Flowers in Ancient Literature  
Ancient literature in India is replete with names of various flowers. Most of these flowers are referred to by names which are not in common use today. One frequently comes across flower names like Kund कुंद, padam पदम, kumud कुमुद, neelkamal नीलकमल. Surely, one would like to know what these flowers are, as we know them today. The purpose of this section is to throw some light on this.

Ashok अशोक (Saraca indica) -- Sita Ashok
`Ashok' is a Sanskrit word meaning without grief or that which gives no grief. Ashoka, a herald of spring, has scarlet or crimson bunches of flowers in early March. It is said to flower upon being touched by a beautiful woman's feet. In the Ramayana, Sita spent her sorrowful days under an Ashoka tree in Ravana's garden after being abducted by him.


Pārijāt पारिजात (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) -- Hār-Singār
According to mythology, Pārijāta is a heavenly tree brought to earth by lord 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.
Another romantic story woven around the tree is about princess Pārijāta who fell in love with the sun. When he deserted her she committed suicide and a tree sprung from the ashes. Unable to stand the sight of the lover who left her, the tree flowers only at night and sheds them like tear-drops before the sun rises.


Kadamb कदम्ब (Neolamarckia cadamba) -- Kadamb
Kadamba trees and flowers are also a universal favourite among the Gods. Krishna loved to sport in Kadamba forests, and the Mother Goddess Durga resides in a Kadamba forest (Kadamba vana vāsinī).


Kamal कमल (Nelumbo nucifera) -- Lotus
The (red) lotus has pride of place in Indian literature. The national floweris another universal favourite of the Gods, and its beauty is often used in in similes for the beauty of heros/heroines: "face as beautiful as a blooming lotus" or "eyes shaped like lotus petals". A woman's beauty may be compared to that of a pond full of blooming lotuses (Nalinī, padminī) or her slender frame to that of a lotus stem. A famous couplet ascribed to Kalidasa describes a woman's face as a miracle of flower blooming within a flower: her beautiful eyes are like dark blue lotuses blooming in the pink lotus of her face!
The goddess Lakshmi sits on a red Lotus, and Sarasvati, on a white one. The Lotus is associated with Lord Brahma, who was created sitting on a lotus arising from the navel of Lord Vishnu. The lotus has esoteric and sacred significance in spirituality. The Mother Goddess (Devi) is called Kamalāmba or "Lotus Mother": she resides in a thousand-petalled lotus said to be located in the Sahasrāra Chakra in the head. Raising the serpent power kundalini to this place leads to Realization, which is the aim of the practitioners of "Sri Vidya Upasana". Lotus symbols are central in yantra patterns, and form part of many designs of decoration in more secular contexts. The lotus blooms at day and closes at night: so the sun is referred to as the "Friend of the Lotus".


Karnikār कर्णिकार (Pterospermum acerifolium) -- Kanak Champā
This golden-hued flower has a beautiful tassel-like form which makes it look very ornamental. It has an intense fragrance, perceptible even from a great distance while it is on the tree. The fragrance starts fading the moment it is plucked. The golden pendant flowers of the Karnikara adorn the ears of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavatam (karnayoh karnikāram).


Vakul वकुल (Mimusops elengi) -- Maulsari
A very small, yellowish and fragrant flower used for garlands and other ornaments. The milkmaids of Vrindavan are allured by Krishna playing his flute under a Bakula tree on the banks of the Yamuna. This tree is said to blossoms when sprinkled with nectar from the mouth of lovely women.


Mālatī मालती (Aganosma dichotoma) -- Mālatī
Mālatī is a vine with very fragrant white jasmine-like flowers. This flowers is frequently confused with jasmine. Ancient Hindu mythological stories are full of references to Mālatī flowers, as in the braids of women, or in overhanging bowers under which lovers meet. Malati flowers routinely drop from the hair of women!


Mādhavī Latā माधवी लता (Hiptage benghalensis) -- Mādhavī
In stories of Krishna, Madhavi-lata is found every where in Vrindavan, and creates a wonderful atmosphere with its fragrance and the three-colored flowers:
"This forest has Atimukta-trees, therefore the chariot makers resort to it (chariots are made of the wood), the makers of Madhavi-garlands like it (Atimukta means Madhavi flower) and those who desire liberation come here (to Vrindavana; (Atimukta means completely liberated).


