Mango is among those fruits which is of Indian origin, which is why, whether in the south of the country or the north, it is a sacred fruit that can be offered to the Gods
1757, Battle of Plassey, Bengal Nawab Shiraz-ud-Daulah is defeated in the mango grove in Navadweep (people usually think the battle took place in Murshidabad, but it was in Navadweep. There were 99 varieties of mangoes in that orchard, nurtured fondly by the Nawab. Gulab Khas, Nawab Pasand, Himsagar, Anupam, Begum Pasand, Bhabani Chauras, Bira, Dawood Bhog, Dil Pasand, Dudhia, Mirza Pasand…
The Nawabs of Bengal seemed to be highly indulgent. The tradition went that Begum Pasand would ripen only past midnight, and the Nawab would have to be woken up, freshened and given the special mango to taste.
There were clear instructions that the mango could only be placed on one’s palm, not touched by fingers, which could create spots on the flesh, and the skin had to be peeled using a fine wooden knife.
Adjacent to the orchard is the fabled Malda mango gardens. Yes, you will find sellers in Delhi selling mangos “from Malda”, but almost all the mango groves of Malda are bought over with seed money for the farmers by traders, who sell the delicious fruit in Bangladesh and further east, Thailand, Hong Kong, China and Japan.
It is standard practice in rituals of Sanatana Dharma– often mistakenly termed Hinduism – to offer no vegetable or fruit as Prasad, unless it is of Indian origin. Mango is. Its biological name is Mangifera Indica, which means it is endemic to India. The antiquity of the fruit’s Indian origin can be found in the Mahabharata:
“At Shakuni’s advice, Duryodhana decided to send Gouramukha, the son of the brahmin Puranjana, who had perished in the lac (“wax”) palace fire to see where the Pandavas were and what were their plans. But Gouramukha said he wouldn’t recognise the Pandavas, which Duryodhana told him, was actually an advantage, since they wouldn’t recognize him too. They would be found among sages, he told him. He should disguise himself as a sage, and ask them to give him a ripe mango in that autumn season.
“They wouldn’t, of course, find one in the forest. However, they, and only they, he stressed, would be able to produce such a mango, a mango of truth - who else would be able to do so but the practitioners of truth? That was the way to recognize them, he said. Gouramukha dressed himself like a sage. Yudhisthira saw him, and with great humility asked him where he came from, who he was - a Maharshi, a Rajashri, Devashri or a Brahmashri (sages of different levels of spiritual attainments), and what food he would accept.
“The false sage said he wouldn’t have anything at all, and Yudhisthira should go ahead and eat his meal. But Yudhishthira wouldn’t hear of it; how could he commit the sin of making his guest wait for him when he would be having his food? When pressured a bit too hard, Gouramukha said if at all, he would have only a ripe mango.
“Yudhishthira was completely nonplussed how he would get a ripe mango in an autumn month, he wondered. The day had passed in great anxiety. His brothers had gone far and deep into the forest and had returned tired and empty-handed. In utter helplessness, Yudhishthira did what he had always done in such circumstances: invoke Krishna. Krishna arrived and told him not to worry. Season or no season, a mango of truth could always be produced. For that, each of the Pandava brothers and Draupadi must speak only the truth and not a word of a lie. At Krishna’s behest the sage Vyasa bought a mango stone, and with his benign glance, Krishna breathed life into it.”
There are around 1,500 varieties of mangos grown in the country, each with its distinct taste, pulp quality and flavour. Why, there is Haji Kaleemuddin Mullah, whose family has run huge orchards over the past 300 years. Kaleemuddin’s magic is that the Class 7 school dropout, now 77 years old, has used grafting technique to grow 300 different varieties of mangos in one single tree in his orchard in Malihabad, Uttar Pradesh. He has named the tree Anarkali!
The Haji narrates a unique story about one of the best-known varieties of mangos, the Langra. How did the specific variety get its name? The term Langra means ‘lame’ in English. Centuries ago, there used to be a mango grower in that same region, who was lame. He had grown this special variety which was neither too sour nor too sweet, and it did not have any resa, or fibre that got into your teeth. People named his mangos as Langra Aam.
Interestingly, the Haji says that though today, Langra Aam is grown in many places, it is the variety from Varanasi, given its soil quality that alone has this distinct taste. This story reminds me of the fabled Lucknow kebabs known as Tundey Kebab, after the man who invented it for a toothless Avadh Nawab. Tunde means a man with one arm. Food had strange antiquities!
His creation, the Anarkali is magical, as he describes: “Anarkali has a double skin. Orange is the first layer. But as you may a deeper stroke within, you are exposed to its second yellow coloured skin. But that’s not all — its taste adds to its exclusivity. At first, it tastes like the Chausa variety of mango — but soon enough you will be filled with Chausa and Lakhnavi Dusseri mango flavours. This is because Anarkali comes from the flowers of two distinct varieties of mangoes that were crossbred.”
Alphonso, of course, is the most famous of mangoes. The variety is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, a Portuguese general and military expert who helped establish Portuguese colonies in India. The Portuguese introduced grafting on mango trees to produce extraordinary varieties like Alphonso. The fruit was then introduced to the Konkan region in Maharashtra, Goa and some parts of southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
The Alphonso is also one of the most expensive varieties of mango and is grown mainly in western India including places such as Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad districts and in the Konkan region of Maharashtra.
Mallika & Amrapali
The problems with mango is that out of every 100 ‘mukuls’ or flowers on every tree, only one becomes a fruit. The second problem with mango especially in eastern India is that mangos grow once in every two years.
That makes it less attractive business-wise. To solve this problem, a former Pusa Institute horticultural scientist, late PK Majumdar, invented two varieties of mango, Amrapali and Mallika, which give fruits every year. But being an exotic variety, these two plants spread widely and finish off other local varieties. This is why the farmers in the southern climes have refused to plant these two varieties.
“I have never seen or heard of either Mallika or Amrapali in our areas,” senior journalist N Asokan told SSB.
Asokan says: “Mango has been mentioned in the Sangam Literature or ancient Tamil literature. We have what we call Mukani, or three fruits, mango, jackfruit and banana, which are essential fruits for us. These are called sacred fruits. Halem, Dharmapuri and Sagar are the main mangoes growing districts in Tamil Nadu, and grow the fabled varieties, Ela, Neelam, Badami, Bangapalli, Sindhoora, Totapuri, Malgova, etc. So there you are, with 1,500 varieties of a fruit, and just 1,000 words to write, that are the best can be done. To do it all, maybe we need 1,500 books. Very long ago, I had met a senior government official to write a story on tea. When I told him of what I need, his eyes literally moistened: “Tea, he said,” paused for a while and said: “How can I tell you in half an hour… tea is an ocean!”
Well, if tea is an ocean established by the British, Mango is the Indian Ocean!
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