Monday, May 4, 2009


Pan (betel leaf, piper betel) a tropical creeper belonging to the pepper family of plants named Piper betle. The Aryans called it tambula and the Arabs tambul. People chew it to sweeten the breath and colour (crimson) the lip and tongue and also to have some narcotic pleasure. Normally pan is chewed with shell-lime paste (chun) and areca nut or BETEL NUT (supari). Many eat pan mixing it with additional elements such as coriander-seed, cinnamon, cardamoms and manifold flavoured dusts.
Usually the peoples of South Asia, Gulf states, Southeast Asia and Pacific islands take pan. In Bengal pan is traditionally chewed by all classes of people not only as a habit but also as an item of rituals, etiquette and manners. On a formal occasion offering pan meant signaling the time for departure. In festivals and dinners, in parabs, pujas and PUNYAs pan was an indispensable item. During the aristocratic age, pan preparation and the style of garnishing it on a plate (pandani) was indeed a recognised folk art.
Pan differs in shape of leaves, bleaching quality, softness, pungency and aroma. The stems are semiwoody, climbing by many short adventitious roots. Leaves are large, 15-20 cm, broadly ovate. Fruits sparingly produced, quite immersed in the fleshy spike, which is about 5 cm long and pendulous.
Cultivation In olden times, pan was produced in all parts of Bengal. The cultivation of pan requires special soil and great attention. Land selected for pan production is generally high, of a stiffish soil, and in the vicinity of a stream or tank. The pan garden is called barouj, which is usually from twelve to twenty decimals in area. New land dug up from neighbouring field has to be thrown up and raised the place for making the barouj ground. Oil cakes and cow dungs are the traditional manure for a barouj. Nowadays, chemical manure is also used along with traditional manure. The creeper cuttings are planted after proper dressing in the months of May and June. The plants are neatly arranged in parallel rows about two feet apart, and the saplings are twined around upright sticks of split BAMBOO and reeds. The barouj is enclosed by a wall of bamboo and reeds, about five or six feet in height and thatched with the same material so as to protect the plants from sun and stray cattle. The plants are regularly watered in the hot months. The leaves of the plant become ready for plucking after one year of planting and the production of the barouj lasts for several years from the date of planting.
There are usually three crops during the twelve months and they are locally called by the name of the respective months in which they are harvested. Pan leaf is usually plucked in Kartik, Phalgun and Ashad. The Kartik pan is considered by consumers to be the best and Ashad pan the worst. When plucking, it is a rule to leave at least sixteen leaves on the vine. The commoner varieties are called desi, bangla, bhatial, dhaldoga, ghas pan.
Social and economic aspect The production and marketing of pan led to the rise of an occupational caste called Barui. Barouj is a pre-Muslim institution and all Baruis were originally Hindus. Most of them belonged to Nabasak caste. Their position was fairly high in the caste hierarchy. Many Baruis became ZAMINDARs and tenureholders in the nineteenth century. In the Muslim period they were the richest people among the cultivating classes. It was possibly because demand for pan was quite universal at that time. Most numerous among the pan producing Baruis, according to the censuses of 1872 and 1881, lived in Burdwan, Medinipur. Since 1947, great many baroujes were abandoned or sold by the original Baruis and their estates were bought off by the entrepreneurial Muslims. At present, pan production is predominantly in the hands of the Muslim farmers. But the technique of production remained unchanged.
Pan production is capital intensive. But it also yields high income. Due to its pungency pan barouj is not vulnerable to attacks from vermin and insects. Therefore, income from pan barouj is very stable. The economic significance of pan in the past was such that Prince Azim-us-Shan, the subadar of Bengal (1697-1703) made it one of the royal monopolies calling it saudia khas. ROBERT CLIVE, after the acquisition of the DIWANI in 1765, also made pan and supari a monopoly of the EAST INDIA COMPANY in 1767.
At present, pan has a worldwide market. Two factors are responsible for the expansion. First, the global dispersion of the pan chewing South Asians and second, scientific recognition of the medicinal value of pan. In India, Bengal is in the foremost of Pan's production.
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