In Sarojini Naidu's "The Snake Chamer", the poem opens like this:

Whither dost thou hide from the magic of my flute-call?
In what moonlight-tangled meshes of perfume,
Where the clustering keovas guard the squirrel's slumber,
Where the deep woods glimmer with the jasmine's bloom?

In the second line, I'm not familiar with the word "keovas", and its italicization implies that it's not an English word. I did a DuckDuckGo search for "keovas", but the top results were all just quotations of this poem.

What is "the clustering keovas"? What does this mean, and why does it "guard the squirrel's slumber"?

1 Answer 1


Starting from an assumption that it would be a plant and that ‘keovas’ was plural, I added ‘Indian plant’ and ‘Keova’ to the search and found this result:

The Turkish attar is usually adulterated either with the oil of Geranium or of the Indian Khus-khus Grass (Andropogon). There are two other kinds of attar, both of Indian extraction - namely, the Jasmine and Keova, the former being a production of the Large-flowered Jasmine (Jasminum grandifloum), and the latter of the fragrant flowers of the Screw-pine (Pandanus odoratissimus).

enter image description here This identifies the Keova as the Screw-pine or Pandanus odoratissimus, or more specifically its flower.

Wikipedia describes it as being a

small branched, palm-like dioecious tree with a flexuous trunk supported by brace roots. The tree can grow to a height of 4 meters. Leaves grow in clusters at the branch tips, with rosettes of sword-shaped, stiff (leather-like) and spiny bluish-green, fragrant leaves… In summer, the tree bears very fragrant flowers, used as perfume.

The sword like spiny leaves would make this a good ‘defensive plant’ no one could get close to a sleeping squirrel surrounded by these without making enough noise to wake and warn the squirrel.

The plant is known for its fragrance, which would soothe the squirrel’s sleep. A squirrel dozing in a spot surrounded by these would feel secure and relaxed!

Edit: Inspired by a comment from @verbose, I looked up ‘Keora’ in the OED and found:

An essential oil obtained from the male flowers of Pandanus odoratissimus; also called ketgee oil.

Which sustains @verbose’s suspicion that ‘Keova’ is a misprint in the original text, which seems to have passed uncorrected in the source material accessed by the OP. A Google search for ‘clustering keoras’ finds many reproductions of and references to the poem.

It’s being a typo explains the paucity of search results even when including terms such as ‘Indian plant’. I had initially suspected a typo, but had tried rearranging vowels rather than substituting consonants.

  • Best known in English by it's Malay name "pandan"—or at least that's what I call it when I make a pandan cake. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 11:18
  • @GarethRees wouldn’t that be this different plant in the same genus en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandanus_amaryllifolius?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 11:34
  • The OED says, "pandan, n. A tree or shrub of the genus Pandanus; a screw pine" so I think these common names can be used for any of the species. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 12:57
  • Oh interesting. I'd never heard of keova and it idly crossed my mind that it might be a misprint for keora, which is a common Hindi name for screw pine / pandan. I now strongly suspect that it is a misprint.
    – verbose
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 22:10
  • @verbose Bingo! Thank you for the input. Answer edited accordingly.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 23:05

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