Pan1 (betel leaf, piper betel) grown in tropical regions, is a kind of creeper leaf belonging to the pepper family of plants named Piper betle. The leaf is consumed by man and woman as a substitute of smoking. The Aryans called it tambula and the Arabs tambul. People chew it to sweeten the breath and colour (crimson) the lip and tongue and also to have some narcotic pleasure. Normally pan is chewed with shell-lime paste (chun) and areca nut or betel nut (supari). Many eat pan mixing it with additional elements such as coriander-seed, cinnamon, cardamoms and manifold flavoured dusts. Offering of betel leaf on formal occasions gives message to the guests that the party was about to close and it is time to say good-bye.

Usually the peoples of South Asia, Gulf states, Southeast Asia and Pacific islands take pan. In Bengal pan is traditionally chewed by all classes of people not only as a habit but also as an item of rituals, etiquette and manners. On a formal occasion offering pan meant signaling the time for departure. In festivals and dinners, in pujas and punyas pan was an indispensable item. During the aristocratic age, pan preparation and the style of garnishing it on a plate (pandani) was indeed a recognised folk art. In Bangladesh, various types of consumers eat different varieties of pan. Among those, Dhakai Khilipan, a ready pack of betel leaf processed in Dhaka is famous in the sub-continent. Hindus also use pan as an element of worships. Betel leaves are arranged aesthetically on a decorated plate called pandani and it is offered to the elderly people, particularly women, when they engage in leisure time gossip with their friends and relatives.

Pan plant with leaf

Pan differs in shape of leaves, bleaching quality, softness, pungency and aroma. The stems are semiwoody, climbing by many short adventitious roots. Leaves are large, 15-20 cm, broadly ovate. Fruits sparingly produced, quite immersed in the fleshy spike, which is about 5 cm long and pendulous.

Cultivation' In olden times, pan was produced in all parts of Bengal, though some districts like dinajpur, rangpur, Midnapur and chittagong were particularly famous for its production. The cultivation of pan requires special soil and great attention. Land selected for pan production is generally high, of a stiffish soil, and in the vicinity of a stream or tank. The pan garden is called barouj, which is usually from twelve to twenty decimals in area. New land dug up from neighbouring field has to be thrown up and raised the place for making the barouj ground. Oil cakes and cow dungs are the traditional manure for a barouj. Nowadays, chemical manure is also used along with traditional manure. The creeper cuttings are planted after proper dressing in the months of May and June. The plants are neatly arranged in parallel rows about two feet apart, and the saplings are twined around upright sticks of split bamboo and reeds. The barouj is enclosed by a wall of bamboo and reeds, about five or six feet in height and thatched with the same material so as to protect the plants from sun and stray cattle. The plants are regularly watered in the hot months. The leaves of the plant become ready for plucking after one year of planting and the production of the barouj lasts for several years from the date of planting.

Total cultivated area under the crop in Bangladesh is about 14,175 ha and the total annual production is about 72,500 tons. The average yield per acre is 2.27 tons. There are usually three crops during the twelve months and they are locally called by the name of the respective months in which they are harvested. Pan leaf is usually plucked in Kartik, Phalgun and Ashad. The Kartik pan is considered by consumers to be the best and Ashad pan the worst. When plucking, it is a rule to leave at least sixteen leaves on the vine.

Different varieties of betel leaf are grown and the quality differs in shape, bleaching quality, softness, pungency and aroma of leaf. Tamakh pan, a betel leaf bended with tobacco and spices. Supari pan, another variety of white leaf, mitha pan a sweet variety and sanchi pan are common varieties of betel leaves. Almost every pan producing district has its own special variety of betel leaf of which consumers are well acquainted. In the past, the best quality of elegant camphor-scented betel leaf named kafuri pan was produced in sonargaon area of narayangonj district. It was exported to calcutta and Middle Eastern countries. The next best is the sanchi pan grown in chittagong hill tracts. This variety is not very popular among Bangali people. It is exported to Pakistan for the consumers of Karachi. The commoner varieties are called desi, bangla, bhatial, dhaldoga, ghas pan. Bangla pan, is also known as Mitha pan, Jhal pan or pan of Rajshahi. At present, this variety is being extincted due to emergence of more profitable and lucrative fast growing varieties of pan crops. Normally betel leaves are consumed with chun, seed cinnamon, cardamoms and other flavoured elements.

Social and economic aspect The production and marketing of pan led to the rise of an occupational caste called Barui. Barouj is a pre-Muslim institution and all Baruis were originally Hindus. Most of them belonged to Nabasak caste. Their position was fairly high in the caste hierarchy. Many Baruis became zamindars and tenureholders in the nineteenth century. In the Muslim period they were the richest people among the cultivating classes. It was possibly because demand for pan was quite universal at that time. Most numerous among the pan producing Baruis, according to the censuses of 1872 and 1881, lived in Burdwan, Midnapur, jessore and dhaka. Since 1947, great many baroujes were abandoned or sold by the original Baruis and their estates were bought off by the entrepreneurial Muslims. At present, pan production is predominantly in the hands of the Muslim farmers. But the technique of production remained unchanged. Among all the ethnic tribes living in Bangladesh Khashias are lone community involved in betel leaf cultivation and it is their main occupation. They call this cultivation as panjum. Their pan is very popular in sylhet region and beyond for its good taste and strong bleaching quality.

Pan production is capital intensive. But it also yields high income. Due to its pungency pan barouj is not vulnerable to attacks from vermin and insects. Therefore, income from pan barouj is very stable. The economic significance of pan in the past was such that Prince azim-us-shan, the subahdar of Bengal (1697-1703) made it one of the royal monopolies calling it saudia khas. robert clive, after the acquisition of the diwani in 1765, also made pan and supari a monopoly of the east india company in 1767.  

Bangladesh exports betel leaves to many countries of Asia and Europe including India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, England, Italy and Germany. Export quality betel leaves are grown in the districts of Natore, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Barisal, Khulna and Chuadanga in Bangladesh started exporting of pan to Europe in 1974-75 and to Saudi Arabia in 1991. Basically pan is purchased and consumed by the people of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan living in those countries.

At present, pan has a worldwide market. Two factors are responsible for the expansion. First, the global dispersion of the pan chewing South Asians and second, scientific recognition of the medicinal value of pan. But in competition with India and other pan producing countries, Bangladesh has a very small share of the world pan market. Acreage of pan is decreasing fast, because, from economic point of view, other crops now prove to be more profitable. [ASM Enayet Karim]