Fragrance of metaphors

Blooming tulips inside the Tulip Garden in Srinagar

Blooming tulips inside the Tulip Garden in Srinagar  

A flower could mean many things in the creative realm

The flower doubtlessly presents random bubbling of possibilities inspiring and recording the creative impulses of man. It is a powerful symbol of the ironical scale of eternity. Even in its ephemeral tangible form, it stands to sway in the breeze, hypnotising the human eye with its colour and fragrance. Amidst turbulence, the flower provides hope for the survival of human dignity.

Flowers carrying metaphoric implications feature in the Indian spiritual terrains, rituals, literature, paintings, dance, music, and poetry. Dr Sanghamitra Basu from the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts says, “The fragrance and colours materialise as paths of energies connecting the deity with the devotee.”

“Your garland falls on Krishna’s chest like white cranes on a dark cloud, Shining lightning over him, Radha, you rule in the climax of love. In woods on the wind-swept Jamuna bank, Krishna waits in wild flower garlands,” writes Jaidev in the “Gita Govinda”. The verse is painted, sang and danced. In the painted representation from Guler, an upright tree is entwined with a flowering creeper that suggests the manner the Sakhi/ friend implores Radha to go to Krishna.

In “Pushp ki Abhilasha” (The Desire of the Flower), Hindi poet Makhanlal Chaturvedi impacted by the freedom struggle pens the desire of a flower. “I do not want to be made into a necklace, or given as a gift to a lady, or thrown on a corpse. I want the gardener to throw me on the road where a soldier fighting for the motherland picks me.” “Chah Nahin Mai SurBala Ke Gehnon Mein Guntha Jaaon…. Mujhey Tod Lena Banmali, Us Path Par Tum Dena Phaink, Matra Bhoomi Per Sheesh Chadhaney, Jis Path Jaayen Veer Anek”

Classical singer Subhadra Desai sings Kumar Gandhrava’s composition, “Tesul ban Phoole rang chaaye, Bhavar Leit Firat Mad Bhare” (The black bumble bee flies listlessly intoxicated by the tesu flowers the Flame of the forest). “The composition in the late-night raga Bhageshree,” says Desai, “provides a frame to enact transcendence. The buzzing sound of the black bee explores in darkness the self while seeking dissolution in the sharp needle flame-coloured flowers. When singing, I aspire to capture the process of that dissolution.”

Bharatanatyam dancer Ragini Chandrashekhar

Bharatanatyam dancer Ragini Chandrashekhar  

Says Bharatanatyam dancer Ragini Chandrashekhar, “I endeavour to bring out the essence of a flower defined by its texture, softness, colours, and shape. It is more for me a part of abhinaya. However, if I am required to define the flower in the rhythmic element, I would use patterns that are simple and flowing. My dance will seek to capture the flowing essence described in the Tamil word ‘nalinum’ meaning elegance. Our abhinaya repertoire is replete with the imagery of the lord’s eyes, feet, arms compared to flowers. I am fascinated when I show like – lotus-like face; it is not the open lotus but the layered half-opened lotus bud eyes. In Goswami Tulsidas’ famous “Shree Ram Chandra Kripalu Bhaju Mana” the second line is “NavaKanj Lochana Kanjamukh Kara Kanjapada Kanjaarunam” The Eyes of the lord are half-newly opened lotus. The half-open implies both the outward compassionate receptivity of the lord to the needs of his devotee coexisting with his introspection.”

Flowers are metaphors of dynamic flow in the movement in their fragrance, the shape of their petals, and the rays of their colours. They represent a cosmic clockwork of impermanence that leaves the permanence of inspired creativity emerging from their ephemeral existence.

Ethos of flowers

Pondering on the ethos of flowers in the Indian civilisational context, one recalls the writings of Roger Lipsey, the famous American art historian’s reference to three concepts. First, Thomas Merton presented a monk’s knowledge of painting which he called ‘Eyes for the Art’. Henry Corbin was inspired by Sufi concepts. As a scholar of Islamic religious history, he introduced two other concepts - 'eyes of flesh' and 'eyes of fire'.

The ‘flower’ in its tangible form communicates multiple sensations. Its outward reality of colour, softness, and fragrance of the flower awaken the ‘eyes of flesh’. Next, the functional journey of the flower proceeds to enact the process of ‘eye of fire’ where the outer form of the flower awakens inner energy.

