Garlands of ixora and holy basil

Update for week ended 20 July 2012


Parukutty Amma was the typical Nair matriarch. Devout, devoted, caring, yet firm with her household. She lived on a large estate and her house, at the centre, looked like any other Tharavad, a Nair ancestral home, with its whitewashed walls, red Mangalore tiled roof sloping downwards in all four directions, and the Burma Teak pillars holding up the frame at intervals (styled like large elephant legs) with a Burma teak main door – embellished with brass carvings and the ubiquitous brass handle. Parukutty Amma or Paru Amma tended to her gardens with love. Her back yard had the typical plantain and banana cluster – typical because it was inauspicious to grow these in the frontyard. And legend has it that when the great saint, Shankaracharya’s mother, Aryamba died, he could not get any wood for her pyre, and through sheer devotion and inner strength, reached out to the banana plant trunks to be used a firewood. But this is Paru Amma’s story and how she tends her front yard. Her front yard had shrubs of all hues and sizes. These were interspersed with the omnipresent coconut and areca nut trees to provide the garden with shade. The shrubs near the garden wall were the gregarious hibiscus with its waxy green leaves and pretty red flowers. And next to it was the shrub of the Mandaram, Bauhinias or Apta, with its palm sized circular leaves. And closer to her house were the ixoras, with its green leaves and red balls of inflorescence. And near the entrance of the house is the Mandapam, the altar like place with its Tulasi, holy basil bush. Every evening, Paru Amma would bathe in the pond in the backyard, and after oiling and loosely braiding her hair, she would proceed to this little flower patch to pluck flowers in her little brass basket. Most often it would be the delicate, yet hardy ixora bunches and sometimes in summers, it would be the jasmine. She would not forget to pluck the basil. She would leave the basket on the doorstep, while she found her way to the bakyard to her trusted banana plant. By tugging at the outer covering, she would strip out a thin strand, about 3-4 feet long and head back to her front entrance doorsteps. She would then string the ixora into a tight bunch, and then would intersperse it with the basil leaves. All the while, she would hum a song for the occassion, and on this one it was the Thecchi mandaram tulasi pichaga maalaga …….  in that husky shaky voice. How tranquil the setting was. 


The D Boyz have been forced to get their botany right, what with their exposure to reds and greens on alternate days this week on D Street. So they learnt that the red flowers on the street shrubs were a decorative and miniature version of the ixora. Of course, they recognised the streetside holy basil plant that was tended to by the local paanwala. And along their paths, they crossed between the greens of the monsoon weeds and the reds of the monsoon flowers, like the hibiscus and ixora. The ups and downs on D Street took their SENSEX also through the greens and reds to end the week at 17158 – 55 points down from last week. 

Paru Amma had made the garland with its alternate red and green and she wrapped it in a wet towel. As dusk approached, she asked her eldest daughter, Ammini, to light the traditional oil lamp, before setting out to the village deity temple with her offering of the flowers. This was her regular ritual and she reached out for her walking stick to help her negotiate the uneven ground outside her house towards the temple. Everyone in the village knew her and greeted her warmly and also wanted a peek into the towel covered basket. But Paru Amma would not let anyone touch it. She walked into the temple, slowly ambling through the stone entrance and headed towards to the sanctum guided forward by the hum of the Melshanti’s evening prayers, Head Priest’s mantras. She left the brass basket at the head of the short three steps that led to the sanctum santorum which was lit only by oil lamps. The Melshanti picked up the perfectly strung garland and placed it on the idol of the deity and even in the low light of the flickering oil lamps, one could see how meticulously it was strung together and how symmetrically the greens and reds juxtaposed each other. The Melshanti, after performing the rituals of the evening prayers, then stepped out and as was the practice, just left behind the prasadams on the steps for the devotees to partake. These were flowers, basil leaves and an occasional banana. Paru Amma stayed away from the scramble, as some kind lady or the other, each day, would bring her a flower or two, some sandal paste and a banana. Paru Amma would bow reverently at the deity before receiving the prasadams and look at Him with her vacant eyes. How she wished she could see the Lord, but that was fate, she rued. As long as she could still come to his holy abode and listen into the sounds of the temple, she was happy. Paru Amma lost her eyesight as a child due to an illness, but never missed her temple trip every evening, and always brought her perfectly symmetrically strung garland with her.


If you know of a devout and devoted woman or man like Paru Amma, please write in. I would be eager to read about her as well. And if any of you know why the Southerners never grow the banana plant in the front-yard, do let me in to the story.


Have a nice weekend and week ahead…..



4 thoughts on “Garlands of ixora and holy basil

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