Was a conspiracy to destroy Paan culture?
Dr Mohammed Ataur Rahman

Tambul or Paan chewing is a very ancient custom of Indian tradition; it is older than the origin of caste system in India. Among 37 Subclasses of Shudra, according to their work responsibility, three belongs to betel vine production, processing and serving related activities and they are Barui, Tambul and Chawrasia. In a larger sense, though it looks like one of our cultural rituals with an incredible health benefit. The traditional pan is made with betel leaves, areca nut, Khoir and slaked lime. Other spices like clove, cardamom, mace and zinger etc. are also added to make more attractive flavorful and tasty.

According to Ayurveda, the betel leaves regulate the body while Khoir and Areca nut control Kapha and Pitta respectively; hence, managing all the tridoshas of the prakriti and keeping the body healthy. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Kapha is the energy that forms the body's structure — bones, muscles, tendons — and provides the “glue” that holds the cells together. In ancient time, at night, the wife prepares special Tambula for the husband. It brings pleasant sensation in sense organs and strengthens them. It enhances sexual capacity even in old age.

Paan is ceremonious; eaten on formal, as well as, informal occasions in our everyday life. It is the symbol for love and sex. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of India, it contains essential nutrients such as iodine, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and nicotinic acid.Besides these nutrients, betel leaves contain essential oils and chemical components such as betel oil and chavicol, betel-phenol, eugenol, terpene and campene. These chemical components possess medicinal properties and help in the treatment and management of various diseases and disorders.

As an anti-diabetic agent, betel leaflowers high cholesterol levels as it is a reservoir of phenolic compounds that possess antioxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-proliferative and anti-bacterial properties. Studies have revealed chemo-preventive potential of betel leaves against various types of cancer. Furthermore, betel leaves contain an array of phytochemicals that possess cancer-fighting benefits. Betel leaves are an excellent source of antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and fight oxidative stress. It inhibits the growth of cancer cells and its spread to different organs of the body.

Moreover, the antioxidants of betel leaf acts as a protective agent in wound healing by increasing the wound contraction rate and total protein content. Anti-asthmatic Agent Research has revealed that besides anti-depressant drugs, chewing betel leaves have been used since ancient times for its central nervous system (CNS) stimulant activity. It was further found that chewing betel leaves produces a sense of well-being, a feeling of happiness and heightened alertness. Furthermore, betel leaves contain aromatic phenolic compounds that stimulate the release of catecholamines. A strong link is present between low level of catecholamines in the body and increased risk of depression. Therefore, chewing betel leaves is an easy way to keep depression at bay and it improves oral health.

Areca nut or Supari is used for treatment of a mental disorder called schizophrenia and an eye disorder called glaucoma; as a mild stimulant; and as a digestive aid. Some people use areca as a recreational drug because it speeds up the central nervous system (CNS)

Apart from its value as a masticatory agent, areca nut has considerable uses in medicine as well. Actually, it enters as a pharmaceutical drug in Indian and British pharmacopoeias. Paan chewing with betel nut is popularly believed to prevent tooth decay. Betel nut is considered a digestive agent and a diuretic, a strengthener of the heart and a regulator of menstrual flow. It is used in overcoming swelling eyes, mental confusions, chronic urinary distress and pus formations. It also cures cancer.

Khoir (heartwood of Acacia catechu) is used in detoxifying the accumulated toxins in the body and works against cough, diarrhoea, skin eruptions, leucoderma and wounds. It is also good for treating diabetes, anaemia and intermittent fever.

Another ingredient, Slaked Lime or Chuna has many advantages which are seen in Ayurveda. Lime is a big and best source of calcium carbonate beneficial for bone diseases such as arthritis, joint pain, backache or tooth ache. Small amount of lime which is used with paan is beneficial.

Regarding cultivation, paanboraj is the most sophisticated cultural practice, the pioneer of modern greenhouse agriculture. In ancient, climatic manipulation practice in paanboraj followed by controlling all the climatic factors viz. light, temperature, rainfall, wind and humidity. Moreover,many unique practices are followed for propagation, upkeeping, maintenance and harvesting. Traditionally, women are not allowed to enter into the boraj as they carry diseases that destroy the boraj although early people did not know the scientific reason behind it. The whole cultivation practice was organic; oilcake and decomposed mulches are the sources of nutrients; with these, a boraj remained productive around twenty years.  