Ketakī केतकी (Pandanus odoratissimus ) -- Kewdā केवड़ा
A fragrant flower used in making perfume and aromatic oil, Ketaki is not used in worship: it is supposedly cursed by Lord Shiva for bearing false witness of Lord Brahma. According to a Puranic legend, Vishnu and Brahma were arguing hotly as to which of them was supreme. Lord Shiva interceded, appearing amidst them in the form of a
huge pillar of light. The contestants decided that the question would be settled by the one who first found the limit of this awesome cosmic pillar. Vishnu set off towards its base but was unable to find it and admitted defeat. Whereas Brahma on his journey upwards came across ketaki flower floating down slowly. Inquiring from the flower from where she had come from, ketaki replied that she had been placed at the top of the pillar of light. Unable to find the uppermost limits Brahma decided to take the flower back to Vishnu to bear witness that he had reached the top of the pillar. This infuriated Shiva. Brahma was punished for lying and the creator was banned from being worshipped. Similarly, ketaki was also cursed that she would never again be used in worship of Shiva. Thus, ketaki is debarred forever from being offered in worship.


Neel Kamal नील कमल (Nymphaea nouchali/stellata) -- Blue Waterlily
The dark complexion of Krishna is compared to that of Neelkamal. For this reason, the Blue Waterlily is also called Krishna Kamal.
In the 'Ramayana', as it goes, Rama went to 'Lanka' to rescue his abducted wife, Sita, from the grip of Ravana, the king of the Demons in Lanka. Before starting for his battle with Ravana, Rama wanted the blessings of Devi Durga . He came to know that the Goddess would be pleased only if she is worshipped with one hundred 'NeelKamal' or blue lotuses. Rama, after travelling the whole world, could gather only ninety nine of them. He finally decided to offer one of his eyes, which resembled blue lotuses. Durga, being pleased with the devotion of Rama, appeared before him and blessed him.


Kund कुंद (Jasminum multiflorum/pubescens) -- Star jasmine
In Indian mythology, Kund is known for its whiteness. So, instead of the common western phrase 'white as snow', what often appears in Hindu
mythological stories is 'white as kunda'. Also, beautiful white teeth are often compared to Kunda buds. It is held to be especially sacred to Vishnu.
In Manipur, Kundo flowers are used in worship, and are an essential part of a marriage ceremony. The bride garlands the groom with two Kundo flower garlands. The groom then takes one of the two and garlands the bride.


Akund अकुंद (Calotropis gigantea) -- Crown flower
A pretty purple coloured, and slightly scented flower, having a sweet and agreeable smell. It is called Arca in Sanscrit, and has two varieties, both of which are held to be sacred to Shiva. It forms one of the five darts with which the Indian God of Love is supposed to pierce the hearts of young mortals. Sir William Jones refers to it in his Hymn to Kama Deva. It possesses medicinal properties.


Champak चम्पक (Michelia champaca) -- Champā
This beautiful, delightfully scented cream-yellow flower is used often in worship. The tree is grown in temple precincts and is considered particularly sacred to Krishna. It forms one of the five flower-darts of Kamadeva (Cupid). Champaka flowers along with Ashoka and Punnaaga adorn the locks of the Mother Goddess Lalitambika. Rabindranath Tagore immortalised this flower in one of his poems too


Yuthikā यूथिका (Jasminum auriculatum/molle) -- Juhī
Yuthika is a beautiful Jasmine vine with fragrant, attractive white flowers. Stories of Krishna are full of reference to yuthika flowers, like this one:
"And look! The Yuthika-flowers in this forest smile very proudly when they attract the restless honeybees to themselves from the laps of the best housewives, the jasmine-flowers, with their fragrance ... "


Kumud कुमुद (Nymphaea lotus var. pubescens) --White waterlily
The White waterlily is another romantic favourite. The moon is her friend (since she blooms at night) and the sun is her enemy. A woman's face is compared to her cool white beauty. A pond full of lilies (kumudini) is also a favourite simile for beauty.


