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Giant Milkweed


Botanical Name Calotropis procera (Linn.) R. Br.
Common NameGiant Milkweed / Swallow Wort, Madaar (Hindi), Vellai Erukku (Tamil), Arka (Sanskrit)

Distribution

Throughout India, in dry places

Religious association

The Arka plant is considered very special to Lord Ganesha. The leaves and the flowers are offered to the deity, especially during Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganapathi carved from the Arka, also known as Arka-Ganapathi is worshipped by some Hindu households.

The plant is closely associated with Suryadeva (Hindu Sun God). In fact, ‘Arka’ is one of the 108 names of the Sun God. According to the some ancient scriptures, the Gods were performing a sacrificial ritual to the Sun God, when they spilled milk. From this emerged a plant, which the Gods named ‘Arka’, after Lord Surya. On Rathasapthami, (traditionally regarded as the day when the chariot of Suryadeva is turned to North by his charioteer, Aruna), devout Hindus place arka leaves on their head while taking snanam, (sacred bath).

The plant is also sacred to Lord Shiva and also to some village deities. One of these is Arkamma, named after the plant.

Uses

The Arka plant is generally considered a useless weed. But actually the roots, leaves and the stalk are well recognized for their medicinal properties. The root bark is used for controlling dysentery. An extract derived from the plant is used to cure maladies like tuberculosis, leprosy, rheumatisms, syphilis, etc. The dried plants are used as a fuel in rural India.

Konark, renowed for its Sun temple is sometimes referred to as ‘arka-thirtha’.

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