It is a shrub or a small tree growing to 10 m tall, with flaky grey bark. The leaves are opposite, simple, 6-12 cm long and 2-6.5 cm broad, with an entire margin. The flowers are fragrant, with a five- to eight-lobed white corolla with an orange-red centre; they are produced in clusters of two to seven together, with individual flowers opening at dusk and finishing at dawn. The fruit is a flat brown heart-shaped to round capsule 2 cm diameter, with two sections each containing a single seed.
The tree is sometimes called the "tree of sorrow", because the flowers lose their brightness during daytime; the scientific name arbor-tristis also means "sad tree". The flowers can be used as a source of yellow dye for clothing. The flower is the official flower of the state of West Bengal, India, and for Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand.
In Hindu mythology, there is a story involving Lord Krishna about a parijat and Krishna's two wives, Satyabhama and Rukmini. Satyabhama wanted this "Parijat" tree from the Heaven to be planted in her garden. Rukmini too, took a fancy to the flower. Krishna, wanting to keep both his wives happy, planted this tree so that the flowers fell in Rukmini’s garden while the tree remained in Satyabhama’s garden.
The tree was planted in the garden of Indra, the Lord of Heavens. Even as Krishna stole a branch of the tree he was spotted by Indra. However, Indra desisted from placing a curse on Krishna since he was an incarnation of Vishnu. Still, Indra put forth a curse on the stolen branch that it will never bear fruit even though the flowers may bloom on the tree. Since the day the tree was planted at Barabanki (the wives' garden), it flowers but does not reproduce, because it has no seeds and the branch cannot take root.
The leaves have been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat sciatica, arthritis, fevers, various painful conditions and as laxative.