Can you guess what are these? They are seeds of Phanera vahlii, a multipurpose wild vine found in abundance in the forests. Not only seeds but the whole vine is important for Tharus. Called ‘tata’ in the western Tharu and ‘malhan’ or ‘dama’ in eastern Tharu languages, its seeds, leaves and vines – all are useful.

Its seed pods are flat and long. They burst with a loud sound during the hot summer days in months of Chaitra and Baishakh (April). Don’t get scared of the sound when you’re in the jungle! 

It leaves are flat and coarse. The vine starts flowering during the months of Ashadh – Shrawan (July) and the pods are almost ready to ripe by the time the festival Dashain arrives. Tharus collect its leaves to make plates, bowls, umbrellas (chhatri), and raincoats (jhim). The plates and bowls are used in community feasts.

Its pods burst open during the month of Chaitra (March – April). It’s also the season to pluck ‘mahua’ (Madhuca longifolia) flowers. People collect its seeds while plucking mahua flowers. Its seeds are roasted or boiled in water and eaten after removing the outer skin. 

Tharus distribute mahua trees among themselves just like other ancestral properties and land. The brothers distribute mahua trees as well after deciding to stay separately. There’s, however, an understanding between all – they don’t pluck flowers from the trees in jungle belonging to others!