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Erabadu - bright red harbingers of Avurudu

by Florence Wickramage

Along with the Khoel bird, blooming flame-red Erabadu flowers are nature's symbols signifying the advent of the Sinhala New Year season. Scientifically known as Erithrina Indica, the Erabadu tree is also known as the Indian Coral tree.

Erabadu tree is very common in the villages. I remember in my village the live fence which surrounded our garden comprised of Erabadu trees and `Weta mara' trees among others. The Erabadu trees burst into bloom beginning March and the villagers compared the blooming Erabadu flowers and the Koha as nature's beautiful symbols ushering in the new year.

It is avurudu time in the village

These flowers are in bloom till the end of May. Fortunately this tree is still found in the villages though in certain areas such live fences have been replaced with concrete poles and barbed wire fences. During my young days it was really a pretty sight to see entire villages `dressed in red' with erabadu flowers in bloom in home gardens, enticing villagers into the festive mood.

In the olden days villagers lived intertwined with nature and were sensitive to even slight changes in the environment. This is why villagers associated the coming of the Khoel bird with its welcome `koho, koho ' sound and blooming erabadu flowers as a prelude to the Sinhala New Year, the beautiful season of bountiful harvests, fruits and flowers. Fruit-bearing and flowering trees are still a welcome sight in village home gardens which have thus far thwarted efforts of rapid urbanisation.

The Erabadu tree is a large spreading deciduous tree which bursts into red pea-shaped blossoms in tropical areas. The tree is considered a legume from Asia. Flowers grow on woody stalks at the end of branches with one petal much larger than the others. In our villages, besides being a beautifying factor the tree is of medicinal value.

The tender leaves of the tree are used for preparing `mallum', a favourite with village folk. In addition the leaves along with the flowers were considered as insect repellents. The leaves and the bark of the tree are used in the Ayurveda medicinal system as a blood purifier and as treatment against serpent venom.

There was a belief among villagers that the medicinal value of this tree if planted profusely in home gardens could ward off the spread of diseases and this would account for the fact that the erabadu tree was an essential component in village gardens.

In Jaffna the Erabadu tree was considered as a ceremonial object. It is said that this particular tree known in Tamil as Mullu Murukku is used for ceremonial purposes and a branch of this tree is planted before the commencement of such occasions such as the auspicious time for making of the `Thali' for the Tamil bride.

In certain other countries natives take the bark of the tree and the flower-seeds to stupefy fish so that they could catch fish easily.

Botanists say that there are two species of this tree, one of which is known as the Yak Erabadu. The tree is also found in Northern India, the Himalayan range, Java islands, Tahiti, Samoa, Myanmar and Malacca.

In the villages we are still fortunate to see flame-red erabadu trees in bloom but in a few years hence with this tree becoming rarer, would we be deprived of this beautiful sight?

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