Among the 21 leaves offered to Lord Ganesha during Patra Pooja/leaves offering ritual, Arka/Yekka leaf is one of them.
Pooja to Lord Hanuman is incomplete without the offering of a garland made with Arka flowers or Arka leaves. Hindus worship the plant and the leaves are used while having a bath on Rathasapthami/festival of Sun god. In the ancient scripts of Ayurveda, Arka is mentioned as a healing herb. There are two varieties of this plant, the plant with the white flowers is said to be more sacred and its botanical name is Calotropis Procera and the other with lilac colored flowers is called as Calotropis Gigantean.
Picture – Calotropis Procera/White Arka
Arka means “ray of light” in Sanskrit and the Arka plant is native to India and grows in dry wastelands. It grows to a height of 3-5 meters. Its branches are thick and ash colored. When the plant is cut or broken, a milky sap oozes out of it, hence the name Giant Milkweed. Another common name of the plant “Crown Flower” is justified by the fact that the flowers are clustered into a bunch and each of these beautiful flowers has five petals with a structure in the middle resembling a crown.
The mature leaves are large, greenish gray, 8 – 12 cm long and 5 – 7 cm broad. The fruits of these trees are greenish gray, puffed up, 10 – 12 cm long. The fruits contain numerous seeds with tufts of silky hair at one end to help it fly.
Leaves of Arka is offered to Ganesha during the 21 patra (leaves) pooja while chanting “Om Kapilaaya namaha, Arka Patram Samarpayaami”.
Flowers of Arka are also offered to Lord Ganesha during the 21 pushpa (flower) pooja while chanting “Om Shudhaaya Namaha Arka Pushpam Samarpayami”.
The fruits are green, large up to 6-12 cm long and 3-7 cm wide. The skin of the fruits is thick and spongy. On maturity, the fruit opens to reveal flattened seeds.
Many medicinal benefits have been derived from different parts of the Arka tree. It is used externally as well internally. An Ayurvedic practitioner will be able to guide in prescribing the right treatment for the ailment.
The Arka is known to have cured skin diseases, digestion problem, abdominal pain, tumors, joint pains, wounds, toothaches etc. The latex of this plant is known to have controlled hair fall and lessen edema. The flowers and the skin of its roots are used to cure asthma and cough.