Thursday, April 1, 2010

What's in a name...Plumeria or Frangipani a Champa is a Champa

Pink Plumeria Frangipani Temple Tree Ha`iku Haiku Maui Hawai`i Hawaii  
This is the story that my Ma had narrated with all her motherly affections one night when we were quite alert to sleep and she was getting anxious that next morning we will not wake up on time and hence miss the school bus.

Once upon a time there was a king who had two queens. The younger one was beautiful, gentle and kind and the king loved her more than he loved his elder queen. This made the elder queen who was greedy and rough also very jealous. When the King went away on his duties she would harass the younger queen who would silently bear the brunt of mean jealousy. She couldn't even complain as she was mute so she suffered silently. When the King would be with her she forgot her sufferings and enjoyed all that tender love and care he gave her.
Then the time arrived when the younger queen became pregnant and this angered the elder queen all the more  because she was childless and she was afraid that now the king will not bother about her and might even abandon her. So she started conniving and scheming about what she could do when the child is born.
The day the younger queen was to deliver the child, she set about to give form to all her schemings . She didn't have to try too hard because all the plans were ready to be executed.
A good dramatist, she approached the King and pretending to be agitated said, "My Lord, I have just heard that the robbers are looting your subjects living on the borders of the kingdom. Isn't it your duty to go and save them ?"
The King did not want to leave his younger queen and especially not at this juncture but the mean queen assured him that all the care will be taken so he rode away  to perform his other duty.
Now the elder queen entered the confinement room and sent all the attendants away. On time the younger queen delivered two beautiful twins a boy and a girl. Healthy and as beautiful as their mother, a sight of them could take anyone's breath away.
Jealousy coupled with anger had turned the elder queen into a monster and as the younger queen slept exhausted with her labour the twins were snatched from the cradle, poisoned and buried in a remote corner of the place near a lonesome hut. On time she bought two dead babies a boy and a girl  from somewhere and surreptitiously placed them in the cradle.
When the King returned and before he could scold the elder queen for his exercise in futility he was told about the dead babies that the younger queen had delivered. His grief then had no bounds.However he comforted his beautiful one in her grief and both consoled each other thinking that it was a cruel act of fate.
And as fate would have it, there was no sign of any child for quite some time. The King now grew unhappy and irritable.
The elder queen could not let this opportunity slip out of her hands and she approached the King with yet another mean plan.
"Your younger mute queen brings you bad luck", she whispered constantly."You will be laughed at by your people and subjects as being impotent." She persuaded the king to banish the younger queen from the palace.
The poor innocent mute beauty was thrown into that little hut where unknown to her, her babies lay buried.
Utterly lonely and deeply grieved she cried her sadness and remained in the hut and her only solace was these two beautiful blossomed  fragrant trees that grew outside her hut.They were both similar in their form and structure and both had the same mersmerising fragrance too.The younger queen in her mind called them Champa and Chameli.While Champa had white flowers with a miraculous yellow throat, Chameli had all the hues ranging from red to pink. Silent sentinels they watched the queen cry and speak silently to them of her anguish and when she grew too despondent the blossoms would as if by magic fall on her feet one by one.She would pick them up and hold them close to her tear streaked face.
Soon the fame of these trees spread throughout the kingdom. It  came to be known that no one could pluck a single flower from them. As soon as the hands would reach out the flowers would move further from their grasp. It also came to be known that the younger queen was some sorceress of some kind because as soon as she would sit under the trees the flower-laden branches drooped and scattered the  flowers at her feet.
The King who rarely left his place now decided to check the rumour out.So he along with his elder queen made a visit to these trees.
As soon as the elder queen approached the tree the branches drew back sharply.''Murderer!" came a single throated yell .The king now came close and the branches nuzzled his ears.
''Bring our mother here", the soft voice rustled in his ears.
''Who is your mother?'' asked the King in amazement.
''Your younger beautiful queen", pleaded a soft voice.
The King now went inside the hut and brought the younger queen out.
As they both neared the trees the branches bent low and all their creamy white flowers and rosette pink  flowers cascaded into their hair and this time rose a gurgling shrilly but excited cry,''Mother! Father!''.
The elder queen who had turned pale now as she realised the danger she was in, broke down and confessed to her sins.She narrated the story of her evil deeds and begged for forgiveness.The King was too angry to forgive her and would've ordered her execution had it not been for the kind nature of the younger queen.Through her pleading gestures she fell on the King's feet and begged for forgiveness for the elder queen.The King relented and this time banished the mean and evil queen.
Happily both the younger queen and the King returned to the palace and treated the trees just as nature would have it, as their kids.They played and hugged and all four of them lived happily ever after.

Many years later and when my son was refusing to sleep one night i narrated the same story to him with all the expressions i could muster which i suppose will be narrated again by my son.But more than the story each night i would add facts for him to remember while i educated him.This of course as he grew old enough and was familiar with trees and flowers.
*That it is also called the Temple tree or Pagoda Tree and in Tamil it is called Perungalli.
*We call it Champa in Hindi and in Sanskrit it is called Khirchampa...Khir meaning white as in milk.
*That it is also a sacred flower and offered to Lord Shiva.
*That it is also known as Frangipani, Plumeria and most common ones have names like alba and rubra.The alba has white flowers with a sunny yellow throat while the rubra has deep pink and white petals.
*That the ability of the tree to bloom even after it has been uprooted has made it a sign of immortality.And for this reason the Buddhists and Muslims plant these trees next to the tombs of the dead.
*That you should wash your hands and be careful with that milk that oozes out as it is toxic.