Betal nut a unique plant used to cultivate in the coastal zone, plainlands and also even on the hills with high water-tables. They are unique windbreaks withstand against tornadoes and cyclones and are highly beneficial in climate change situation.

However, western industrial business technology had purposely destroyed our high technique and health beneficial famous traditional Tambul or Paan culture to introduce tobacco and beverages. Targeting the highly populated South Asia, a big market, they very cleverly did this during the colonial period. Due to religious sentiment they initially failed to market the tobacco and beverages: wine and beer. Then they spread them to the tribal populations and also targeted the lower classes. To get success and create wider market, they started to defame the Tambul culture by adding tobacco (Jarda) with Paan and thus gradually people became addicted with tobacco. Later on, our western-trained medical doctors began to blame Paan as carcinogenic and bad for health. Thus, affected the rich Tambul culture and become successful to market industrial beverages viz. wine, beer, tea, coffee, coke and lemonade etc. under the names of hard and soft drinks. etc.  and tobacco (cigarettes) which are taking lives of hundreds of thousand every year.

Tobacco was first brought to India by Portuguese merchants 400 years ago.The trade boomed and tobacco quickly established itself as the most important commodity passing through Goa in the 17th century. Virtually every household in the Portuguese colony took up the new fashion of smoking or chewing tobacco.Later on, the British introduced modern commercially-produced cigarettes.

European-style beer was introduced in India by the British. By 1716, Pale ale and Burton ale were being imported to India from England. To protect the beer from spoiling during the long journey, it had to have high alcohol content and hops were added to it. This led to the invention of India Pale ale in about 1787 by Bow Brewery.In 1830, Edward Abraham Dyer set up India's first brewery inKasauli. It produced the beer brand Lion, which is still available. In 1835, the Kasauli brewery was shifted to Solan near Shimla. In 1885, it was incorporated as Dyer Breweries. Later, more breweries were built across India, Burma and Sri Lanka.In 1892, 4,831,127 gallons of beer was produced in India. Out of this, 2,748,365 gallons were purchased by commissarial and rest was left for consumption by the civilian population.

In 1689 Ovington records that tea was taken by the banias in Surat without sugar, or mixed with a small quantity of conserved lemons, and that tea with some spices added was used against headache, gravel and gripe. The tea leaves for such use may have come from China.

While experimenting to introduce tea in India, British colonists noticed that tea plants also grew in Assam, and these, when planted in India, responded very well. The same plants had long been cultivated by the Singphos tribe of Assam, and chests of tea supplied by the tribal ruler Ningroola.

In the early 1820s, the British East India Company began large-scale production of tea in Assam, of a tea variety traditionally brewed by theSingpho people. In 1826, the British East India Company took over the region from the Ahom kings through the Yandaboo Treaty. In 1837, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam; in 1840, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea in the region. Beginning in the 1850s, the tea industry rapidly expanded, consuming vast tracts of land for tea plantations. By the turn of the century, Assam became the leading tea-producing region in the world.

From the first, Indian-grown tea proved extremely popular in Britain, both for its greater strength, and as a patriotic product of the empire. Tea had been a high-status drink when first introduced, but had steadily fallen in price and increased in popularity among the working class. The‘Temperance movement’ massively promoted tea-drinking, from the early 19th century on, Tea was the dominant drink for all classes during the Victorian era, working-class families often doing without other foods in order to afford it. However, they influenced Indians to drink teas to extend their business using different business promotion techniques including propaganda of chewing paan as harmful.          

Therefore, we should look behind our age-old sustainable traditional Tambul or Paan culture, study its properties: health benefits and immunity and reject the unhealthy introduced cultures. The so-called introduced refreshers tobacco and hard and soft beverages which are affecting everyday life damaging immune system of millions of people of South Asia. We must remember that our agriculture is thousands of years old but western industrial agriculture is only two hundred years, then how they are dominating over our culture. We are losing our crops, our traditions, our cultural practices in the name of development, food and nutrient security and we are trapped under technology business.We must come out from the traps of these technology business and develop our traditional cultures and practices. We should discover the ‘science behind the traditions’ to make the region rich and more sustainable.

Professor Mohammed Ataur Rahman, PhD is Director, Centre for Global Environmental Culture (CGEC) and Program on Education for Sustainability, Coordinator, WWOOF Bangladesh & RCE Greater Dhaka at IUBAT— International University of Business Agriculture and Technology

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