Paan ka patha or betel leaf has been inherent in the ancient culture of India where it features as an important symbolism in the lives of aristocrats as well as commoners. Its use in India dates back to 400 BC where ancient books of Ayurveda, Charaka, Sushruta and others mention the importance of chewing betel leaf after food. Even the European traveller Marco Polo has mentioned about the tradition of betel chewing among kings and nobles in India.
Betel leaf has been used for centuries for its curative properties and found to be a stimulant, an antiseptic and a breath-freshener. The world famous Magahi Paan of the Magadha region in Bihar stands tall in all parameters of taste, pungency and softness. This high grade Magahi Paan grown in clay loam soil in the regions of Nawada, Nalanda, Gaya and Aurangabad are cultivated by a certain community called the ‘Chaurasia‘. This cultivation is done by about five thousand farming families who swear by pure instinct and age-old technique passed down through the generations.
There is a very interesting story of ‘Chaurasia‘ in the Hindu scriptures. It is said that all the sages resolved to conduct a yagna to propitiate Vishnu. All the important offerings for the sacrifice were available on earth but for paan. This made all the sages anxious as paan was imperative upon the completion of the yagna. Paan was supposed to be available in nagaloka (kingdom of the snakes) but the question remained how to acquire it. A son of a sage named Chaurashi agreed to bring paan from nagaloka and underwent many trials and tribulations before he succeeded. And thus, began the cultivation of paan on earth which even today is believed to be a boon of Nagadevatha (Snake Lord) done by the Chaurasia community who are considered to be descendants of Chaurashi.
The Magahi Paan which was favoured by the noble families of Lucknow and Bengal in the 18th and 19th centuries and associated with many famous stories on their lives received the prestigious Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2017-18 for its distinctive pungency, softness, sweetness and its tendency to melt in the mouth upon consumption. It is a little wonder that these leaves make their way to the famous Banares paanwalas in large quantities and also have a ready market overseas.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)