Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sindur Tree of Nepal (सिन्दुर को रुख) Sindure

Sindur Tree of Nepal or Sindure (सिन्दुर को रुख)

Botanical name: Bixa Orellana L.
Family: Bixaceae
English name: Annatto, Lipstick Tree
Nepali Name: Sindure or Sindur 

In today's blog, I am so happy to share my pictures of shrub-like tree called Sindur or Sindure tree of Nepal  - not only because the tree and its fruit look so exotic-beautiful-ornamental,  but has a deeper religious significance and special meaning in Nepali culture. Sindur or Sindoor is an important auspicious red vermillion powder that is used in many Nepali religious rituals while worshiping gods.  Most importantly, in Nepali Hindu wedding rituals, "sindur halne" (सिउदो मा सिन्दूर हाल्ने) is the tradition of applying sindur powder (vermillion) in the bride's upper forehead and parting line of the hair by the groom. This signifies acceptance of an eternal partner in life.  This ritual is considered extremely auspicious and has been carried on for centuries. Once married, many Nepali Hindu woman will wear sindur on a daily basis for husband's longevity and security. Sindur is a mark of a married woman in Hinduism.  Single woman do not wear sindur in the hair, but wear a dot on the forehead. Most of the sindur that are found in the market these days are made of synthetic dyes and chemicals.  The sindur tree here in the picture is a sacred symbol of purity. The elderly local villager told me that the pulp that is surrounding the seeds are made into pure natural sindur.  During the auspicious dates for marriage to be performed (vedic tradition suggests certain auspicious dates), people come from all over to obtain the real natural form of sindur.  He also added that these days, many Nepalese prefer to buy commercial manufactured sindur rather than the natural form because it is convenient and also everyone does not have easy access to the tree.

The picture of sindur tree were captured in Pitaunji area -  although Pitaunji may not look  like a tourist destinations to many visitors, but this is the place where I first saw the Sindur Tree of Nepal.  Pitaunji is a sleepy little farming village tucked in the Nawalparasi area of Mukundpur, on the way to Gorkha Brewery Pvt. Ltd.  I have many fond memories of spending several winter days with my always-cheerful friend, Pratima, and her farmhouse in Nawalparasi.  We love the rustic tradition of country life and enjoy strolling around the meadows, farm lands and watch the beauty of surrounding Narayani River.  One late afternoon, I was busy capturing the images of the area and a local village boy came and asked  me, "sindur ko rukh dekhnu bayako cha?" (translation - have you ever seen Sindur tree of Nepal?).  No, I have never seen such a tree or even heard about sindur tree.  I thought sindur, (vermillion powder) that we use in the modern days came from a mixture of  some chemicals. The village boy took us to see the place where the sindur tree was in bloom.  I was fascinated to see the tree and its fruits; photographing it was the highlight of my day.  I would like to thank Asha for providing me  a welcome snapshot of sindur tree in her area across the street. 

Come along with me to explore more Nepali culture, a day in the country, simplicity of life and having fun in the meantime...and let the Sindur tree tell you the pictorial story..... I am happy to share the pictures of this attractive tree with its brilliant red fruits for my blog readers.

My thank also goes to Dr. Narayan Prasad Manandhar, the author of "Plant and People of Nepal" for identifying the plant, and providing me with the botanical name, when I sent him the enclosed pictures.  Here is the link to his book available through Amazon. He has spent decades in a firsthand study of the riches of Nepal's flora and the human uses thereof. He has conducted field research (on foot) in all 75 districts of Nepal in a lifelong effort to record the utilization of plants for food and medicine as well as diverse other applications. More than 800 drawings by the author illustrate the text..... continue reading, click here.

Scanned picture (page 113) from the book, "Plant and People of Nepal" by Dr. Narayan Prasad Manandhar.  Bixa Orellana Linnaeus - Annatto, sindure

"The red powder surrounding the seed is used on the forehead of a woman, signifying her status as married, just as the vermillion powder (sindur in Nepali) does for other Hindu woman.  Pulp of the seed is also used to color oil & butter, and to dye clothes.  Women in villages used the pulp for cosmetic dyeing of their hands."
...small evergreen tree with bright maroon-red heart shaped fruits, when ripe the fruit splits open revealing orange-red pulp and seeds. 
Here are some informative links about sindur tree (Bixa Orellana L.),  please check the following links here, here, here.
... freshly picked, stunningly beautiful bunches of pods from the sindur tree
The village boy breaks open the fruit exposing orange-red pulp and the seeds - roughly each capsules have more than 50 seeds.
The red-orange die is staining the fingers and hand...
The pigment that is derived from the seed will color anything that it touches.  It is used as a natural coloring agent for food, used in fabric dye, body painting, in cosmetics, and many other industrial dye.
... close-up picture - of the spiny maroon-red fruit of sindur tree (Bixa Orellana)
The fruits are harvested before they start to turn brown and capsules split open. The seeds are collected and dried in the open air, cleaned and processed.
A beautifully carved, traditional Nepali Sindur box (सिन्दूर को बट्टा) is given to the bride by the groom during wedding ceremony - photo courtesy - to read more about traditional Nepali wedding, please check this wonderful and informative blog - view all posts under weddings -  "Musings from an American-Nepali Household". 

