TGIF Motifs - Paan: An evolution from delicacy to design

A narrative element, a poetic expression and a visual identity; motifs are revered greatly across all cultures and communities for their artistic sense and symbolic significance. As heirloom fragments that are handed down through generations, motifs are subject to the influence of various factors during different periods. Be it religion, architecture, music dance or mythology, each of these elements shape these beloved motifs and its perspective. In this week's blog, we will be exploring the delight of Banaras, 'Paan', which is irresistible both as a delicacy and as a design motif.

Paan originates from the Sanksrit word 'Parna' meaning leaf and is more commonly known as 'Betel Leaf'. While it has an extremely strong connection with Indian history and food culture, dating back to 5,000 years, it is native to South-East Asian countries where it is called 'Naag Vallari', or literally the ‘snake vine’. From Ayurveda to Indian mythology, it is known for its medicinal values and heart-shaped structure. Legend has it that the tradition of chewing betel leaves can be traced back to Ramayana, where it appears in 2 instances. Lord Rama is said to have partaken in chewing betel leaves while he was in exile, to help control his hunger. Additionally, when Hanuman reached Lanka and met Goddess Sita, she gave a garland of betel leaves as a token of love and appreciation. This customary practice is still prevalent today in Northern India, where a combination of betel leaves are exchanged between families during weddings and is seen as a symbol of strong bonds and loyalty in the relationship. 

A Banarasi's love for paan is eternal and this humble leaf serves a multitude of purposes. When combined with various other ingredients and condiments, it transforms into a conical shaped delicacy called paan which is said to be a wonderful digestive aid after a heavy meal. Ancient Ayurvedic texts also consider the betel leaf as a natural remedy for various health problems bile issues, indigestion, ear infections, weight loss and diabetes. With strong antiseptic and medicinal properties, it is also a highly recommended mouth freshener. Apart from its health benefits, the betel leaf or paan is also an integral part of many rituals and customs and are closely knit with every auspicious occasion. In south India, betel leaves are offered by elders during special occasions as blessings for good fortune. Whereas in east Indian states like Assam, it is offered to guests right after a meal as a sign of respect and gratitude. Moving on to north India, betel leaves are used to adorn an earthen or metallic pot called Kalash during festivals and ceremonies. It is believed that it purifies the water that touches it and is an integral component of the rites.

Did you know the many names by which this hearty leaf is called across the country? Known as Tamalpaku in Telugu, Vetrilai in Tamil, Tamul in Assamese, Kavala in Kannada and Naginiche paan in Marathi, it truly has a special place in our country's rich and diverse culture.

Throughout history, the fondness and popularity of Paan continued to grow and intensify, reaching its peak during the Mughal and Sultanate eras. It was during this reign when art and textiles were flourishing that this delicate leaf captured the hearts of weavers and craftsmen. Mesmerised by its pattern and the design opportunities it presented, it was incorporated into weaves as exquisite motifs and soon enough became a favourite. Be it as small buttis along the border or as rich and bold motifs on the body, the Paan motif became synonymous with Banarasi weaves. At Sundari Silks, we take great care and pride to preserve timeless traditions like this and preserve them through our wide range of handcrafted weaves.

 

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