Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Culture for Marigolds

When my brothers and sisters and I were kids, 
our mom sometimes let those who were interested
 pick out packets of flower seeds to plant in the spring.
I remember choosing marigolds
and planting them in a neat row in some dry and dusty ground
at the west end of our house.
My mom tried to prepare me for the eventuality
that they probably wouldn't grow there.
But I stubbornly insisted they would.
 And somehow they did. And they were beautiful.
Since then, I have always thought of  marigolds as old friends.

And I like all the different colors and types.
I love the little French marigolds, the plump African marigolds,
and the old-fashioned crimson and yellow ones. 
But I'm not the only one that finds marigolds special.

They are important flowers in several cultures.
In Mexico, marigolds, or cempasuchitl,
play an important part in the November celebration called
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead,
a celebration similar in ways to our American Halloween.
Marigolds are used to create elaborate decorations on loved ones' graves
and adorn altars erected in their memory.
Marigold petals are scattered to guide the immortal spirits back home.
This is why in Mexico, marigolds are sometimes called
Flor de Muertos or flower of the dead.  

In India, marigolds, or in Hindi ghenda
are offered to the goddess of wealth and fortune, Lakshmi,
during the Festival of Diwali, the festival of lights.
An entry in explains that
garlands of marigolds are also important for the Nepalese festival called tihar.
According to the following website:
marigolds have an important mythology as a sacred flower in India
and other south Asian cultures.
One story says that after the god Gondmuli was slain,
his grieving wife dropped a hairpin which turned into a marigold.
Photos of the Hindi god Ganesh, who is said to remove impossible obstacles,
often depict the elephant-headed god being honored with red flowers or marigolds.

I never thought of marigolds as spiritual,
I just find that cultivating them gives me comfort and pleasure.
Last year I planted some that ended up looking quite cheery
on my kitchen window sill:

This month, I saw a veritable flood of them at a local store.
It's interesting that what is just a common annual in America
is in other cultures a sacred flower connecting heaven to earth.
It makes me wonder if that little packet of marigold seeds I picked out years ago
didn't actually pick me instead.

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