Marigold: The Story of India’s Beloved Flower

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    In the vibrant tapestry of Indian festivals and celebrations, there exists a flower that weaves its way into every occasion, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of its people. Its name is Marigold (Tagetes erecta), or as it is fondly called locally, the "Genda" phool. Across India, these vibrant yellow and orange coloured flowers are a symbol of joy, prosperity, and tradition.

    Whether adorning the grandeur of a lavish Indian wedding, adding colour and vibrancy to a boisterous political rally, or gracing the sacred rituals of numerous festivals, the Marigold is ever-present. Its petals are offered with equal reverence to gods and mortals, bridging the gap between the earthly and the divine.

    The story of Marigold is one of fascinating adaptability and unwavering popularity. From the ancient times of kings and sages to the modern era of the latest eco-friendly fashions, Marigold has retained its relevance.

    ‘Jhandu’ flower in Ancient India

    The ‘origins’ of Marigold have been one of the most hotly debated in India. Some argue that Marigold was essentially brought to India by the Portuguese in the 16th century, while others counter it with the claim that there are references to ‘Jhandu’ or ‘Genda’ in ancient Indian texts. Like many things in history, the truth is somewhere in between.

    There is no doubt that a Yellow/Saffron coloured flower known as ‘Jhandu’ or ‘Sthulapushpa’ in Sanskrit and ‘Genda’ in local languages was popular in India since ancient times. Ancient terracotta plaques dating back to 300-100 BCE from Chandraketugarh in West Bengal, depict people using Marigold-like flowers for decorations. The 14th-century text on Ayurveda called ‘Rajanighatu’ speaks of the medicinal properties of ‘Jhandu’ Flowers. It was also used in ‘Torana’, an auspicious garland of flowers used for decorating doorways of homes and shrines.

    ‘Genda’ in Tribal Folklore

    Interestingly, the ‘Genda’ flower also wove its way into the tapestry of tribal lore of the ancient Gonds. This flower became intertwined with the story of their revered folk deity, Kondmuli. According to a popular Gond folktale, Kondmuli, spirited away the wife of a rival god, instigating a cataclysmic clash that culminated in his ultimate defeat and grisly beheading.

    However, the ‘Jhandu’ mentioned in ancient Indian texts and the ‘Genda’ of Gond tradition was not the Marigold (Tagetes erecta) that we know today. This was the ‘Calendula Officinalis’, a flower that looks very similar to the Marigold flower. The flower that we popularly now know as Marigold (Tagetes), is a native to South America and came to India with European traders in the 16th century. As the Tagetes variety became very popular and abundant across India, people started calling it ‘Genda’ or ‘Jhandu’ instead of the original ‘Calendula’ flower.

    One example is that while Ancient Indian texts speak of the medicinal properties of the Jhandu flower, it is the original ‘Calendula’ that is edible and beneficial. The Tagetes – the marigolds of today are inedible and might even be toxic if consumed.

    The Marigold’s origins in South America

    The Marigold's roots can be traced back to the distant lands of South America. The Mayans and Aztecs, residing in Mexico, revered this flower and purposefully bred it to enhance its size and aesthetic appeal. In the early 16th century, Spanish explorers journeyed to Mexico in search of new territories. During their encounters with the Aztecs, they acquired Marigold seeds and introduced the flower to Spain, France, and Northern Africa. A notable 16th-century ethnographic research study, known as the Florentine Codex, authored by Spanish anthropologist Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, documented the various applications of Marigold. Interestingly, European sailors often offered Marigold flowers on Mother Mary's altar, believing they would provide protection against evil and symbolize good fortune. This practice led to the flower being named "Marigold," derived from "Mary's Gold."

    After the arrival of the Portuguese traders in India, the Tangentes variety of Marigold was mistakenly identified as Jhandu, the local name for Calendula. Additionally, the Tangentes variety proved to be more prolific and easier to grow, gradually replacing Calendula and becoming the new Marigold in India.

    The ‘Eco Dyed’ Marigold in the latest fashions

    It is truly a testament to Marigold’s adaptive use that from centuries-old rituals, Marigolds are today even used to create sustainable and unique fabrics, specifically for colour. Take the example of the eco-dyed stoles handcrafted in Uttarakhand in India. Women dyers used the Marigold flowers thrown as waste after their use in ceremonies for creating beautiful prints on fabric.

    Eco-dyeing, a sustainable and nature-inspired technique, involves infusing fabric with vibrant colours extracted from flower petals. This captivating process begins by carefully selecting an array of petals, each with its unique hues and properties. These petals are then boiled or soaked to release their natural dyes, which are subsequently absorbed by the fabric. The result is a mesmerizing tapestry of earthy tones and delicate patterns, showcasing the beauty of nature while reducing the environmental impact associated with synthetic dyes.

    Today the Marigold, like the Lotus and the Rose, symbolically represents Indian culture and traditions.

    As we marvel at the eternal splendour of Marigold, we are reminded of the power of a simple flower to transcend boundaries and touch the souls of millions. Let us celebrate the captivating tale of Marigold…

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