कृतमदं निगदन्त इवाकुलीकृतजगत्त्रयमूर्जमतङ्गजम्।
ववुरयुक्छदगुच्छसुगन्धयः सततगास्ततगानगिरो ऽलिभिः॥
kṛta-madaṃ nigadanta iva ākulīkṛta-jagat-trayam ūrja-mataṅgajam |
vavur ayukchada-guccha-sugandhayaḥ satatagās tata-gāna-giro ‘libhiḥ ||
As the breezes blew, scented with clusters of saptacchada blossom and humming with songs composed by the bees, they seemed to be announcing the arrival of the month of ūrja* in the form of an elephant drenched in ichor, stampeding across the three worlds.
6.50, Śiśupālavadham – Māgha
*ūrja is another name for kārtika, one of the two months that make up śarad
The saptacchada is an essential element of the white serenity (the verse above excepted) that characterises śarad. The kāśa flower brightens river banks, sea shores and grasslands; the swans rivers and the lotuses lakes; the moon the star-lit sky and the saptacchadas forests.
The tree though is distinguished above all for its peculiar smell, said to resemble that of the ichor that an elephant drips from his temples when in rut (hence the verse above). Just as they trumpeted at the thunder in the rainy season, elephants try to outdo this would-be rival. In the Raghuvaṃśa, the king’s elephants drip ichor in seven streams to match the scent put forth by the ‘seven-leaved’ sapta-cchada tree. Some poets turn it around to compare the elephant’s ichor to the saptacchada. Later in the Raghuvaṃśa, Kālidāsa describes how tame elephants are repulsed by the ichor of a wild elephant, acrid (kaṭu) like the milky sap of the saptacchada. In other places, though, the smell seems to come from the tree’s flowers rather than its sap.
Most of the synonyms for the tree refer to its clusters of seven leaves: thus sapta-parṇa, sapta-patra and sapta-palāśa, which all mean ‘seven-leaved’; and viṣama-cchada and ayuk-cchada which mean ‘of uneven leaves’. The name saptaparṇa is not to be confused with saptaparṇī which refers to the lajjā (‘the shy one’), Mimosa pudica or touch-me-not. The tree can also be called śārada, ‘the autumnal one’. A further synonym, which appears in the Amarakośa, viśāla-tvac, is less easy to explain; it literally means ‘the one with abundant bark’. Surprisingly there seems to be no name indicating its curious fragrance.
Prakrit names include sattavaṇṇa, sattivanna.
In modern Indian languages, the saptacchada is called:
– Hindi: chāttiyān, chitavana, satonā, stavana, śaitānī jhāṃḍ
– Bengali: chātim, chetanagāch
– Marathi: sālavīṇa
– Gujarathi – sātavaṇa
– Tamil: ēḻilappālai, pālai
– Mal: ēḻilampāla, pāla, yakṣippāla, daivappāla
The saptacchada is identified as the Alstonia Scholaris. In English it is known as the devil or ditabark tree.
The Pandanus database of Indian plants describes it thus:
An evergreen tree up to 25m high, leaves 4-7 in a whorl, small greenish white flowers in umbellate panicles, grows all over India, also cultivated.