“Flowers are sweet. They have
short, beatific lives. They offer
much pleasure. There is
nothing in the world that can be said
Sad, isn’t it, that all they can kiss
is the air.”
What can one say of the glory of flowers, the most ephemeral and beautiful of God’s creations? The mere sight of flowers reminds us of the sublime horizons that lie beyond the corporeal, yet exist alongside. What can one then say of the glory of a flower whose very name speaks of its exaltation as the supreme, Brahmakamal? The name Brahmakamal translates as ‘The Lotus of Lord Brahma’. One might have observed in pictorial depictions of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Cosmos, that he holds a certain kind of lotus in his hand. This flower is said to be Brahma Kamal. Some myths even say that the Creator of the Cosmos was born of Brahma Kamal, hence the name.
Brahma Kamal is venerated as the official flower of the state of Uttarakhand. This hardly comes as a surprise since the state is referred to as ‘Devbhoomi’, the land of Gods. What then, other than the favourite flower of Gods could be deemed the state flower of Devbhoomi? In fact, the flower is attributed a lot of spiritual significance in many Hindu Puranic texts.
Legends and Mythical References on Brahmakamal
One of the frequent attributes mentioned of Brahma Kamal in Hindu texts is that of its being ‘life giving’. Probably the legend surrounding the birth of Lord Ganesha is the origin of the same. When Lord Shiva let the head of an elephant revive his beheaded son Ganesha, Lord Brahma created this flower so that the magically rejuvenating water held in its petals can be sprinkled upon Ganesha. This restored him back to life, and the flower was praised by devas as ‘Life-giving’. It is interesting to note that even modern science and ancient medicinal practices associate many healing properties with the flower.
Another instance in which Brahmakamal is mentioned is in Ramayana. The miraculous healing of Lakshmana following administration of Sanjeevani herb from the fatal injury he suffered in the war was celebrated by devas by showering Brahmakamal flowers. It is said these flowers took root in the land presently referred to as Valley of Flowers, and live to this day as remnants of the heavenly miracle.
Brahma Kamal makes its magical appearance in the story of Mahabharata as well. Draupadi, the beloved queen of Pandavas who followed them into their exile in the forests, felt continually agonized over the memories of her dishonoring at the hands of Kauravas. The intense hardships of forest life also began to affect her. On one such evening, she beheld a sight that filled her being with such numinous joy. She had seen the blooming of a beautiful golden lotus, the very Brahmakamal. Blooming of Brahmakamal is a very rare occurrence; it is believed that the rare souls who get to witness this divine sight would have their wishes fulfilled. Brahmakamal blooms at night and stays open only for a few hours.
Some even say that Brahmakamal blooms only once every 14 years.
Some Biological Facts of Brahmakamal
Brahmakamal is endemic to high altitude region of Himalayas. The flower enjoys its stature as ‘the king of Himalayan flowers’. One finds Brahmakamal growing in mountainous regions with altitudes in the range of 3000-4800 m. Its botanical name is Saussurea obvallata, and it belongs to the family of flowering plants termed under Asteraceae. The plant grows up to a height of 1 feet or 0.3 m. The blooming season of the flowers falls in the mid-monsoon months of July and August. The plants of Brahma Kamal become visible between April and October. Enclosed by greenish yellow bracts, the purple flower heads of Brahmakamal stay hidden and protected from the cold environ of Himalayas. Some of the names natives call this flower include Kon, Kapfu and of course Brahma Kamal.
Confusion of Brahmakamal with Another Flower
One might come across many instances of people claiming to grow Brahmakamal in their home and witnessing its rare blooming at night. Most of these are about another flower called as orchid cactus (epiphyllum oxypetalum), another beautiful flower known for the rare occurrence of its blooming. But these aren’t Brahmakamal flowers.
Religious Importance of Brahmakamal
Brahmakamal grows aplenty in the Himalayan regions like Valley of Flowers, Kedarnath, Tungnath, Satopanth Lake, Srikhand Mahadev etc. These spiritual flowers are offered at shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath. Especially during the festival of Nanda Ashtami which occurs around the months of September and October, Brahma Kamal flowers are offered profusely.
The flowers that are offered to the deity are distributed as Prasad among the devotees. One can come across the offering of Brahmakamal flowers practiced in the sacred shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Brahmakamal Facing Extinction
Human intervention has wreaked havoc in the pristine balance of many ecosystems. Excessive harvesting of the flowers has led to their survival being threatened in the recent years. Some regions where Brahma Kamal flowers are protected include Nanda Devi Biosphere, Askot Wildlife Sanctuary and Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary.
Since the flowers of Brahmakamal fetch high prices in the black market owing to their medicinal properties, these are being plucked and traded by natives. If this trend of the Brahma Kamal flowers not being allowed to grow even at very high altitudes continues, the mythical references would only be left of them upon earth. Rampant plucking of the flowers for religious purposes and their value in medicinal sciences without allowing them to undergo the natural pollination has led to an overt decline in their numbers by 70%. This has been found out by a study conducted by Wildlife Institute of India in the Panch Kedar region. Various remedial measures have been suggested which include the need to start a recovery programme, farming the plant species at naturally confined spaces in higher altitude regions like Chamoli, almora, Pithoragarh and Nainital etc.