The auspicious silver box, sindur ko batta, has a special significance on Nepali married women.  The box and the sindur powder is always carefully kept inside the red brocade pouch for a sacred keepsake.  Married women believe that the sindur will give life-long protection to them and longevity to their husband.
The above two images -  showing the method of applying sindur powder (vermillion) in a traditional Nepali Hindu wedding ceremony - the groom is applying the "सिन्दूर"  to the bride's seudoo (सिउदो) which is a parting line of the bride's hair and the upper part of the forehead.  In Nepali custom, several woman assist holding a holy and auspicious fabric next to bride's forehead, and the groom starts to sprinkle the sindoor in a line until he reaches to the forehead of the bride (सिउदो  मा सिन्दूर हालेको).
Woman wearing Sindoor (सिन्दूर) -  photo courtesy - It is a traditional red or orange-red colored cosmetic powder, usually worn by married women along the parting of their hair. Usage of sindoor denotes that a woman is married in many Hindu communities, and ceasing to wear it usually implies widowhood. The main component of traditional sindoor is usually vermilion.

Sindoor is traditionally applied at the beginning or completely along the parting-line of a woman’s hair or as a dot on the forehead. Sindoor is the mark of a married woman in Hinduism. Single women wear the dot in different colors, but do not apply sindoor in their head. Hindu widows do not wear the sindoor, signifying that their husband is no longer alive. The sindoor is first applied to the woman by her husband on the day of her wedding. After this time she must apply this every day herself in the parting of her hairline........continue reading..... (source - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

If you have any expertise or knowledge you want to share with us about the Sindur Tree of Nepal, please write in the comment section of the blog.  Thank you.

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All information on the Taste of Nepal blog are restricted use under copyright law. You may not re-use words, stories, photographs, or other posted material without the explicit written consent and proper credit to Jyoti Pathak. If you would like to use any materials here, please contact me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Banana Blossom - Keraa ko Bungo - (केराको बुङ्गो)

Image of a large banana blossom - Keraa ko Bungo -  (केराको बुङ्गो)
The fruit of banana tree - common name: Plantain, Banana - Musa paradisiaca L

Banana blossoms or buds are the tender heart of unopened banana flowers called keraa ko bungo - (केरा को बुङ्गो) in Nepali.  The rusty purple colored blossoms has several sheaths and is roughly shaped like a heart.  It is eaten as a cooked vegetable, made into spicy curries mixed with other vegetables or prepared into fresh pickles (achaar).  Before cooking, the outer tough sheaths of the banana blossoms need to be stripped off until the tender inner yellowish bud is revealed. You may have to remove a lot of tough leaves to get the inner edible part of the blossom.  There are non-edible portions of the banana flower that need to be removed before using. The raw buds can be a little bitter, so it is mostly prepared as a cooked vegetable in Nepal.  Before handling the fresh banana blossoms, it is recommended that you rub your hands and knife with some cooking oil to prevent sap from the blossoms to discolor your hands. If you ever get hold of banana blossoms in your fresh food markets, or Asian produce section area of your supermarket, please try the recipe that I have posted in the "Taste of Nepal" cookbook - page 136 for Keraa ko Bungo ko Tarkaari (Banana Blossom Curry) recipe.  I am sure the vegetable will be a delicious treat!  

The first time I saw the banana flower was after I arrived at my cousin's farm house in the Tarai area of Nepal near Chitwan National Park. At my cousin's backyard,  I spotted a beautiful rusty-purple banana blossom that was hanging at the end of a stalk from a banana tree.  This is the first time I saw a banana tree with blossom and had no idea that they were edible. Being born and raised in Kathmandu, the blossoms were not frequently seen in the local vegetable markets; actually, it was rarely seen in those days.  Bananas are grown throughout the warmer regions of Nepal covering Tarai, inner Tarai and central hills.  Here are some pictures that I captured from my camera.

A quick snap shot from the tourist bus along the road, "Kathmandu-Pokhara-Chitwan" -  capturing the picture of banana trees while passing and observing local culture and scenery.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Nepal ranks 56th in banana production in the world. Although bananas are grown across the country, the Tarai plains lead in output. Kailali is the top banana producing district in Nepal with production in the last fiscal year reaching 11,558 tons.  Other large producers are Morang, Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Sunsari, Rupendehi and Kapilvastu. Nepal has six different species of here to read more...
This image shows a friendly local village women, helping me to take pictures of green banana in a row and the blossom that is hanging down pointing to the ground.  She is gently holding the banana leaves to expose more fruits for my picture.
The edible banana blossoms are very popular in many Southeast Asian countries.  Please click here to watch this helpful video to learn how to clean and cut banana blossom and flower.
 The small banana that are found in Nepal has small blossoms and the locals tell me "सानो बुङ्गो को अचार धेरै-धेरै मिठो हुन्छ" (translation - the fresh pickle made from small blossoms are much tastier with good flavor and texture).  I am not sure if this is true or even wonder if everyone agrees with this... 
Some people reserve the outer tough layers (petals) of banana blossom to make a decorative serving bowl.  I do not have the images of such exotic presentation, but I am going to link to other blogger's page.  Please click here and here
Here is a picture of a bunch of rusty purple petals from banana blossoms that has curled up and dropped on the ground.
Image of just picked banana blossom at my cousin's farm house - getting ready to clean and cut the blossom and flowers.
The banana blossom for sale at the produce section of Asian food stores in New York. Before purchasing these, make sure they are firm to touch, open out one or two sheaths to check if they look fresh.  If they are old and black, it will be tasteless and bitter.
Many people compare the taste of banana blossoms with fresh artichoke hearts, but I think it has its own distinguished taste and if prepared properly, they are delicious.

Copyright Information

All information on the Taste of Nepal blog are restricted use under copyright law. You may not re-use words, stories, photographs, or other posted material without the explicit written consent and proper credit to Jyoti Pathak. If you would like to use any materials here, please contact me.