The historical city of Mahoba in Bundelkhand, once known as Mahotsav Nagar was the stronghold of the Chandelas and Pratiharas. In the ninth century, the Chandela king ordered a betel vine from Udaipur – Banswara in Rajasthan and planted it in the western part of Gorakhgiri. The westerly and southerly winds at Bundelkhand are warmer and hence, arrangement for irrigation was made from Madan Sagar, Kirat Sagar and other lakes. Paan cultivation was given great importance during the reign of the Chandelas. Though different varieties of paan were cultivated here, the royals were only served Mahoba.
It was customary to place paan in a silver plate while challenging one to a duel. This was called as beeda and would be accepted only by the gallant. A war has even broken out over the famous Mahoba paan in the ancient times.
In 1905, Mahoba was called the Dariba Pan Marketing Centre and the paan rail route starting from Mahoba to Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Pakistan and other places was established. Farmers say that paan farming generated a lot of employment during the time of their ancestors. Gradually, this cultivation spread to other parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Mahoba paan is grown largely in Mahoba district and parts of Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh. Mahoba paan is highly susceptible to climatic fluctuations and so its cultivation is done in a controlled environment in a conservatory called as Bareja. A Bareja is made up of locally available material like bamboo and other stalks that can withstand strong winds and storms. Its height is about 6 – 7 feet and its roof is covered with thick straw. Bamboo poles, stalks and even old clothes are used to cover the walls and the roof to protect the plant and the soil surface from direct sun rays.
The size of the leaf of Mahoba Desawari paan is larger than other varieties. The leaves have a unique aroma, lesser fibre with a mild bitterness and sweet taste. The leaves are completely chewable and just falls into pieces when slightly crushed. They are crisper, brighter in colour and have a glossy shine.
The intake of betel leaf is highly recommended in Ayurveda as it acts as a natural cleaning agent for the mouth, is considered to be an aphrodisiac, quenches thirst, improves digestion and also prevents malnutrition.
At one time, farmers used to rake in over 8 crores annually in the export of Mahoba Desawari paan to Pakistan, Europe and Middle-East countries but now the annual income is less than 1.5 crore. Even the area under cultivation has significantly dropped from 600 acres to 60 acres due to continuous losses because of climatic factors. However, the Government of Uttar Pradesh has stepped in and is implementing a Paan incentive scheme which offers substantial subsidy to paan farmers. A plan to offer crop insurance is also being worked out so that this indigenous variety of paan will live on for many more years.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)