It was during the churning of the ocean, during the Amrita Manthan, that the gods and asuras saw it for the first time. The tree with flowers whose fragrance can entice the gods emerged from the ocean as did numerous other treasures such as the Kamdhenu, the wish granting cow, Airavata, Indra’s elephant and of course, the nectar of immortality among a million other things.

As the Parijata broke through the surface of the ocean, the air around grew swollen with its scent. Indra saw it and laid claim to it immediately. This tree is too beautiful for people on earth, he said. It belongs in my kingdom. And so it went to the heavens with him.

For many many years the Parijata lived in Indra’s palace courtyard. Mortals on earth had no idea that such a tree even existed, let alone catch a whiff of its perfumed breath. Until one day Narada decided to stir things up. In the course of his travels he decided to visit Krishna and as a gift, carried a Parijata flower with him.

Narada told him that he should gift the flower to Rukmini, his wife, whose love for flowers was well known. Krishna complied quite happily, unaware of the plot being hatched in the sage’s mind.

No sooner had Rukmini received the flower as a gift, Narada went to Satyabhama, another of Krishna’s many wives. He tells her about the flower, its all-pervading fragrance and how Krishna had gifted it to Rukmini. Enraged Satyabhama demands that the tree be brought to her.

Krishna decides to bring the tree down to calm his angry wife. He steals into Indra’s palace but Narada had tipped off the king of the gods about the possibility of a threat to his favourite tree. So Indra is waiting for him and confronts Krishna. The two face off but finally, Indra is empathetic to Krishna’s plight and hands him over the tree.

But that is not the end of Krishna’s troubles. When he brings down the tree, he is caught in a dilemma. Giving it to Satyabhama would deny Rukmini the gift of the flowers and irk her no end. And giving it to Rukmini would bring Satyabhama’s anger to a boil. So what does he do? Krishna plants the tree in Satyabhama’s palace but the flowers drop into Rukmini’s palace.

Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Source: Brahma’s hair: On the mythology of Indian plants, Maneka Gandhi and Yasmin Singh

Primary source: Ankia Nats or one-act plays in Assamese by Srimanta Sankardev

Location: Assam