Gifts from the Celestial Nagas

By Leila Ekanayake

 The miracle begins to unfold around 10.30pm. The night air fills with a soft indefinable scent, and the five leaved calyx, white with a hint of purplish green in its veins, opens out gradually so gradually that you donÕt see it happening and then a thin, three-inch petal of scintillating white peeps out, unfolding its beauty in the still night air. Another and another follow suit and by midnight all the petals have opened out and the stamens hold out their sacs of pollen. For a few moments this rare blossom sways softly in the night wind, like a delicate white manel (lily) flower. The fragrance is now intense, but all too soon the petals begin to wilt and by dawn the entire flower has withered.

 This epiphytic plant grows in the forks of large trees, where the decayed particles of bark and moisture collect to give it a rich protective foothold. The plant has leathery leaves, a little thicker than that of the vanda orchid, but not as thick as that of the cactus. The leaves are long with scalloped edges. The scallops point downwards. During the Sri Pada season, November to March, a little shoot appears at the point where two scallops meet; the shoot grows to a length of about five inches before it bears a bud, which hangs down on its slender stem.

This is the Kadupul - the legendary flower of the Celestial Nagas. It is believed that when these flowers bloom, the Nagas come down from their celestial abodes, to offer them to the Buddha on the Holy Mountain Sri Pada. The strange fragrance, the midnight miracle, and the fact that flowers bloom in the season when people flock to Sri Pada, seem to add authenticity to this belief; the classical poet sang;

They worship him thus
The gods with Heavenly flowers
The Asuras with the Sith Palol flowers The Nagas with Kadupul

Deviyo diva malin
Asurasen sith palolin
Diva Nai kadupulin
Nithin puda dethi Tilo Munidun

The flowers and plants of Kadupul may be seen at Mrs. Benaragama's residence on Galle Road, Kalutara South.

Heard of the Naga Valli? Betel chewing is a part of Sri Lankan culture. It is one custom shared by both the Tamils and Sinhalese. It is a good habit keeping the mouth fresh and free from harmful bacteria as the betel is an antiseptic. The areca and the betel also strengthen the gums. Perhaps this cultural trait was shared by the Nagas, for it is said that when they visited our land, they found the green betel leaf rather bland and therefore brought their own variety the Naga Valli. The Naga Valli betel leaf carries a yellow imprint of the Cobra head, the emblem of the Nagas. The chewers of the Naga Valli are warned to bite off a good bit of the stem and break off the tip of the leaf before they begin chewing. This is due to a confusion of the Naga clan, with the reptile, the Cobra. From this misconception arose the story that the Naga Valli was carried in the mouths of the Cobras. Hence the belief that the Nagas held the leaf by the stem or tip and may have left some venom at these points. If you watch a seasoned betel chewer, you will see him do this even with our green betel leaf. Even today when a sheaf of betel is offered as a token of respect care is taken that no Naga Valli leaves are included in it.

(A Naga Valli betel vine can be seen at Saman', Meedeniya, Hettimulla, where I saw it.)

@Explore Sri Lanka