When the Portuguese came looking for spices to India through the daunting waves of 4 magnificent seas, least did they expect to present themselves at the behest of “The King of Fruits”. Locally known by the name “Manga” in the South-western Indian State of Kerala, soon became known by the same name in Portuguese and is known by a slightly altered name across the world – Mango. Scientifically named “Mangifera Indica”, originated in mainland India and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar.
Mangoes have been cultivated in India since 2000BC, are now cultivated widely across the tropics of the planet. India remains the single largest producer of Mangoes in the world. Mango trees are some of the most widely grown trees in India, as prominent as Coconuts themselves, The Mango trees are considered as one of the “must-haves” vegetation in the kitchen gardens of India. From January till the end of March, the tropic summer breeze of India is etched with the distinct fragrance of mango flowers, often relatable to the sweet scent of first rain in the summer. The scent carried with the mild breeze as long as it travels. It is interesting to know that the scent of the Mango inflorescence, nature’s way of attracting honeybees to it for pollination, carries different fragrance as it matures – often indicating the stage of the mango flowering to the locals.
Understandably, Mangoes are one of the most revered fruits in India along with Coconuts. Often found in Indian festivals are the leaves of Mangoes and Mangoes themselves. Mangoes epitomize as the symbol of prosperity in the native cultures of Hinduism and Buddhism. They happen to be the first fruit of the first season of Hindu calendar, finding their place in the new-year feast platter. It is often devoted to the Hindu Goddess of prosperity and good luck– Lakshmi. Quite evidently, mangoes find their mention in many Hindu scriptures that date back to 1500BC. The fruit is seen as a symbol of love and fertility. In Hindu Poojas (worshipping ritual), a pot filled with water, with mango leaves at the brim and coconut on top is kept as an offering near the God. This is known as “Purna-Kumbha” (Purna is for complete, Kumbha is for Pot in the ancient language of Sanskrit). The pot symbolizes mother Earth; water is the life giver; coconut symbolizes the divine consciousness and the mango leaves symbolize the LIFE itself.
During the Hindu New-year and other major Hindu festivals such as Diwali/Deepavali (Festival of Light, Festival symbolizing the triumph of good over evil), a garland of mango leaves is hung over the main doors of every temple, home and place of work. This is believed to bring the prosperity and good-luck and ward off evil eye.
Above all, mangoes have become a testament of embracing the human wisdom of agriculture. One such testament is the variety of Alphonso. When Portuguese came to India, they brought the wisdom of grafting the fruit trees too. Through grafting, they arrived at a variety that was exceptionally golden in color, had rich, soft flesh and was amazingly sweet. This variety was named after the Portuguese general Albuquerque De Afonso, who was instrumental in establishing Portuguese colony in India.
Mangoes are one of the few fruit varieties that have championed the tropics exceptionally, with over 500 known varieties of the fruit, each blooming and fruiting at a distinct sub-season within its season. Some fruiting as early as February and some fruiting as late as June, consequently, each of them finding their purpose in the kitchens of India at different times, often finding their places in pickles, curries, dishes, chutneys, sauces and many such delicacies in cuisines as diverse as varieties themselves. And across the world!
Next time you encounter a Mango, you know why it is the “King of Fruits”, and make sure you address it as the Royal Highness of the Tropics. 😉