Aati Amavasya: Custom of consuming bark juice of Pale Mara

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Report and Pictures by Eugene Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

Moodubelle, 09 August 2010:  In the early morning of the new moon in the lunar month falling between July-August, popularly known as ‘Ati Amavasya’, people quietly proceed to the nearby medicinal tree known by botanical name as Alstonia Scholaris also known as Blackboard tree, Devil tree, Milkwood pine, White cheesewood and Ditabark in the English language; Halemara in Kannada, Palemara in Tulu and in Konkani Sathanacho rook may be modified from Saitanacho rook from the English word Devil tree. Looking for a sharp stone or with a hammer people strike at the trunk of the tree which easily gives away chunks of its bark. Taking few pieces they walk away to their residence and pound it to get the bitter juice like liquid which is consumed by the members of the family in small quantities either raw but usually adding some spicy ingredients and seasoning so that the bitter medicinal liquid can be swallowed without much repulsion. 

One may wonder the reason behind the consumption of the bitter juice of this particular tree that too on the new moon of the lunar month of Ati (Ati Amavasya). It is believed that this bitter syrup prepared from the liquid tapped out of this Devil tree barks (Pale mara) is said to have the power to ward off health problems till the next Aati. This is one of the important aspects of the Tulu folk culture and custom. It is said that once a year before consuming any food in the morning at least a small portion of the juice of the bark of this tree should be consumed to be healthy from any type of bowel troubles. With the festival season soon to follow after the Ati month, people in general will be eating lot many delicacies and tasty dishes which would strain the bowels. Hence, consuming the juice from the bark of this ‘Pale mara’ would provide security from unwanted stomach ailments. 

Besides the above reasons, the bark of Alstonia Scholaris (Pale mara) is used for medicinal purposes ranging from Malraia and epilepsy to skin conditions and asthama.  in Ayurveda it is used  as a bitter and as an astringent herb for treating skin disorders, malarial fever,  urticaria, chronic dysentery, diarrhoea, in snake bite and for upper purification process of Panchakarma .The  Milky juice of the tree is applied to ulcers.  

The Alstonia Scholaris is a tropical tree that is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. On an average this tree grows up to 40 meters tall and its bark is greyish. The upper side of the leaves are glossy, while the underside is greyish. Leaves occur in whorls usually seven in number in one whorl. Hence, in Sanskrit this tree is also known as ‘Saptaparni’ (seven leaves). The bark contains alkaloids ditamine, echitenine and echitamine and used as an alternative to quinine. The decoction of the bark of this tree had been used to treat diarrhoea and Malaria. In Ayurveda the decoction and juice of the bark of this tree is being recommended for aliments of stomach. A decoction of the leaves was used for beriberi.

The tree has other uses as well in different countries. In Sri Lanka its light wood is used for coffins. In Borneo the wood close to the root is very light and of white colour which is used for net floats, corks, etc. 

There is religious significance of Ati Amavasya especially in the Shiva temples situated in the Tulunad such as those of  Karinja, Narahariparvata, Kudroli, Kadri, and other places. Shiva devotees visit these temples in large numbers. In Shri Narahari Sadashiva Temple at Bantwal people take bath in four ponds known as shanka, chakra, ghadha and padhmakaara, with the belief that their sins would be washed away. 



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Comments on this Article
It is believed that,on this particular day of Ati Amavasya bitter juice from the bark of blackboard tree transforms itself as a all in one medicine.Hence,the practice of drinking bitter juice started and continued till date.Thanks to Belle vision and team of DR.Eugine for research on blackboard tree,its usefulness duly supported with photographs of trees."Jai Boliye".
Juliana Dsouza, Moodubelle Tue, August-10-2010, 5:11
Dr Eugene You are great. By reading your articles, I feel I am in Gavn. My granny would give this early morning and after drinking small piece of jaggery.
Rajesh M., Karkala Mon, August-9-2010, 11:48
Still remember the younger days when we used to remove the chunks of tree and take home early in the morning before anyone else come. Nice article by Dr. Eugene.
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