The Names of Flowers
(This post was sent by Nicolas Roth. Nicolas is a student of Indian history and literature and a life-long gardening aficionado. Born in Germany and raised there and in the United States, he somehow managed to fall in love with India and Indian languages. When he is not working on his dissertation, tending to too many plants, or trying to improve his Urdu, you can find him instagramming flowers, art, and the occasional dessert as nic_in_the_garden.)
Nicolas sent us a post in two languages. Scroll down to read the English version of this post.
rather off in this matter. In reality, it is not the case that a rose’s beauty would stay the same
regardless of what its name might be. Names have great importance, especially when we are
talking about flowers.
and in depth. Since childhood, gardening is a big hobby of mine (though I am not sure where that
fascination came from). One day when I was very little and we lived in a flat in a big building I
pilfered some sprouting potatoes from the kitchen, ran outside and planted them between the
calendulas and the rosebushes in the flowerbed in front of the building. Something got going
with that first crop of potatoes and these days I am writing a PhD dissertation on the
gardens and horticulture of India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and particularly the
agricultural texts of that period. In addition to having gardening as a hobby, knowing several
languages is also useful in the research for this dissertation. Urdu is not my mother tongue, as
you will already be aware having read these inelegant lines. In truth it is my fourth language,
after German, English, and Spanish, and because of my research I have also had to study
Sanskrit and Persian. In short, I think about the names of flowers a lot, and that too in quite a few
Bibi Ferzana, Mughal Empire, c. 1675
(Source : LACMA)
mention the flowers that are called “jasmine” in English. In English it is just one single name but
in reality there are many different types and in Urdu there are even more names for them.
Y?sm?n, cambel?, and j?t?, j?h?, kund, mallik?, r?’e bel, bel?, motiy?, and mogr?, and the
complete list would be even longer. Motiy? and mogr? are my favorite plants and words from
among these. They are both different varieties of the species r?’e bel or mallik?. The glowing
white buds of motiy? look like mot? or “pearls”, so the name is apt. The buds of mogr? because
of their abundance of petals appear like little mallets or maces. Again many colorful images
come to mind, of treasure troves of pearls and the exercise mallets or mudgar of wrestlers and
the mace of the god Hanum?n. In addition to this it is also quite surprising that Urdu describes
these flowers in such detail to begin with. Generally everyday language has names for specific
species of plants and sometimes for a genus. It is pretty rare for entirely separate common names
for different varieties of one species to exist.
magic that I have found in Urdu’s flower garden exists in every language. However, the
appearance is different in each language, the color and style are different. This is a very good
thing because every language grants us a new point of view and gives us the chance to see new
things and find surprise and enjoyment. German is my mother tongue and English the speech of
my everyday life. Both are windows from which some particular parts of the world are to be
seen. From the glass of Urdu’s sweet colorful utterances another big, bright window can be
made, and more languages mean yet more windows. We who are only human can perhaps never
see the full panorama but with each new word one more piece comes into view.