Japā kusum जपा कुसुम (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) --China Rose
The glory of the rising sun is often compared to this resplendently beautiful flower. A famous couplet in praise of the Sun God begins `japaa kusuma sankaasam'. The glowing complexion of the orange-skinned Hanuman is also compared to this flower. Japa flowers are used in the worship of Goddess Durga. Her glowing complexion as the Mother Goddess Lalita is compared to the hibiscus in the lalitopaakhyaana.


Vat वट ( Ficus bengalensis) --Banyan
The banyan tree, India's National Tree, is a symbol of spiritual knowledge. Lord Shiva in his form of Dakshinamurti the universal Teacher sits under a Vata vrksha and illumines the minds of sages seated at his feet. In the great Cosmic Deluge, Pralaya, nothing survives of the entire creation except for the Lord in the form of an infant Krishna floating on a banyan leaf (vata-patra shaayi), sucking his toe, a familiar theme for Tanjore paintings.


Tamāl तमाल (Garcinia xanthochymus) --Himalayan Garcinia
Photo: Missouri Botanical Garden
The dark green beauty of this tree and its leaves, and its long limbs make it a favourite simile for the Lord Rama. The baby Krishna is compared to a newly unfurled Tamala leaf. 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.


Punnāg पुन्नाग (Calophyllum inophyllum) -- Sultan Champa
This flower is sacred to Lord Vishnu, forming his garland. A fragrant flower, it adorns the hair of Goddess Lalitambika in the Lalitaa Sahasram. The punnaga flower is used in worship of Lord Vishnu. There are many references to the Punnaga flower in the lyrics of Karnatic Music, as a flower for worship and as adornment of various Gods. A raaga by the name punnaagavaraali could be named after this tree!


Kovidār कोविदार (Bauhinia purpurea) -- Purple orchid tree
Kovidara occurs frequenctly in the Ramayana. Bharata's chariot is recognized by a flag with a kovidara ensign. It is also called raktapushpa, literally meaning blood-flower. It is a close cousin of the more popular kachnar कचनार (Bauhinia variegata), and is extensively planted as an ornamental tree today.


Pātal पाटल (Stereospermum chelonoides) -- Paral
This beautiful red flower is another favourite of the Gods and decorates the hair of Goddesses and maidens. The ancient city of Patna was called PaaTaliputra probably after this tree! The city was variously refered to as PaaTalipura, Kusumapura, Pushpapura or Kusumadhvaja and certainly has reference to this flower.


Gunjā (Abrus precatorius) -- Gunj
Gunja seeds are a favourite for native jewellery. the bright red-and-black bead-like seeds are attractive to children right from the days of mythology. These beads have special significance to the Gaudiya sect: followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Krishna worship. The child Krishna is inseperable from his favourite gunjaa maala, and it was said to represent Radha. Followers of Chaitanya worship Krishna in a small stone representing Mount Govardhan, with a gunja mala around it representing Radharani. Children in the South still play variants of lotto with it. Gunja seeds are bitter to taste and poisonous, but possess medicinal properties.Gunja seed extract is used to kill lice as an ingredient of hair oil.


Atasi अतसी (Linum usitatissimum) -- Flax
This pretty blue flower is popular in Sanskrit literature for comparing with the complexion of Krishna. A famous sloka in Krishna's praise goes अतसीपुष्पसंकाशम् हारनूपुरशोभितम् "atasii pushpa sankaasam haara noopura shobhitam". This flower, along with the blue butterfly-pea flower, Aparaajita, is also popular in worship of Goddess Durga (who is also sometimes considered an "amsha" (अंश) of Krishna).


Bandhook बंधूक (Pentapetes phoenicea) -- Midday Flower
Bandhook is a beautiful orange-red flower which blooms at noon. In Sanskrit literature, it is often used to symbolize glowing red color.
For example, the following lines are from Surya Ashtakam (Octet to Sun God):
बन्धूकपुष्पसंकाशं हारकुण्डलभूषितम्|
एकचक्रधरं देवं तं सूर्यं प्रणमाम्यहम्||
(My salutations to the Sun God, Who is as red as the bandhook flower, Who wears ornaments of garlands and ear rings, And who is the god with one great Wheel.) Another example is from the various forms of Lord Ganesha, which denote different aspects of life. Kshipra Ganesh (क्षिप्र गणेश) is described as glowing brilliantly like bandhook flower and holding a pot of jewels and other usual articles.


Text by Radhika Vathsan
Under construction
काम चल रहा है|