The image of a happy yellow marigold appears in the minds of most people when asked to think of a flower that defines India. The Gendā(गेंदा)flower, as it is known in many Indian languages, is synonymous with cheer and celebration in India. Officially, lotus is the national flower but marigold holds a place in Indian pop-culture today that’s no less than lotus. Festivities, rituals and ceremonies are incomplete without the presence of these sunny dollops of fragrant petals. Could you have imagined that something so integral to the land's aesthetic identity is not native to it? It’s true!
The flowers we know as Gendā or marigold today are from the genus tagetes. They are native to Mexico and travelled to the subcontinent around three and a half centuries ago. Before that, flowers of the genus calendula growing in the subcontinent were known as Gendā. Both tagetes and calendulas belong to the same family named Asteraceae. Calendulas are also yellow, orange and brown in colour but their petals are not as multi-layered as those of the tagetes. The tagetes or marigolds took very well to the soil and climate of the subcontinent and surpassed the calendulas in popularity.
If you visit a flower market in India, large baskets heaped with yellow and orange marigold strands might be the first thing you’ll notice. During the autumn-winter festive and wedding season, these strands adorn the entrances and interiors of temples, homes and ceremonial venues. Strung into garlands, the marigolds become offerings for gods and goddesses and welcome accessories for special guests. The dainty petals become the golden rain that is showered reverently on deities and joyfully on soon-to-be-wed or newly-wed couples during rituals.
Marigold is of great cultural significance even in its native country of Mexico. It is called Flor de muertoas or ‘Flower of the dead’ as it is used in the Mexican holiday Dia de losmuertos or ‘Day of the dead’. It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their living families during this celebration. Marigolds are used to create ornate altars and paths symbolizing the connection between the land of the living and that of the dead. The fragrance and vibrancy of marigolds is believed to guide the visiting spirits to the altars created by their living families. This unique festival was captured beautifully in the 2017 Disney film Coco that went on to win an academy award that year.
Image courtesy: Disney
There’s an interesting myth behind the name marigold too. The Spanish explorers took marigolds from Mexico and introduced them in Europe. In due course, the flowers became a sacred offering for the Virgin Mary. They were particularly favoured by the poor who could not afford to offer real gold, hence the name Mary’s gold or marigold.
In Chinese and other eastern cultures marigolds came to be connected with the solar symbolism as their colours are reminiscent of the sun’s warmth. Marigold might signify different things in eastern and western cultures. However, its allure is universal. Even we at Glass Forest couldn’t resist getting inspired by the beauty of marigold and created some exclusive products as a tribute to this charming flower.