Through the stormy night
and the morning light,
stand by me.
In waters deep
or in sunshine sweet,
stand by me.
You are all I seek,
all that I’ll ever need,
Darling stand by me.
Every storm is a breeze
and sunshine ever so sweet,
Just so long as you stand by me.
The breaking light of dawn
turns the leaves into blades of gold.
A song it sings in eloquent silence,
of life’s exquisite beauty and magnificence;
in hues of the rainbow and delicate fragrance,
this flower that blooms in such graceful elegance.
– Mo Irom
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).
Dahlia, oh darlings of the sun,
with colors just as bright,
blooming in such rapturous fun,
cheerful as the morning light.
Is it a song that you sing,
of life’s short sparkle ?
or an ode to His blessings
in a silent praise so voluble.
Whatever your intentions be,
you dazzle so brilliantly,
enchanting every eye that see,
in a mesmerizing rhapsody.
The ‘Takhellei nachom’ art more beautiful than the diamonds in the neck.
‘Takhellei’ is perhaps the most romanticized flower in Manipur. Scientifically named the ‘Hedychium coronarium’ and commonly known as the ‘Butterfly ginger Lily’’, the flower is said to have it origins in the Himalayan region but have migrated as far as the Latin American regions like Brazil, Hawaii and Cuba. Closure home, in Manipur (a state in the North-eastern corner of India bordering Myanmar) it is known as ‘Takhellei’, a flower which has a strong emotional attachment to the people of the region. Known for its rich fragrance, the womenfolk of Manipur in the olden days adorn themselves with the aromatic flower, just as the Latinas were known to do in the Spanish colonial days. The beauty of the Takhellei seductively tucked in the ear, decorating the long, lustrous, cascading, black hair of the Meitei ladies adorned in ‘Phige phanek’ (a wrap around garment worn by Manipuri ladies) and the sensuous ‘Moirang phi’ (a translucent shawl) is a sight that have evoked romance and inspired eulogies over ages in the days of yore. It was enough to send the ‘Meitei pakhangs’ (bachelors) swooning in the olden days and crooning “Takhellei Nachom na napada” (a popular Manipuri song). Although it is a rare sight to come by in these modern times of the jeans clad damsels, it can still be noticed in ‘Lai haraoba’ (Meitei festival) and sometimes in weddings when the ladies don the breathtaking traditional dress and titivate their silken hair with a Takhellei ‘Nachom’ (flower adorned in the ear). I bet it still tugs the heart strings of the Meitei nupas (Manipuri males) even today.
Does the caterpillar know that one day
it would have the most beautiful wings to fly ?
or does it acquiescently weave its cocoon,
thinking it to be his finale resting place.
Does the butterfly have remembrance of the time
that it derisory crawled about?
or does it flutter about with such gay abandon,
knowing fully well the transiency of life.
For the beguiling God’s design, do we know for sure,
what is the beginning and which is the end ?
Do we lay ourselves to rest with our last breath
or does a new beginning await beyond such an obvious end?
I still can’t help but wonder.
For my father,
in the hope that he has found peace and solace in a better place.