Just about everywhere you go in India you will see marigolds. Generally in the form of garlands you will find them decorating holy temples, auspicious statues or lowly cycle rickshaws, while vendors dangle them from their humble carts. Popular in wedding celebrations, they are used to decorate the venues, cars and guests. Marigold petals are often floated in water to create decorative yantra or mandalas.
The marigold holds great spiritual significance in both Hinduism and Christianity. In Hinduism it symbolizes auspiciousness. The saffron colour which signifies renunciation, is offered to God as a mark of surrender. Some say it implies a trust in the Divine who will overcome obstacles. While others say it represents triumph, fertility and wealth.
It is thought that the Portuguese first introduced marigolds to India. Christians who could not afford coins, placed the flowers on the Blessed Mary’s altar in lieu of money. In Christianity, marigolds are offered to Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation.
Another advantage of marigolds is that they grow abundantly in India, flower for a long time and are available to even the poorest of people. They flourish easily, have large variations in size, colour and gradations while the unpleasant smell helps keep insects away. While driving around rural areas of Rajasthan, the marigold bushes grew in high hedges of lush green foliage.
In comparison, whenever I planted marigolds in my own garden, the stems were barely tall enough to prune. It was as if I had been chasing marigolds most of my life.
On many occasions, mimicking life itself, they brought me fleeting moments of happiness. No sooner had I started to admire the blossoms, than they shriveled and died, despite my tender loving care.
In India, vivid saffron, orange, golden blooms of marigolds can be seen cascading over the edges of wooden boxes where women thread tiny blossoms onto strings for garlands.
Buying a garland was the first thing on my list when I arrived in India. Little did I know there would be many more along our journey, each one precious like the first.
As we entered hotel lobbies, we were greeted and blessed by the staff who placed a marigold garland around our neck while painting a tilak on our forehead. Tilaks are usually made from a paste of kumkum red turmeric but a lighter sandalwood paste is sometimes used. Painting it on the area between the brows symbolises the quest for the opening of the third eye. Garlands of marigolds are often placed around the statues of Ganesh by devotees wanting him to remove obstacles from their lives.
India’s government has now elevated the marigold to higher realms. It has recently been made the flower of the fallen. Nowadays, it occupies the pedestal at the Symbol of Remembrance, commemorating the sacrifice of Indian soldiers.
Very symbolic of India, their warming gold orange blooms always fill me with joy and like India, will forever hold a special place in my heart.