Published:  12:10 AM, 14 January 2022

The Traditional Date Juice in the Rural Bengal Needs to Revive

The Traditional Date Juice in the Rural Bengal Needs to Revive
 
Once upon a time, in the winter, the smell of eating all kinds of cakes (pitha) and puli (patty) made by mother would fall. When the winter season came, a festive atmosphere prevailed in the villages around the 'palm tree' known as the honey tree, the symbol of rural Bengal in the long tradition. In the winter season, the villagers used to try to entertain the guests with molasses patali, pitha, payes etc. made from date juice. But the scent of molasses, the molasses of that date juice, is no longer seen in the village market. Everyone has forgotten the taste of sweet date juice, the tradition of winter. The original date palm and its scent are no longer available in the market like before. Most of what is available as date molasses is marketed as a form of profitable sugar, this is why many people say nowadays that cheating is another name for date molasses!

Jessore, Kushtia, Jhenaidah, Faridpur, Madaripur and Khulna districts of southwestern region were famous for date palm, molasses and juice. At one time, date molasses was highly valued as a cash crop. The history of the traditional Gur Patali of Jessore is very ancient. Jessore date juice and molasses are incomparable in taste and smell. Even seven or eight years ago, in winter, the trees of these areas used to spend a lot of time collecting date juice. They used to earn huge amount of money by selling date juice and Patali molasses. It used to be exported abroad but in the course of time it has become extinct in the last few years. Although there is a tradition of making cakes and pies with date juice in winter season, the juice of winter palm tree is now scarce. For this reason, the trees used to be busy collecting date juice even in the midst of severe winter. Over the last few years, the number of date palm trees in remote rural areas of the country has been declining due to the increasing number of people building houses and cutting down trees indiscriminately.

Although there are still enough date palms in some areas of remote villages in the south-west of the country, many date palms are dying every year due to improper care, failure to plant new saplings and systematic mistakes in felling trees. In addition, the number of date palms is declining due to the use of date palms as fuel by a class of unscrupulous brick kiln traders.

Like every year, this year too, professional date palms are facing extreme crisis at the beginning of winter. Even then, in some areas, hobby trees have started collecting sap from date palms. In the meantime, those trees are collecting sap in the morning and in the afternoon. The dewy grass of the morning and the thick foggy moon signals the arrival of winter at the end of autumn. At one time, with the seasonal date juice, the winter mood started in the rural areas.

The trees are cut down in a special way to collect date juice in winter. At the beginning of autumn, pruning is done to extract the juice from the date palm. After the first tree is cut down, the second time, a specially made tube or funnel of twigs is placed there. Next to it is a small bamboo pole for hanging clowns. The juice falls through the tube through the eyes. There are also some techniques for cutting down date palms and extracting juice from these. No one can cut down trees or extract sap well. Only a skilled tree knows when, how, and where to cut, so that the tree will not die, but more sap will be available. Once the saplings are cut, the sap is collected for 2-3 days.

As the winter progresses, the sweetness of date juice also increases. There is a wonderful connection of date juice with winter. At that time, the symbol of glory and tradition, the sweet juice of honey tree was extracted from the house in the village began to make pitha, payes and molasses patali. In the villages, the sweet smell of tube molasses, bag molasses, granular molasses and batali molasses made with date juice seemed to be half-eaten. There was no pair of different delicious food including date juice pies, juice soaked cakes.

But in the vicissitudes of time, date juice is completely lost from nature today. The southwestern region was once famous for the tradition of ancient Bengal, date palm and molasses. Many people used to call date palm honey tree as a hobby. At that time in the winter season, the rural areas were filled with the sweet smell of date juice.

The housewives used to make delicious pies with date juice, making cakes soaked in different types of juice. There was no pair of date palm molasses patali to satisfy the taste. Ordinary people in rural areas wake up in the winter morning shivering and shivering without drinking cold date juice as if the day would have turned to dust. But due to the aggression of brick kilns, the number of date palms is getting less than before. Moreover, due to high daily income in brick kilns or other occupations, the number of date palms has come down drastically. Many have given up their ancestral occupations forever.

Even though burning of date palms in brick kilns is prohibited by law, the owners of brick kilns continue to manage and destroy date palms. Over the last few years, the use of date palms as fuel for brick kilns has led to rapid depletion of date palms in various parts of the country. As a result, people in rural and urban areas are now losing a lot of fun foods with date juice.

According to the trees that collect sap from naturally grown date palms in the hobby habitat, there is no such thing as a date palm as there used to be. As a result, in winter, the value of date palms in neglected rural areas would increase. At present, date juice of a full jug is being sold at Tk.100-150, even less than the demand. The juice collectors say that since the forest department has no effective measures to protect the date palms, the date palms and the sap of the date palms in the winter season are only going to become the story of the Arabic novel for future generations.

In order to increase the production of this traditional date juice, the existence of palm tree must be maintained and for that, it is necessary to protect the date palm trees from any loggers including brick kilns through proper enforcement of environmental laws. However, in some areas, the agriculture department has recently advised farmers to plant date palms. It will be possible to meet the demand of date juice and molasses for future generations if the farmers plant sufficient quantity of date palms in the abandoned places around the house.

At one time, date molasses was exported to many countries of the world including Europe to meet the demand of the country. Therefore, more and more date palms need to be planted in public-private initiatives and the tradition of palm juice needs to be brought back through training of planters. Due to indifference of local administration and lack of strict surveillance, huge number of date palms are being destroyed due to burning of fruit trees including date palms in brick kilns. If this continues, the tradition of date juice may be lost one day. Payesh, the cake of date juice, will survive only as a reminder of memories.


Md Zillur Rahaman is a Banker and Freelance Columnist



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