Flowers of Yore

Flowers of Yore

Recently my friend sent me a photo of a blooming passion flower from her garden. It had wide white petals and a striking blue/purple crown. The blue crown had five green stamens and three purple stigma. The flower looked so unique and striking, I looked it up online immediately. And true to my instincts, I found out its Indian name and a deeply philosophical connection. It is called krishna kamalam (Krishna’s Flower). The hundred thin fragments that make the blue crown represent the Kauravas, the single centre Draupadi, the five stamens the Pandavas, the three stigmas the Trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva and the whole radial the Sudarshana Chakra.

It turns out that there is also a brahma kamalam (Brahma’s Flower). It is a fully white star-like flower that helps its pollinators locate the blossoms by moon or starlight. The flower gets its name because it blooms only for one night during the monsoon, as rare as finding a Brahma idol in the pantheon of gods and temples.

The interconnectedness of every being and the tuning of the mind towards the Higher has made it so easy for Indians and those belonging to this civilisation to seek God from everyday sights. The abundance of this land is reflected in its flora and fauna, and the variety of the seeker’s mind is reflected in the diverse pantheon of gods and goddesses in Hinduism. Further, each god or goddess is associated with a vehicle or a flower or a bird that uniquely matches their characteristics. To this day, we revere and protect several such species, for we see God in them.

Continuing with this research, I wondered about other flowers and plants that are mentioned in our scriptures and epics. The regular lotuses and jasmines, we are aware of course. But there are a few rare ones that truly highlight the beauty of our literature and the astute observations of our ancestors.

Bhagvatam has several references to Sri Krishna’s divine appearance, especially of His days in Vrindavana, where he used to be adorned with garlands of red and blue lotuses. It is said that the gopas and gopis used to vie for getting the choicest flowers for Krishna. One such devotee, not satisfied with the usual fare, put together a stabaka-mala, a garland of wildflowers for Krishna! And, the tiny wildflowers had rejoiced their moment in the sun, putting out the brightest for Him. One such flower is the Karnikara, or Kanak Champa. Their golden-yellow tassel-like form makes them look like ornaments, and Krishna is said to have worn them like earrings. Hence, the name karnikara (adorning the ear).

The Tamala, or Mysore Gamboge, bears a striking similarity to Sri Rama because of its green tinge and long limbs. The freshly blooming tamaala tree attracts hordes of bees, and Shankaracharya compares this to the dark body of Lord Vishnu attracting the bee-like dark eyes of his spouse Lakshmi in the kanakadhaara stotra. The kovidara or purple orchid also finds a mention in the Ramayana. Bharata's chariot is recognised by a flag with a kovidara ensign.

The night-flowering jasmine, with its tender white petals and striking orange stem, must be familiar to most of us. Also called Parijata, it is believed to be a heavenly tree brought to earth by Sri Krishna. A quarrel over it ensued between Satyabhama and Rukmini, Krishna's wives. But Krishna planted the tree in Satyabhama's courtyard in a way that when the tree flowered, the flowers fell in Rukmini's courtyard. Lord Vishnu's heavenly throne is placed under a flowering Parijata tree, and Hanuman lives under its shade.

The list goes on and on. We have read about the flaming Ashoka trees in Ravana’s Lanka, the kadamba trees in whose midst resides Durga Devi, the champaka flowers which adorn the tresses of Sri Lakshmi and even the akunda, which forms one of the darts of Kama Deva. How easy and undaunting it becomes to spot divinity in one’s own garden! And truly, with the blossoming of these flowers, the heart too opens up to receive His grace. Next time you spot one of the flowers of yore, take it as a sign from Him and plant Him in your heart firmly. Maybe their fragrance will take us one step closer to realising our own Self.

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Chinmaya Udghosh