Taking the three concepts – eyes of flesh, of fire and art, one can critique Alka Pande’s latest book “Flower Shower” (Niyogi Books). She aspires to explore a multi-layered trajectory of the ‘flower’ in the Indic topography. Her work refers to ideas, rituals, and creative expressions – in art, cuisine, textiles, sculpture, gardens and much more. The flower as ‘Nature’ is linked to gods and goddesses. “My work is based on the spirit of the idea of Pushp Varsha (showers of flowers). It seeks to capture the ehsas or the intrinsic Indian experience of aesthetics and beauty of the 'flower'. The book locates the symbol in arts and crafts and indirectly refers to the economic ecology related to flowers,” says Pande,

Symbol of dignity

The Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar, Kashmir, the largest Tulip Garden in Asia, will soon open for visitors. Tulip presents a fascinating history. Interestingly, in the seam of turbulent existence, the tulip symbolises human resilience and human dignity; for it stands amidst the Himalayan conflict zones of Afghanistan and Kashmir. The enigmatic flower carries an intriguing economic heritage from the Ottoman Empire to the Dutch Renaissance and is illustrative of the first major financial bubble. Presently, a visual phenomenon for flora-tourism, it is placed as a lucrative commodity.

The tulip features in the Persian tragic romance of Farhad and Shireen. The red tulips emerge from the drops of Farhad’s blood that appears after he commits suicide on learning of his beloved’s death. The flower stands for martyrdom and selfless love. The tragic story is retold by Georgians, Parsis, Afghans, Kurds and many other communities.

Tulip in conflict zones

The etymology of the three-petalled flower is ‘turban’. It is the national flower of Afghanistan where interestingly it is the black tulip that has gained contemporary relevance. Says Sonia Nassery Cole maker of the film “Black Tulip”, Afghanistan’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category in Academy Awards in 2011, “In North Afghanistan, there are fields of ‘black’ tulips. They represent the persona of an Afghan who, despite everything, is filled with pride, hope, and resilience.” There are two stories linked to the Afghan black tulip. Cole narrates, “A young Afghan boy bravely fought the Soviets. He was killed. His family found a black tulip tattooed on his chest. The flower is both delicate and resilient, the petal colour forms a permanent stain. It has become a ritual among Afghans to mark the body of martyrs with the black tulip flower. In the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation, the helicopters called Black Tulips were in-charge to pick the corpses of the Soviet soldiers lying in the fields.”

According to botanist Aarti Saxena of the Delhi University, “Plants do not synthesise black pigments. The colours of the flowers are in the visible range of VIBGYOR. Flowers like the black rose or the tulip are actually closer to deep shades of blue or violet.” The artistic freedom expressed by Cole in the title ‘Black Tulip’ communicates a strong emotive metaphor which perhaps other colours would not.

Despite the politically contentious situation in Kashmir, the spring has arrived and the tulips are set to bloom. A few years back one met young Samina walking the brilliant flower fields of the Srinagar Garden, while her father back home was embroidering shawls. “He will get 1500 rupees for the entire shawl. I get more by taking some women tourists around the Tulip Garden,” said young Samina.

The garden provides an avenue of growth in the conflict-ridden region where jobs and shrinking agricultural land are important socio-economic issues. Even between the socio-political uncertainties, both in Afghanistan and Kashmir, the tulip could provide the potential for unique soft diplomacy of floral trade and floral cultural skills.

The Tulip gardens of Kashmir, the Netherlands and other countries present an idiom of coloured hope and nostalgia as one could recall the romantic Bollywood song, “Dekha yeh khwab toh yeh silsile huye” (The view of the blooming fields become the dream of elusive affairs).

The song was picturised in the Tulip gardens of Keukenhof, Netherlands alternated with the scenes from the misty landscape of Pahalgam, Kashmir. Tulips bloom in spring as windows to paradise. They stand upright, the single flower will not bend until the last leaf blows away. It reflects perfection, pride, and human dignity.

Poetic and mystical

Fragrance of metaphors

In October, which completes two years this April, screen writer Juhi Chaturvedi effectively uses the shiuli flower (night flowering jasmine) as a metaphor for her vivacious female protagonist who falls off a hotel roof, and goes into a coma. The Shoojit Sircar film is about a relationship where one doesn’t seek anything in return. “When I was writing the film, I struggled a lot with the name of the female character. Once I named her Shiuli, everything fell in place. It became poetic and mystical as the flower itself,” says Juhi.

Growing up in Lucknow, the writer has a lot of memories of the short-lived harsingar flowers. “But you can’t name a character thus. So I opted for its Bangla name. “Like harshingar, Shiuli also has a short life. I insisted on using it on the poster as well,” recalls Juhi.


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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:06:28 PM |

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