My own interest in this flower led me to believe that it is the State Flower of Hawaii as i would see snippets of Hawaiin damsels wearing these in their hair or neatly tuck them in the sides of their sarongs thus making their slim, silky waists all the more appealing to the tourists who were offered garlands of these by the Hawaiiain beauties (with their sarongs and Frangipani as a wreath over their heads or as a garland round their necks and a couple tucked teasingly into the sides of their sarongs) on their arrival.However only more stumbling of facts informed me that i was wrong in my assumption. The State flower of Hawaii is the native Yellow Hibiscus.More about  Hibiscus that it is also the State flower of Malaysia...only that it is the red Hibiscus.
And Champa as it is known there too is actually the National Flower of Laos and Nicaragua where it is called
as' Sacuanjoche '.

National flower of Hawaii and Red Hibiscus National flower of Malaysia

Once a mother always one even when it is a time to relax, i tried to cram general knowledge into my son little realising then that he will gain more as time comes through his own learning.That happened too soon though when one fine day he approaches me with this phrase," to shake the Pagoda tree ".He explained to me very animatedly that it was a slang phrase used by the Britishers to express the openings to rapid fortune in this country called India which all knew as 'sone ki chidiya '(A bird made of gold).

As champa now floats in this terracota urli (a typical wide mouthed vessel found mainly in South India) in my living room i look back on time and laugh at my ambitions about my child. i am not bothered now if he still remembers these FAQ'S much of which was forced into him, i do feel sure however that he will remember the story well enough including the others that i used to sing for him..."Ek kauvva pyaasa thaa... ghade mein pani thoda thaa...Kauva laya kankar...pani aaya uper...Kauve ne piya pani...khatam hui kahani."
{One thirsty crow...the pot had little water...crow brought pebbles...water rose up...crow drank the water...story ends}

Photo courtesy:


  1. Shivani:

    I so like this tree esp when there are no leaves but only flowers. The story accompanying the pictures was absolutely enthralling. I bet you are a lovely story-teller!

    Thanks for sharing this story with us dear Shivani.

    Joy always,

  2. @Susan thanks dear but i think my Ma would've recieved ur gave it to give it to thanks to the net...loved sharing it...shall share more.
    @Aakaash hey finally! Thanks a ton sonna!

  3. Lovely post, beautiful narration and photographs. You have made me rediscover this flower.Thank you.

  4. @Sharmila thank you so might get more stories thanks to Ma who had stories on most Indian trees AND shrubs including Jaba(Hibiscus)...kuch yaad hain kuch bhool gayee hoon but i shall definitely it makes me happy narrating and re-living those moments...:)

  5. Hey lovely story, liked it a lot... I've seen flowers like this in a convent nearby, the white flower with the yellow neck has a sweet intoxicating smell right?
    And I've been looking around for meaningful movies to watch, you've given me a few names, I've only seen blind side among the other movies you mentioned. Will catch 'An education' next.
    And nice of you to drop by my blog :o)

  6. @Karen thanks for pleasure to discuss my pick...but of course at the end of viewing it's going to be ur i said choice is a personal thing..:)

  7. Awesome pics! :)

    This story I have heard in my childhood days. I enjoyed reading it even now. :)

    Happy blogging! :)

  8. @Chandrika thanks so much...yeah seems to be a common story...happy blogging to you too:)

  9. Lovely story... reminded me of my late mom. I had no idea of the national flowers of Hawaii and Malaysia. Thanks to your post now I know them. Good photos too...

  10. Great story. Reminded me of the bed stories my amma used to narrate. Good old days!

    And thanks for checking out my blog. Keep visiting! :)

  11. Great post completely chock-a-block with information. Learned about a couple of National Flowers too.

  12. Enjoyed reading it. Nice information, too :-)

  13. Wow....amazing story shivani...kudos.

  14. wow...amazing story shivani...keep up the good work.

  15. @Darsh thanks for reading and will surely frequent yours.
    @Anirban...yeah wanted to share all that i had, so the information...thanks for appreciating :)
    @Raja...i enjoy yours too...quid pro quo...thanks
    @Hello World thank you and it feels nice to know that Ma's story appealed to you so much.:)

  16. This post made me remember the garden that me and my grandpa used to maintain, with the different varieties of frangipanis and hibiscus that me and my grandma would collect with so much interest. My grandparents then raised a four storeyed building on the same spot after some years, when their grandson was too young to be with them and play in the garden..

    An addition to your facts on this flower : in our dialect (Coimbatore) of tamil, we call this flower by the name Panneer Malli..

    And on your comment on a possible anarchy on my blog post, I think you lost the sarcasm that I had intended on objectivistic thoughts.. Give it a read again.. :)

  17. @Manorath thanks for reading and much thanks for Paneer Malli and sry if i missed out on ur blog...shall definitely give it another deeper and better read...peace! :)

  18. I loved reading your article ...this is one of my favorite plant...

    1. Thank you Sapna for stopping by. Mine too. love all the various varieties i have seen so far. Have you seen the one with ruby red flowers?