Review: Flower Shower by Alka Pande
I was carried away by the elegance of this book. Each page was like unfurling the petals of a flower and indulging in its beauty. Art critic Alka Pande’s well-researched Flower Shower is a treasure for any nature lover.
India is a land blessed with an abundance of nature. It is home to more than 18,000 flower species. This is also a culture where flowers play a significant role in every field and dimension: auspicious and inauspicious, sacred and profane, life and death. Pande elucidates these in her book, where she weaves a fragrant string of chapters on how flowers are an integral part of our lives.
Three of the book’s 13 chapters are dedicated to specific flowers: the rose, the lotus, the marigold and the champa. In the chapter on the rose, she traces its passage from fossil records nearly 35 million years ago. The rose finds a mention in medieval prose and poetry and has etched a place for itself as a symbol of undying love in every culture. The pride of a gardener it is also prized by perfumers. In the chapter on the lotus, Pande shows how the lotus is a symbol of divinity in most faiths and how it is an oft-used theme in architecture to signify peace. While this chapter includes many paintings from different periods, it is the illustration of Krishna and Radha clad in lotus flowers from circa 1730 that steals the reader’s heart.
In the chapter entitled, The Body Adorned, Pande writes of how women, flowers and shringara are inseparable as takes us through a typical wedding ceremony and explains the significance of the flowers used in the celebration. Patterns of flowers and vines symbolise joy and are used in ornaments, fabrics, mehendi, and rangoli designs.
In Gardens of Paradise, Pande writes of how gardens were celestial spaces of pleasure, joy and creativity in ancient times. In classical Sanskrit poetry, they are called the dolagrihas. When Kalidasa sat down in a garden to write, it was as if his characters played out in front of him as poetry flowed. And so in the Abhigyanashakuntalam, Shakuntala adorns herself from head to toe with lotus flowers to symbolise her lovelorn state. The Mughals were also patrons of flower gardens and were invested in collecting flora and fauna for their garden landscapes from across the world. In modern India, each state and union territory has an official flower. Different flowers in different states mark the arrival of spring and are celebrated with colourful floral rangoli.
The nation is rich in fabrics and weaves too and Pande reveals the numerous avatars of flowers within weaves. While peacocks, flowering vines, potted plants, animals, birds, and trees are common fabric themes, each region of the country has a unique weaving style and a distinctive floral motif. Woven floor mats too have an ancient history and are mentioned in mythological stories. In memory of his father Babur’s longing for luxurious Persian carpets, Akbar seems to have played a role in setting up the carpet-weaving industry in Agra. All these interesting nuggets make the book a fascinating read.
Alka Pande quotes extensively from Gita Govinda, Bhagavata, Mahabharata, and Ramayana and shows how Kalidasa and Tagore are nature poets, who often used flowers and nature as allegories and metaphors. Their poems find a liberal mention in the chapters. The accompanying pictures are colourful and fit the narrative. The paintings are also chosen aptly to suit the references. The detailed explanations about many topics makes this book a worthwhile read.
At 260-pages and as a hardbound book, Flower Shower by Alka Pande is aesthetically designed, with a very engaging narrative. Every chapter begins with a carefully chosen quote; every page is steeped in fascinating information. For a botanical artist like me who works with flowers, this book is a treasure. I highly recommend it to every flower and nature lover.
Subhashini Chandramani is a botanical artist, and an experimental gardener. You can find her on twitter and Instagram as @Neelavanam.