancer: Saffron contains a dark orange, water soluble carotene called crocin, which is responsible for much of saffron’s golden color. Crocin has been found to trigger apoptosis [ programmed cell death] in a number of different types of human cancer cells, leukemia, ovarian carcinoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and soft tissue sarcoma. Researchers in Mexico who have been studying saffron extract have discovered that saffron and its active components display an ability to inhibit human malignant cells. Not only does the spice inhibit cells that have become cancerous, but it has no such effect on normal cells and actually stimulates their formation and that of lymphocytes [immune cells that help destroy cancer cells].
- Promotes learning and memory retention: Recent studies have also demonstrated that saffron extract, specifically its crocin, is useful in the treatment of age related mental impairment. In Japan, saffron is encapsulated and used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, memory loss and inflammation.
- In delayed puberty: In under developed girls, saffron has an overall stimulant effect. A pinch of saffron crushed in a table spoon of milk is useful to stimulate hormones and bring about desired effect.
- To increase vitality: In low libido saffron aids as a sexual stimulant and can be consumed in a dose of a pinch in a glass of milk at bed time.
- In patchy baldness: Saffron mixed in liquorice and milk makes an effective topical application to induce hair growth in alopecia.
- Protection against cold: Saffron is a stimulant tonic and very effective to treat cold and fever; saffron mixed in milk and applied over the forehead quickly relieves cold.
- Food Additives: Saffron is an excellent replacement for synthetic food additives- for eg: instead of FD and C yellow no 5: a synthetic food coloring agent that is a very common allergy trigger, Saffron’s glorious yellow could be an acceptable hypoallergenic choice (source: NDTV).
Shruti pandey is pursuing b.tech from HBTI Kanpur and aspires to blemish the world withwords. Twitter: @srt_kaka
Diwali is arguably one of the most auspicious and celebrated holidays in South Asia. It is celebrated over the span of five days, where the third is considered most important and known as Diwali. During Diwali people come together to light, lamps, and diyas, savour sweet delicacies and pray to the lord. The day has various origin stories with the main them being the victory of good over evil. While the North celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Devi Sita to Ayodhya, the South rejoices in the victory of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama over evil Narakasura.
Narakasura- The great mythical demon King
Naraka or Narakasur was the son of Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) and fathered either by the Varaha incarnation of Vishnu or Hiranyaksha. He grew to be a powerful demon king and became the legendary progenitor of all three dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa, and the founding ruler of the legendary Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha.
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Narakasura was created, grew up to be strong and powerful but he was not satisfied with it, so he decided that he would worship Lord Brahma. He performed severe penance and was driven by the power of his penance; Lord Brahma appeared before him. Narakasura knew his mother loved him dearly so he asked Lord Brahma to grant him a boon that he would only die by the hands of his mother, Bhumidevi. Lord Brahma smile and ultimately granted him the boon.
Narakasura burst out laughing as Lord Brahma vanished. He thought no mother would kill their child so Lord Brahma had made him immortal. Drunk and maddened by his own power Narakasura brought all the kingdoms under his control and targeted Swargalok (Heaven). Even Indra (King of Gods) and demi-gods had to retreat in front of Narakasura. He kidnapped and took 16,000 women from the palaces as prisoners. Troubled by Naraksura's deeds the gods rushed to Lord Vishnu for a solution.
Lord Krishna and Devi Satyabhama were born to kill Narakasura
Lord Vishnu was born as Lord Krishna and Narakasura's mother Bhumidevi took the avatar of Krishna's wife Satyabhama. As Satyabhama, Bhumidevi was unaware of the knowledge of Naraksura being her son. Aditi the mother of all gods approached Satyabhama crying for help with bloodied ears as Narakasura had torn off the glowing earrings from the ears of Aditi.
Satyabhama was furious on gaining the knowledge of Narakasura's atrocities she asked Krishna to fight the demon king while she fights alongside him. Krishna agreed and they attacked the great fortress of Narakasura, riding his mount Garuda with his wife Satyabhama.
