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People join hands to save 'Mysore betal leaf'

BS Reporter  |  Chennai/ Mysore 

Perhaps there is no other city in the country which lends its name, Mysore’ as a prefix to a number of consumable items. These have become much sought after, making them nationally and internally famous. Mysore Mallige (jasmine), Mysore silk, Mysore Agarbathies (incense sticks), Mysore betel leaves (Chigurele), and Mysore sandal wood and oil stand out among them. But several factors have impacted these consumables. Consequently, they are being pushed to oblivion and are gradually disappearing from the market. They may be totally lost in the near future, if earnest efforts to protect and save them are not taken immediately.

Besides Nanjangud Rasabale (plantain), Mysore Chigurele (betel leaf) too has earned a geographical indicator tag. But cultivators of these leaves have either lost their land due to the impact urbanisation or shifted to other commercial crops. Belatedly realising the need to encourage cultivation of jasmine, betel leaves and banana, the Horticulture Department had announced Rs 20-lakh project a year ago, to encourage cultivation of these heritage crops. The department had also said it would set up a training centre for the same. But, even after a year, there seems to be no action in this direction.

Despite the onslaught of urbanisation and other impacts, a few farmers have continued to cultivate betel vines in a small area in Mysore. Mired in poverty, they too are facing crisis now with no support or protection. Their lands are threatened of acquisition, as their lands form a prominent part of the enlarging city.

About half-a-century ago, cultivation of these small green leaves were spread over at least 100 acres from Poorniah Choultry in Old Agrahara to Vidyaranyapuram junction that connects Mysore-Nanjangud Road. It was also cultivated in neighbouring areas spread over some 500 acres. Those who cultivated there and elsewhere were dalits; even women who sold these leaves belonged to this poor community. Mysore ‘Chigurele’ was preferred most as they have an unparalleled taste. Probably the unique climate and soil in this stretch gave the leaves a unique taste that earned it the name ‘Mysore Chigurele’. But, with ‘paan’ gradually dominating the market, chewing betel leaves is becoming a thing of the past, limiting it to religious ceremonies.

In the background of this, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar Mahasamsthe has launched a public awareness programme on the need to conserve the betel leaf for posterity.

This farmers’ group has released a pamphlet highlighting the religious and cultural importance of betel leaf and the threat posed to their occupation in recent times. It has sought state government’s protection for the cultivators and their land, complaining that the horticulture department and the civic bodies had failed to act.

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First Published: Mon, November 14 2011. 00:55 IST