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  • Srishti Jain

The Story of Paan

Betel Leaf or Paan has a history that dates back to more than 5000 years. Paan finds mention in many ancient texts. Paan has originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Parna’ which means ‘leaf’. Paan (betel leaf) has a significant role in India. It has found new meaning the popular cultures with songs like, 'Khaike Paan Banaras Wala', In eastern countries also paan has entwined the culture and convention of the people. It has a heart-shaped, simple, exstipulate leaf light green to deep green in colour with five to seven dorsally well-marked vein.

The name paan (betel leaf) has acquired a new connotation in India. It originally means betel leaf (in modern writing and usage paan refers to both betel nut and betel leaf ). The use of paan reflects civility, hospitality, a convention, a habit, an innocent after-meal, breath sweetening practice. The habit of after-meal use of paan or a piece of nut is the most common practice that comes across in India.

The ancient Hindu compendium of religious texts, Skanda Purana, which dates back to the sixth century, has references to paan. According to the Skanda Purana, In the story of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean by Gods and Demons in search of Amrit, the nectar of immortality, the betel leaf was one of the many celestial objects that were discovered.

In ancient India scriptures like Charaka Samhita, ayurvedic books of Sushruta, and many more, the practice of chewing betel leaves, areca nut mixed with tobacco, lime, sweetened coconut, spices mint, and other ingredients existed in ancient India dated back to nearly 2500 years ago. People use it as a mouth freshener and digestive and especially after dinner, Paan was known to increase lipids and aid indigestion. 40 varieties of betel leaves are grown on farms to meet the growing demands. There is a special technique used to fold paan and holding the ingredients in its bosom the most popular art of paan folding is known as “gilouri” where the filling is held by a clove which is pinned to a triangle-shaped folding of betel leaf.

In the north and south India, these green leaves are part of an inseparable part of auspicious occasions. In Mysore, betel leaves are offered as a sign of good fortune. In Assam, it is offered right after a meal as a sign of respect to the visiting guests. In north India, wedding rituals involve a combination of betel leaf and areca nut which symbolizes a strong bond and loyalty in a relationship. Festivals like Dussehra, Durga Puja, Diwali are incomplete without betel leaves that are used to embellish Kalash. While performing various religious rituals, it is believed that adding leaves to water purifies it.

Chewing betel leaves is a very old tradition in Indian culture. In the Ramayana, it is mentioned that the time when Hanuman reached Lanka to convey the message of Rama, Sita welcomed him with a garland of betel leaves to express her happiness and gratitude. The betel vine or paan sometimes is called a native of java. Marco Polo describes an amusing custom: “All the people of this city, as well as of the rest of India, have a custom of perpetually keeping in the mouth a certain leaf called Tembul (paan)… continually chewing it and spitting out the saliva that it excites." Ibn Battuta describes paan that the betel has no fruit and is grown only for the sake of its leaves.

A Paan dan is silverware, and it was used mostly to store betel leaf, betel seeds, and most other spices for making a Paan. Made of metal, the Paan dan is often perforated and has several compartments for storing the individual ingredients for making Paan. These are of various shapes and often exquisitely ornated. Mostly made of brass are divided into compartments where ingredients are placed. In southern India, the paan is offered on special plates. The betel leaves are arranged on the plates the nut mixture is placed in a silver cup or in a glass bottle which is placed to one side with lime in a small glass container on a betel leaf the plate is then placed before the guests and relatives after the meal.

Reference :

The story of chewing paan - M Gowda

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