Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Brahmakamal blooms in Mumbai

- By A. Krishnan

Have you seen a Brahmakamal flower in full bloom? If you answered 'No' to that question, I wouldn't be surprised. When the Brahmakamal blooms each year, most Mumbaites are fast asleep!
This flower, named after Brahma, the God of Creation, blooms only for one night in the entire year, somewhere between July and September. The blooming lasts only for a few hours. This year, I was lucky - I had advance warning, and knew exactly when to show up with my camera for the blooming.

My interest in the Brahmakamal started in July, when I visited my aunt in Sion. She took me to her balcony, and showed me a plant with buds.

"This is the Brahmakamal", she said. "Don't you know the story of how Brahma emerged from Vishnu's navel in a lotus flower? We are lucky it is going to bloom in our house! See the buds?"

I peered over her shoulder, and saw a rather ordinary looking plant, about 4 feet tall. And yes, there were a few buds. I noticed one very strange thing - unlike other plants, these buds actually originated from the leaf of the plant.

Over coffee, I found out more about the Brahmakamal. She told me that the flower is considered sacred, and does not bloom in all homes. So people consider themselves lucky if they are able to witness this rare event, and perform pooja and aarti at the time of blooming. It is also considered to be a good omen and a sign of prosperity for the home.

I made up my mind to see this interesting flower. Over the next two weeks, I made several visits to her house, hoping that the buds would bloom...but they remained obstinately closed. Then one day, at 8:30 p.m., my aunt called me. "Come tonight, the buds have started to open!" I hurriedly finished my dinner and took my Canon Powershot A460 digital camera to catch a few pictures.

The bud beginning to open

Half-open phase - absolutely beautiful

Brahmakamal in full bloom

The whole room was filled with a lovely fragrance, and I was ecstatic to witness to this beautiful creation of the Almighty. If you look a little closer at the photo, you'll see the central white stamen. People believe that this stamen represents Lord Krishna, while the reddish brown stalks which you can see on the closed bud represent the 100 Kauravas from the Mahabharata.

The Brahmakamal is not a lotus at all, although its petals resemble a lotus. Lotuses grow in ponds, whereas the Brahmakamal grows on the slopes of the Himalayas (it is the state flower of Uttaranchal). The botanical name for this flower is Saussurea Obvallata. There is a belief that the Brahmakamal should be gifted, and not bought in the market. To grow the plant, a leaf is planted in the soil (and not a seedling or stem). This leaf then multiplies and becomes a plant to a height of about 4 to 5 feet. The flower itself is around 4-5 inches in diameter and has a lovely fragrance. But of course, you have to wait a whole year to smell that fragrance!

(Posted by Deepa on behalf of her uncle A. Krishnan. Edits by Deepa. Here's hoping the clan continues to produce more writers!)

Note (Oct 2): It turns out this flower is not the Brahmakamal but the Dutchman's Pipe. But Indians who worship it don't make these fine botanical differentiations! In the larger scheme of things, perhaps that is a better attitude?

Friday, August 15, 2008

A mysterious sort of grass

I see these little baskets of grass often in the market in Bhuleshwar. Do you know what this grass is, or how it is used? I've wondered about it so often that I decided to post a photo. I'm simply dying to know!
I have a pet theory, that these are herbs used to flavour drinking water. As a child, I remember drinking herb-flavoured water at my friend Sugatha's home. They are from Kerala, and her mom made herb-flavoured water at home every day. It looked like pale whisky, but smelled delicious and the taste? Well, it tasted like water, but you felt ever so virtuous drinking it!
Maybe the grass in these baskets is actually a herb that goes into tea? Or maybe it is some vile concoction that you drink first thing in the morning for arthritis or diabetes! Oh, someone please tell me, and put me out of my misery!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Welcome August

- By Janaki Krishnan

As the month of August arrives, I remember my childhood years and the pleasant memories of my student life at SIES High School, Matunga. As students, we always welcomed this month, which is full of festivals and holidays.

It usually began with Independence Day on 15th August. A week earlier, students of our class would collect money (4 annas per head!) to buy coloured paper and balloons to decorate our classroom. We celebrated the historic day by hoisiting the national flag, and singing patriotic songs. My favourite was Bharatiyaar's Viduthalai, Viduthalai (Freedom, Freedom!), a song proclaiming equality in Indian society. The other popular song was Muhammad Iqbal's Sare Jahan se Accha (Better than the whole world). But for us children, the highlight of the morning was the sweets distributed by the teachers at the end of the function.
Independence day of 1948 was special for us. That year, in the evening, my father took us by tram from King's Circle to VT to watch the city celebrating the first anniversary of India's freedom from British rule.
The tram fare was 1 rupee or so, but it was well worth it to see the grand illumination all over the city. All the big buildings were lit up - the black sooty mills at Parel, the railway yard, the Times of India building, Municipal Corporation and the grand Victoria Terminus. I remember seeing lights all along Hornby Road, and I think we rode right upto the last stop of the tram, the Prince of Wales Museum.
There were several other festival in Augusts that we celebrated. For Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, we gathered at the school early in the morning, and decorated the portico with coloured flower petals. On Narali Poornima or Avani-Avattam, school was closed. On this day, menfolk went to the temple to purify themselves of sins committed through desire or anger. The old sacred thread was discarded, and a new one was worn, chanting kamokarsheet (It was desire that made me do it!). This ceremony was performed before the commencement of the study of the Vedas, after the monsoon break. We children enjoyed a grand feast.
By the end of the month, Gokulashtami would arrive, when we joyously celebrated the birth of Lord Krishna at midnight. The day was spent preparing prasad for offering to Krishna for his midnight visit. Four of us - my elder sister, myself, and two of our brothers - sat around a clean white dhoti to make cheedais. My mother gave us a big mound of rice dough, and we rolled it into little circular balls. My mother watched and admonished us if the balls were not uniform. Later the balls were deep fried into a delicious golden brown. We also enjoyed going from lane to lane, to watch the Govindas break the dahi-handi. In the evening, the house would be decorated with rangoli. Tiny feet of the Lord were drawn leading into the house, guiding Him to come in and partake of the offerings.
Even today at 73, I enjoy the arrival of August. I go to my school as an ex-student, to participate in the flag hoisting. My grandchildren join me at home in celebrating Onam, Avani Avattam and Gokulashtami.