Did you know that Mughal emperor Babur brought the Chinar tree to India or Nur Jahan popularised Ittar? Noted art critic Alka Pande’s new book Flower Shower: The Culture of Flowers in India has these and a myriad other interesting floral tidbits.
Published by Niyogi, the coffee table book in full colour has 323 photographs and is priced at Rs 1,995. Flower Shower explores the integral role that flowers play in one’s world – as cultural signifiers; as motifs in Indian art, architecture, sculpture, literature and textiles; as culinary ingredients and as divine offerings.
It also discusses a range of topics from botany to aesthetics and history to poetry and takes the reader through a journey, laden with the beauty and perfumes of the exotic, nutritional and decorative role of flowers within Indian tradition and aesthetics.
The other interesting nuggets include: in Hindu mythology, the Parijat tree emerged from the ‘samudra manthan’ or churning of the ocean by the asuras and devas; and in Kashmiri Pandit weddings, the bride-to-be receives a gift of floral jewellery called ‘Phoolon ka Gehna’ from the groom’s family.
The book is replete with images of India’s astonishing heritage of floral imagery. From flowers carved on the walls of Hindu and Jain temples, the Bodhi tree inscribed on Buddhist viharas, lotuses painted in murals in the Ajanta caves, to the beautiful inlay work in the Taj Mahal and other Mughal buildings, to adornments for the gods and goddesses in numerous Indian paintings ranging from Pahari miniatures to Rajasthani pahad paintings and tribal and folk art, the floral motif appears throughout various strands of Indian culture.
Flowers play a significant role in daily life too, from the kolam patterns drawn before south Indian households to Onam flower carpets in Kerala and rangolis for Diwali in northern India. From weddings to funerals, flowers have a place in the major landmarks in every Indian’s life.
The book depicts this in colourful detail, drawing on numerous historical and mythological references. It also describes the role of flowers in aromatherapy and the culinary arts and includes some recipes. Detailed chapters on the lotus, rose, champa and genda also explore the symbolism of these flowers in different aspects of Indian culture ranging from the spiritual to the material.
The author further discusses flowers in Indian poetry, such as in the Ritikaleen School, in the works of Rabindranath Tagore and more modern poets, such as Tarannum Riyaz. The chapter ‘Fabric of Flowers’ would be of particular interest to a textile lover as it depicts floral motifs in Indian textile varieties and techniques.
The range of images is vibrant. From the flower bedecked women in the resplendent paintings of Raja Ravi Varma to Krishna dallying with Radha in the Gita Govinda, from the Pandavas in exile in the forest in the Mahabharata to Sita in the Ashoka Vatika in the Ramayana, the integral part that flowers play in mythology is extensively detailed.
The intricate depiction of flowers on the borders of Mughal miniature paintings, on the carpets and robes depicted in the paintings, and the gardens created by the Mughal emperors is another dimension explored in the book.