The bakula, it is said, blossoms when sprinkled with sweet wine from the mouth of a beautiful woman. Along with the other dohada trees (see aśoka post), it is thus very much a part of the idyll of vasanta: impassioned, and intoxicated, women and their lovers amidst bright showers of colour, overpowering scents and the background music of the cuckoo and the bee.
An ornamental tree, it has fragrant white flowers. Poets fancy that the bakula’s flowers owe their sweetness to the wine that the tree is sprinkled with, and it is this that draws the bees to them. That and perhaps too the heavy scent they exude.
सरति सौरभसाक्षिनी दक्षिणे
मरुति सा रुतिसारमदर्शयत्॥
jagati yām atanor jaya-ghoṣaṇāṃ
jagadur anyabhṛtā vyapadeśataḥ |
sarati saurabha-sākṣiṇi dakṣiṇe
maruti sā ruti-sāram adarśayat ||
In spring the people regarded
the bakula flowers around their heads,
veiled in a garment of bees swarming around it,
to be the banner of the God of Love on earth,
decorated with a makara,
resplendent because its clusters were oozing out flower-juice.
8.11 in the Kappiṇābhyudaya by Śivasvāmin – translation by Michael Hahn
The bakula seems to have no direct synonyms in Sanskrit. Kesara can refer to the tree but is more often used of the safflower and can also be used of several other plants. It is identified as the Mimusops Elengi, a tree known variously as the Bullet-wood tree, the Elengi tree and the Indian medlar in English. In Hindi and Bengali, bakul remains although Hindi also refers to it as maulsirī. South Indian languages show more variety although traces of ‘bakula’ remain. Tamil has alaku, makilam and ilanci; Malyalayam ilanni and elannI; and Kannada, ranjala or pagade.
The Pandanus database of Indian plants describes the bakula as:
An evergreen tree, large in size, small white fragrant flowers, grows all over India, cultivated as ornamental and timbre tree.