Book Life & Style

Alka Pande researches on the history of flowers in her new book

Flower Shower

Flower Shower  

Author and curator Alka Pande traces the role of flowers through the ages in her book Flower Shower

“Where ever you look, the flower is not far to find” writes Alka Pande in her seminal book, Flower Shower which traverses through the culture of flowers in India. The book is a treatise on the usage of flowers in India’s rich history, mythology, cultural, architectural and as aesthetic motifs. A historian, teacher and curator, she says that within the Indian context flowers are a part and parcel of our daily lives.

Conceding that it was an extremely challenging task to weave a story around the theme of flowers, she states, “In traditional Indian art be it visual or performing arts, from the myths to the Puranas, to the epics, from the Mahabharata, to the Ramayana, in Sanskrit poetry, be it Kalidasa or Bhartrihari, and the Bhakti poets as well, flowers are very much part of their artistic oeuvre. Their respective languages are replete either in visual representation or in the literary metaphor or allegory. So to develop a narrative in the language of the flora was indeed a daunting task.”

The Puranas and early Sanskrit poetry are full of stories about flowers. Alka digs out multiple stories about their presence in our paintings, in the temples of Konark and Khajuraho, or for the purposes of adornment as in the Kashmiri ritual of dressing the bride in phoolon ke gehney. India’s love affair with flowers was further nourished by the Mughal rulers and later on even by the British. “The Mughals carried the legacy of flowers through painting and architecture. The borders of their miniature paintings always had a floral vine and flowers were very much part of the architectural embellishment in the interiors of their buildings. The British took it to another level in the printing motifs of textiles, particularly in Rajasthani muslins or the south Indian palampores which they exported from India to the UK,” she explains.

The biggest challenge in bringing the book out she says was to edit the colossal amount of material available and pare it down to a smaller compact landscape. She says, “No aspect of art, be it textiles, sculptures, painting, architecture, even food, is bereft of the presence of flowers. Against the backdrop of such a moving feast of material to develop a single volume book was the daunting task. Flowers as a theme or topic is an encyclopedic work and to put it in a succinct and attractive manner with accompanying relevant visuals.”

Various values

The research and the understanding of the culture of flowers in India opened an entire new world for the historian. “Through the flowers I understood bhakti, I understood aspects of love, longing and desire,” she shares and adds, “How Sita was a great herbalist, how she lived in the beauty of the Asoka Vatika in Lanka as a prisoner of Ravana pining for her husband Rama. How each and every flower has a role and place in society, from embellishment, adornment to even medicinal value.”

What was the catalyst in bringing out the book? “Very simple,” she laughs, “My publisher Bikash Niyogi said he wanted to do a book on flowers. More than that he gave me no other brief. I was ever so glad about it . His open ended but very specific subject left a host of possibilities in my head.”

The author believes that the role of flowers has not diminished or changed even today. In fact, she feels that they have grown much more in variety since a lot many hybrid varieties have been invented and nurtured by serious horticulturists. She gives the examples of cut flowers and floral decorations which have reached new heights in display as a means of exhibiting the extraordinary dexterity of flowers.

For an author who has written a compendium on flowers, we cannot but ask her about her favourites. She answers in a thrice, “My favourite flower from the time I was young was the parijat, or the har shringar, or the night jasmine. I recall its delicacy and the heady aroma, looking fresh and riveting on the grass when they’d fall in my grandmother’s house in Meerut.”

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 3:42:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/alka-pandes-book-flower-shower-traverses-through-the-culture-of-flowers-in-india/article30624187.ece

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