5 December 2006


As part of the celebrations during Karthigai Deepam, people in the evening, throng to witness the lighting up of the 'chockapaanai'; in which the stems of dry palm, coconut and kamugu are burnt symbolising famine and drought be removed from society.

Some believe that the remains of 'chockapaanai', which are placed along the pathway of agricultural land is a symbol of prosperity. Palms which are well-known and extensively cultivated, have always had an important role to humans. According to reports, had the date palm not existed, the expansion of the human race into hot and barren parts of the world would have been much more restricted.

The date palm provides a concentrated energy food and also creates an amenable habitat for people to live in by providing shade and protection from desert winds. The date palm also yields a variety of products for use in agricultural production and for making baskets, trays and for decoration. Practically all parts of the tree serve some useful purpose or the other.

An indication of the importance of palms is that they are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible and at least 22 times in the Koran.

Human use of palms is as old or older than civilisation itself, starting with the cultivation of the date palm by Mesopotamians and those in the Middle-East over 5,000 years ago. Some examples are of Rattan (a climber of Sri Lanka and Southern India), whose stems are used extensively in furniture and baskets and Palm sap which is sometimes fermented to produce the alcoholic beverage, palm wine or toddy.

Unfortunately, palms have been threatened by human intervention and exploitation. The greatest risk is destruction of habitat, especially in the tropical forests, due to urbanisation, wood-chopping, mining, and conversion to farmland. Palmyra, which is declared as the 'State Tree' of Tamilnadu, helps prevents soil erosion and protects natural wealth especially during disasters like tsunami.

As per Tamilnadu Palm Products Development Board's 15-point programme, awareness is being created not only as to the nutritious value of the edible products of the palm, but also to develop and fully utilise an industry of palm products.

[By R Gomathy Sankaravel]

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