The furious battle unleashed. Krishna defeated Narakasura's general Mura and came to be known as Murari (the killer of Mura). Narakasura used several divine weapons against Krishna, but Krishna slew all those weapons effortlessly. The demon hurled a shakti towards Krishna, which mildly hurt Krishna and he fell unconscious. Upon this sight Satyabhama was enraged, she furiously pulled out a weapon of her own and hurled it at Narakasura's chest. Anxious Satyabhama turned to her fallen Lord, Krishna got up with a smile and he was completely fine. He was only playing his part. It was Satyabhama who was an incarnation of Bhoomidevi, whose hands were destined to slay Narakasura.
ALSO READ: Choosing Environment-Friendly Diwali
Lord Krishna and Goddess Satyabhama had put an end to the Narakasura's kingdom of evil. As Narakasura lay on his deathbed he realised that Satyabhama was no one but an avatar of his own mother. He requested a boon from his mother, for no one to mourn his death. Instead, he wished for people to celebrate it with light and colours. They freed the 16,000 women who later married Lord Krishna to restore them of their honour in society, retrieved Mother goddess's earrings. This day is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' popularly known as Choti Diwali - the day before Diwali as the triumph of good over evil.
Keywords: Diwali festival, goddess Laxmi, demon king, Lord Krishna, Satyabhama, the festival of light, Naraksura, Narak Chaturdashi
For all the great inventions that we have at hand, it is amazing how we keep going back to the safety pin every single time to fix everything. Be it tears in our clothes, to fix our broken things, to clean our teeth and nails when toothpicks are unavailable, to accessorize our clothes, and of course, as an integral part of the Indian saree. Safety pins are a must-have in our homes. But how did they come about at all?
The safety pin was invented at a time when brooches existed. They were used by the Greeks and Romans quite extensively. A man named Walter Hunt picked up a piece of brass and coiled it into the safety pin we know today. He did it just to pay off his debt. He even sold the patent rights of this seemingly insignificant invention just so that his debtors would leave him alone.
Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement in the 70s. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Later, he even invented the sewing needles and a couple of other important inventions but never kept any of the patent rights.
When the punk rock tradition took over in the seventies, safety pins became a fashion rage. They were used as piercings and to patch clothes together. Anyone wearing safety pins that were visible began to be associated with the rock movement. In some cultures, the safety pins have become symbols of good luck.
Keywords: Safety-pins, Punk Rock, Brass, Accessories, Walter Hunt
In South India, Deepavali marks the end of the monsoon and heralds the start of winter. The festival is usually observed in the weeks following heavy rain, and just before the first cold spell in the peninsula. The light and laughter that comes with the almost week-long celebration are certainly warm to the bones, but there is still a tradition that the South Indians follow to ease their transition from humidity to the cold.
Just before the main festival, the family bathes in sesame oil. This tradition is called 'yellu yennai snaana' in Kannada, or 'ennai kuliyal' in Tamil, which translates to 'sesame oil bath'. The eldest member of the family applies three drops of heated oil on each member's head. They must massage this oil into their hair and body. The oil is allowed to soak in for a while, anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour. After this, they must wash with warm water before sunrise.
Women applying oil to the heads of men Photo credit: Indians in Kuwait
In some parts of the peninsula, soap is not used to wash off the oil because it nullifies its effects. Some cultures who do not like the oil to remain in any way on their skin wash it off with shikakai and herbs, which is a paste that is traditionally used as a substitute for soap. Sometimes, the oil is heated with flowers and spices as well and is less sticky than in its pure form.
The purpose of this ritual is to cleanse the body, detoxify it, and produce heat in it. Sesame is a very heaty substance and tends to heat up the body. This heat, or 'usshna' in Kannada, prepares the body to face the sudden cold that comes to the peninsula immediately after Diwali. South India has no smooth transition weather-wise from monsoon to winter. There are a few days of stable, rainless weather, and suddenly the cold winds descend.
In many ways, the celebration of Diwali is centered around preparing for winter, considering the amount of heat and light the rituals consist of – lighting lamps, bursting crackers, and consuming warm treats. Those who practice these rituals earnestly find the shift in seasons and weather quite pleasant.
Keyboards: Sesame Oil Bath, Diwali Ritual, Traditional Sesame Oil Bath