I was very fond of the huge Gulgangi tree in our school grounds. It provided shade to batches of students for years. Many students would sit in groups and enjoy their lunch under the shade of the tree.
Picture1 – Gulgangi Tree
Our school assembly would be around it and during our free period we would pick up the brilliant red shining seeds littered on the ground and add it to our collection.
Picture2 – Gulgangi Seeds, which are 30 years old
We would use these seeds or Tamarind seeds to play Alagulimane/Mancala game, which is a board game with 2 X 8 depressions made on a wooden board. Mysore Zoo also has two of these trees near the Hippopotomous enclosure. I still collect the seeds from this place.
Picture3 – Alagulimane/Mancala game
In Kannada this tree is called Gulgangi mara, Malayalam it is Manjadikuru, Malaysia it is Saga and the botanical name is Adenanthera Pavonina. The other common names are Coral Tree, Red Sandalwood, Bead tree, and Necklace tree. The tree is originally from Southeast China and India. It is a medium sized tree, which can grow up to 30 meters in height. It is a hard and fast growing tree with a round shaped crown.
The seeds germinate only if they are scratched or boiled for a minute or dipped in sulphuric acid. The leaves are green and compound. The flowers bloom twice a year and are tiny, yellowish with mild fragrance. The fruit pods are green and hang in bunches. The pods turn brown, contort and split open as they ripen to reveal the brilliant red seeds.
Picture4 – The leaves and ripe pods with seeds
The seeds are red, shiny, heart shaped and attractive. The weight of the seeds is uniform and hence was being used by jewelers to weigh precious metal and diamonds. These seeds were also used to make jewelry and rosaries. The seeds are also called as Circassian seeds and Jumbie beads. Even after decades the seeds retain their color and shine.
Picture5 – Gulgangi Tree in Singapore Zoo
Another variety of this tree is called Chicken eyes (Adenanthera bicolor). It is a native of Sri Lanka. The seeds are smaller in size than the Circassian seeds, oval in shape and have a black spot at one end.
Legend associated with the seeds
In the famous Krishna temple in Guruvayoor, Kerala there is a big heavy vessel filled with Manjadikuru/Circassian seeds placed near the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum in memory of a devotee. According to the legend a poor lady wished to go to Guruvayoor to see Lord Krishna and wanted to take something along with her as offering to the lord. As she could not afford to buy anything fancy, she collected the shiny red Manjadikuru as her humble offerings.
She set on foot to Guruvayoor and after 4 days of walking into forests and hills clutching her precious bag of Manjadikuru seeds she reached the sacred place exhausted. The day she arrived was the first day of the month and on this day it was the custom that the local ruler would visit the temple and offer an elephant to the lord. Due to the prominence given to the ruler in the temple the officers pushed people in arrogance to make way to the king. The frail lady fell down and her bag of Manjadikuru seeds was scattered on the ground. A tear rolled down her cheeks and fell to the ground. As soon as this happened the elephant ran amok and there was chaos all around. People prayed for this chaos to end. Suddenly there was a divine voice heard, the lord himself was asking where his ardent devotee was and the offering of Manjadikuru seeds that she had bought. The people understood their folly and helped the lady up and gathered the seeds and she was let inside to pray and see the Lord. The elephant calmed down immediately and peace restored in the temple.