Shining in hues of gold,
little sparks of happiness bursting forth,
in blooms so bright and bold,
like a sprinkle of tiny little suns on earth.
‘Sanarei’ is the Manipuri name for the flower commonly called Marigold, coined from the words ‘Sana’ meaning ‘Gold’ and ‘lei’ meaning ‘Flower’. In Manipur, as in most places in India, the flower has a religious association with it being the most widely offered flower in prayers and obeisance to the Gods. They are used to make garlands and wreaths and used widely in religious rituals and celebrations. The flower is said to have originated from Central America (Mexico) before spreading like wildfire to different parts of the world.
In the western world the flower is widely believed to represent death, grief, cruelty, jealousy and such. I couldn’t disagree more. As I see it, it doesn’t evoke any such emotions in us. Rather it is a beautiful and joyful flower with its bright and cheerful colours. In our part of the world, it is widely used in religious as well as festive celebrations. The western belief may have been misconstrued from the fact that the flower is regarded as the flower of the dead due to its association with ‘Dia de los Muertos’ the ‘Day of the dead’ which is celebrated in Mexico on October 31st till November 2nd. A celebration that dates back thousands of years to Aztecs in the pre-hispanic period of Central America where the native Indians use to honor the dead. The practice continues even today in what has now become Mexico. Contrary to the dark and morbid picture it may evoke to the rest of us, the celebration is a beautiful and colourful festival where the Mexicans visit cemeteries, decorate the graves with the flower and spend time in the thought and the presence (as they belief) of their deceased friends and family members. Similar to the ‘Meiteis’ belief of ‘Tarpon’ during which dead ancestors visit their living children on earth to check on their welfare and grant them blessings, the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrates the return of the spirits to the Earth for one day of the year to be with their families. It is believed that the ‘Angelitos’ (little angels), spirits of babies and little children who have died, arrive on the midnight of October 31st and spend an entire day with their families and on their return the next day the spirits of the adults make their visit. There couldn’t be a more poignant and meaningful festival.
With the coming of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers and settlers in Central America in late 15th and early 16th centuries, the flower gradually spread to other parts of the world including India where it is believed to have been brought by the Portuguese settlers. Back in Mexico, the early Christians began to offer the flower in place of gold and money in their obeisance to Virgin Mary and thus came to be called ‘Mary’s gold’ or more simply ‘Marigold’.
In Manipur, it is ‘Sanarei‘, sana machu maanbi lei (flower with a golden hue).