A woman buys a bunch of bel patra from a florist at Lalpur Chowk in Ranchi on Tuesday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
If anything is more in demand than Lord Shiva during the month-long Shravan, it has to be bel (wood apple) leaves and dhatura (a kind of flower).
Vendors in Ranchi are earning fast bucks by selling the twin puja essentials from small, makeshift shops that have cropped up in every lane and bylane housing a Shiva temple. With the state capital having very less number of bel trees, the leaves, considered to be auspicious, are sourced from rural areas on the outskirts. Every day, 100 bags of bel patra arrive in the city centre from Kanke and the other areas. Ditto for the dhatura.
While the bel leaves are sold for Rs 5 for a pack of 11, dhatura comes for Rs 2 apiece. A garland made of dhatura is available for Rs 10 each.
Banty, founder-member of Pahari Mandir Vikas Samiti, said: “On Sundays, we need 200 bags of bel patra while on Mondays, the number rises to 500. Each bag contains 30kg of bel patra. As bel trees and dhatura are not grown extensively in the city area, we have to depend on supply from rural areas.”
Temples apart, residents also buy them for puja rituals at home.
“In Harmu, some vendors come to sell bel leaves on bicycles every morning. The rate is almost same as that of the market. People don’t mind shelling even Rs 10,” said Parwati Tripathi, a resident of Harmu Housing Colony.
But why the huge demand?
Arun Sahu of Argora, who regularly purchases the leaf, added: “It is believed that Lord Shiva likes bel patra the most. The three segments of the leaf represents the three gunas — tamas represents the physical body, rajas emotions and satwik the intellect. If one uses the three, that is physical, mental and intellectual gunas, in a balanced manner, he or she attains moksha or liberation.”
Ashok Gupta of Dibdih offered another theory.
“Bel leaves are an important offering for their trifoliate shape signifying Shiva’s three eyes. Since they have a cooling effect, they are offered to the Shiva linga to soothe the hot-tempered deity,” he added.
A rough survey suggested that around 1,000 youths and children across the city earn Rs 100 to 300 per day by selling bel patra and dhatura.
“There are around 100 big and small temples of Lord Shiva spread across the city. Near each temple, at least 10 youths and children have set up shops selling bel patra and dhatura,” said Amrendra Vishnupuri, a member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s core committee.