Only during Diwali, this bitter fruit can be seen in basketful at the popular Dadar market outside the station. Cucumber-like, it is called Chirate (bitter fruit) in Marathi, and is not for the purpose of eating, but rather, to represent the asura Narkasura, who was killed by Lord Krishna. On Tuesday, it will be bought all round the city as it is the central ingredient in the celebration of Narakchaturdashi in Marathi households. Part of the ritual is that after the abhyang snan (bath), this fruit will be broken by foot.
For vendor Sunita Chavan, who sits outside Dadar, this is the only time when she gets to sell this fruit. “It is only meant for Diwali. A day prior to the Laxmi Pujan, we sell it and there are many takers. This basket, which has more than 10 dozen of this fruit, will be all gone before nightfall,” said Chavan, pointing at the basket. Priced at a meagre Rs 10 for 4, she was sold out within minutes.
Her colleague Vandana Kelewali, took the added precaution of warning customers against eating them. “Do not attempt to eat it, it is bitter. After breaking it, apply the juice on the forehead; this will get you rid of all your sins,” she kept on repeating to every customer.
Meanwhile, DK Soman, a renowned astronomer and almanac-maker, when asked about the significance of the ritual, said this tradition has gone on for ages. “On this day, Lord Krishna killed the asura Narkasura, who had kidnapped 16,000 women and forcibly kept them. After he was killed, he requested God that people should light a diya on this day and also perform the abhyang snan and break the fruit to rid them of the sins and not suffer in narak (hell).”
However, Soman claims that there is also a scientific reason behind the abhyang snan, adding, “Diwali falls in winter, and there’s an ayurvedic reason behind this snan. One has to get up early and apply oil and scent and take steam bath. During winters, the skin tends to dry, so this gives it the required oil and keeps one healthy.”
Soman adds that this fruit can be found in any jungle and no one plants it, it grows on its own and being bitter no one uses it.