Kurabaka

तुलयति स्म विलोचनतारकाः कुरबकस्तबकव्यतिषङ्गिणि।

गुणवदाश्रयलब्धगुणोदये मलिनिमालिनि माधवयोषिताम्॥

Tulayati sma vilocana-tārakāḥ kurabaka-stabaka-vyatiṣaṅgiṇi |

guṇavadāśraya-labdha-guṇ’-odaye malinimā alini mādhava-yoṣitām ||

The blackness of the bee coupled with the surfeit of whiteness it acquired from being enveloped in clusters of white kurabaka flowers made it resemble the pupils of the eyes of Mādhava’s lovers.

Verse 4 of the 6th sarga in the Śiśupalavādha of Māgha

The kurabaka tree has a well established role in vasanta’s spectacle, but rarely takes centre stage.  Lacking the distinctive looks of the kiṃśuka and the karṇikāra, it can get lost among the countless blooms that excite love and heartache in this season.  The kurabaka is though known to be rich in nectar and thus a natural lure for the bees whom, Kālidāsa says in the Raghuvaṃśa, it causes to hum. 

The king in the Vikramorvaśīyam describes the flower as ‘whitish-red’ at its tip ‘like the nail of a ladies’ finger’ and black at the sides, and it is beautiful enough to be woven into women’s hair.  The kurabaka tends to appear either as either a pale colour – white by most accounts, as in the verse at the top of this post – or a deep red:

फुल्लं कुरुबकं पश्य निर्भुक्तालक्तकप्रभम्।

यो नखप्रभया स्त्रीणां निर्भर्त्सित इवानतः॥

phullaṃ kurubakaṃ paśya nirbhukta-alaktaka-prabham |

yo nakha-prabhayā strīṇāṃ nirbhartsita iva ānataḥ ||

See the kurubaka in full bloom, shining like lac just squeezed out, which bends over as if dazzled by the brilliance of the women’s nails.

4.47 in the Buddhacarita by Aśvaghoṣa – translated by EH Johnston

Names and Botanical Description

The kurabaka is identified as a type of Barlaria, Barlaria Prinoitis according to Apte – the red (or yellow) amaranth. It can also be called kiṅkirāta, although this can equally refer to the aśoka and is also used of the god of love. The actual word kurabaka itself has a few variants: the first ‘a’ can appear as a ‘u’ and the ‘b’ can be a ‘v’ – commonly interchanged letters in Sanskrit.

The Amarakośa tells us that the kurabaka is the red or crimson (śoṇa) version of the tree; the paler version – pīta – is the kuraṇṭaka, a view shared by Monier Williams.

Pandanus seems to have no entry for any of this tree.

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