Finding gold

A shower of gold outside the window

A shower of gold outside the window   | Photo Credit: Ashish Kothari

Guess what kept me company during the COVID-19 lockdown? Gold! No, not the yellow metal that everyone wants to have, but something even more precious. A profusion of golden yellow flowers of an amaltas tree just outside my window burst into bloom in April-May, just as the lockdown was making me restless. In its own spectacularly humble way, this tree was telling to me that I didn’t have to go roaming everywhere to be with nature, to see beauty, to enjoy life.

Amaltas, aptly called Golden Shower tree (scientific name Cassia fistula), has various names in Indian languages: chahui (Manipuri), konrai (Tamil), sonali (Bengali), garmalo (Gujarati), and bahava (Marathi). In association with a number of other trees with brightly coloured flowers (like the palash and kachnar), this blooms just as the Indian plains are getting hot and dusty. The chandelier-like cascades of golden yellow flowers are certainly a sight for tired eyes, and this time they were a soothing presence for a restless mind.

Every morning, for three to four weeks, I would glance out of my window and see the burst of gold, interspersed with the tree’s long, brown seed pods. What better way to start the day? And then it would get even better, as a plethora of bird, bee and butterfly species would visit it throughout the day. Some birds simply used its branches as a perch; some, like house sparrows, actually ate the flowers. Bees seemed to be searching for nectar in the flowers. The best was a purple sunbird, its shiny colour contrasting beautifully against the yellow; and conversely, a common iora with its greenish-yellow body getting almost lost amid the flower bunches. Butterflies like the common grass yellow and common emigrant visited, perhaps, to lay their eggs on its leaves?

Amaltas is native to India, celebrated in literature and poetry for its sheer beauty. Its seed pods have medicinal value, as a laxative (useful if you have a obstinate stomach that refuses to download its contents!). In fact, in Ayurveda, it is called Aragvadha, meaning ‘disease killer’, as it is also useful in several other stomach, heart and skin problems. Its wood is quite hard, and has been used for making furniture and in wood crafts. It is the state flower of Kerala and people there call it vishu konnai for its use in the Vishu festival, during which they strive to get a sight of it. Much like me during the lockdown.

As I write this, the flowers are gone; the tree is covered once again in broad, shiny green leaves. But even now, when I wake up, the first memory is of that gorgeous golden treasure, just outside my window.

Conservation and Nature is a series brought to you by Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group (

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 6:46:08 PM |

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