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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Madar (Calotropis sp.): an important but neglected weed

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Madar or mandar is a neglected medicinal weed. It is taxonomically known as Calotropis belonging to the family Asclepiadaceae.

Madar : C. procera(Raktarka)

In English it is commonly known as milk weed or swallow-wort. Commonly it is a wasteland plant which gains not much recognition from animals and human beings. Animals usually do not eat it and insects too seem to have some fear from it though its flowers are seen to attract a variety of nectar loving insects. Its names in different languages are –arka, alarka, mandara and surya patta in Sanskrit; madar, and ak in Hindi;Khok in Persian;akado in Gujrati; ruvi, akdo and akra in Maharashtriyan; mandaram, eke, jiledu and arkamu in Telugu; badabadam,yercum and erukku in Tamil; erikka in Malayalam; ekkemale in Kannad; byclospa in Sindhi; and arbor-a-soie in French.

Inspite of its great taxonomic, cultural, medicinal and ethnobotanical values, madar is placed on the status of a neglected weed due to its some of the toxic behaviours.

Habit and Habitat
Sanskrit texts including Ayurveda make a mention of two principal varieties of Calotropis – Shwet Ark or the Calotropis with white flowers (C.gigantea), and Raktarka or Calotropis with red or purple flowers (C. procera). Calotropis is native to India and grows wild here and there in the wasteland and up to 900 meters through out the country in different types of soils and climates. It is however, is found commonly in Africa, China and other parts of the world too. In India it is very common in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar and many other states as well. It is a tough plant and adopts well in different types of habitats like rubbish heaps, waste and fallow lands, roadsides and even sand dunes.

Calotropis gigantea or Madar with white flowers

Calotropis may be regarded as a succulent shrub, or a small tree that grows up to 6 m in height with soft woody stems and thick corky bark. Calotropis is easy to recognize by its large, stiff, thick and pale green leaves, densely covered with white hairs feeling like velvet and the thick bladder like spongy fruit. White milky latex is abundantly found in the whole plant. This milky latex is poisonous and very dangerous to eyes. Leaves of Calotropis are opposite, sessile or very short stalked clasping the stem, large, stiff, and more or less erect, fleshy, pale green to blue green, densely covered with fine white hairs, oblong, obovate to broadly obovate or ovate, rounded, more or less shortly acuminated or abruptly pointed at the apex, slightly heart shaped at the base 7.30x4.18 cm. These contain 7 to 9 marked lateral nerves.

Flowers of Calotropis are small, 3 to 18 in clusters between the leaves, the stalk of inflorescence is thick, pedicels 1 to 3 cm long, corolla campanulate with 5 spread lobes, 2 to 25 cm cross, and lobes ovate, acuminate, white or pink outside, white pink with intensive purple tips. Flat green stigma is the principal characteristic feature which is perfectly pentagonal in shape.

Fruit of Calotropis is inflated, large, conspicuous, bladder like, spongy, subglobose to obliquely ovoid, uneven, usually 12x9 cm but also up to 25 cm long. When squeezed hard fruits burst with a loud bang. The seeds are numerous. They are packed densely with white silky white tuft of hairs.

Religious and cultural importance of the plant

The plant Calotropis sp. or madar or mandar or AK has been in the traditional religious and cultural practice since the time immemorial. It leaves were used for Sun worship in Vedic times. The leaves and flowers of this plant are considered to be sacred in Hindu mythology. Leaves of madar along with the flowers and fruits of Datura plant are used in the worship of Lord Shiva in various temples of India including the Lingraj Temple of Bhubaneswar in the Indian state of Orissa. The garlands of flowers of Calotropis are used in the worship of Hanuman on Saturdays by Hindus. The ancient Arab Tribes also had specific notions rooted in superstition about this plant in relation to Sun-worship.

Hindus obtain Swetark Ganapati from the root of this shrub that sometimes takes the shape of Lord Ganesh. The Calotropis Shrub that produces white and fragrant flowers is called as Swetark. This is a rare shrub. Flowers of Swetark are considered to be favorite of Lord Shiva. The root of this shrub is invited on some auspicious day ( in the Ravi-Pushya Nakshatra ) and carved into the form of Ganapati or Ganesh in some auspicious muhurta. Hindus believe that those who worship this idol of Ganesh enjoy the presence of Mahadevi Laxmi and Lord Shiva. The Ganesh idol carved out of the root of Swetark is worshiped – to receive blessings of Shiva and Ganesh, to achieve knowledge and power, to get promotion in jobs and to increase business, to maintain harmony in married life, to get rid from the hardships of insufficiency, to activate positive energy in the house and to get victory on enemies.

The ancient Hindu texts make mentions that a house where the Swetark Ganesh is worshiped becomes free from poverty, obstacles, quarrels, horror, and all sorts of negative things. While worshipping Swetark Ganapati, the essential mantras to be chanted are – Om Vakratundaya Namaha, and Om Shree Ganeshay Namah.

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