Mango Mores: As Maharashtrian and Telugu households celebrate Gudi Padwa and Ugadi, the star of the celebrations is undisputedly the raw mango.
FEW FRUITS evoke as much discourse and emotion as the mango, especially on the Indian subcontinent. It is after all the fruit that two gods are said to have almost fought over: Kartikeya and Ganesha, who both wanted a mango Narada had presented to their father, Lord Shiva. Summer’s swelter has few pluses — but mango season is surely predominant among them. And so it is that the mango — raw and ripe, fruit and leaves — has come to occupy a significant position in the celebration of certain Indian festivals. At no time is this more evident than during the New Year festivities of communities from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.
On the morning of Ugadi and Gudi Padwa, you’ll find the front doors of most homes adorned with a lush garland of mango leaves. The toran/thorana signifies the promise contained in new beginnings, the blossoming of hope, and the anticipation of good fortune. Its symbolism can be found in verses such as those by the noted poet KS Narasimha Swamy who equates Ugadi with “maandalirinalli, mugivirada cheluvinalli, hoobisilinalli, upavanagalalli, ede tumbidolavinalli… (freshly bloomed mango leaves, the beauty that is never-ending, warm summer, flower beds and the love that fills one’s heart)”.
Image: Kairi Panha
On a less lyrical and more tangible level, the significance of the mango is also seen in the dishes prepared during these festivals. Gudi Padwa would be incomplete without a glass of kairi panha — a drink so cool and refreshing that some families prepare the concentrate in large batches and freeze it, ready to be diluted with water and quench one’s thirst at a moment’s notice. So also, raw mango features most notably in the “Ugadi Pachadi”, a traditional dish that comprises specific flavours, each representing the philosophy that all life brings us — the sweet and the salty, the bitter and the tangy — must be accepted with equanimity. Thus, along with the raw mango, the Pachadi contains tamarind, jaggery, green chillies, neem flowers and of course salt.
The raw mango also appears in dishes like the mavinakayi chitranna/mamidikaya pulihora (raw mango rice), mango chutneys and more. In fact, many families believe that it is inauspicious to consume mangoes before Ugadi, and the festival represents the first time many people taste the season’s fruit.
Even as the mango occupies pride of place in these festivals, its exalted status is hardly new. The Upanishads and Puranas had references to mangoes, and Kalidasa was known to sing its praises. Rulers would honour their favourites and the kingdom’s prominent personages with titles that drew on the names of mangoes — for instance, the courtesan of Vaishali who came to be known as Āmrapālī / Ambapālika / Ambapali / Amra. Buddhist monks and rulers used the fruit as a diplomatic tool; the Jain goddess Ambika is depicted seated under a mango tree. The Mughals were great lovers of the mango and their patronage of horticulture led to the rise of some of the varieties (including Totapuri) that we know and love today, while the Rohilla chieftains can be connected to the Dussehri.