He visits my town once a year.
He fills my mouth with kisses and nectar.
I spend all my money on him
Who, girl, your man?

No, a mango.

-Amir Khusrau

It is said, that the Gods in their infinite wisdom weighed the terrible Indian summer against a heap of mangoes, and found the balance even. Hotter the summer, sweeter the mangoes!!  As the mercury rises, it is time to celebrate the season with Mango – the King of Fruits,  with stories and art!

mango national fruit history

India’s tryst with mangoes can be traced back centuries.  From Huien Tsang to George Bush; and Khusrau to Ghalib, the love for mangoes has spared no one. Mango (Mangifera indica L.) was first cultivated in India 4000 years ago and today, the country produces half the world’s mango supply (though most of it is consumed domestically)!! Read on for some fascinating mango-tales

The Legend of the Origin of the Mango Tree

The mango tree is known to symbolise eternal love, wealth and fertility.  In an ancient Vedic story it features as a mark of true-love :

mango national fruit history
Celestial Woman Beneath a Mango Tree, India, from the Ghatesvara Temple, Baroli, Rajasthan. Collection of the Denver Art Museum

Once upon a time, the King of the Land, fell in love with Surya Bai, the daughter of Surya, the Sun God. But a jealous sorceress tricked Surya Bai, throwing her into a water-tank. At the spot where the young Princess was believed to have drowned, there grew a Lotus flower, which caught the fancy of the depressed King. Disturbed at this, the sorceress pulled out the flower, and burnt it to ashes!   From these ashes a huge tree with dark green leaves grew, which bore golden fruits (mangoes) taking to the radiance of the princess. It was a sight to behold and people from near and far would come to see it!  As one of the fruits ripened and fell on Earth, it instantly turned back into the same Princess Surya Bai. The King recognised her, and they got married.

The Mango : a symbol of Wisdom

mango national fruit history
Shiva & his Family under a Mango Tree | Collection of the V&A

Yet another Vedic text tells the popular story of how the mango became a bone of contention between Lord Ganesha and his brother Lord Kartik. In a competition between the siblings, the first one to finish circling the world three times would be awarded a Mango blessed specially by a sage.  While Kartik sped off on his Peacock, Ganesh calmly circled around his parents, defining them to be his world. Ever since Ganesha’s wise-win, the Mango came to be known as the fruit of Wisdom.

Mango, the Sacred Fruit

Mangoes are of sacred relevance to Hinduism, and are often used in a variety of rituals. During festivals, one can spot mango-leaves decorating the doors of many homes. To the Buddhists too, the mangoes hold much significance because the Mango-groves were Buddha’s preferred meditating zone. Monks would often carry mangoes  on long expeditions, popularising the fruit.

mango national fruit history
Buddha Preaching the First Sermon under the Mango Tree | Collection of CSMVS Mumbai India

Mango : A Short History of the National Fruit

It is often said that the hills of north-eastern India adjoining Myanmar are the likely centre of the Mango’s origin. This rich, delicious pulpy fruit caught the fancy of Alexander the Great, who is believed to have carried the fruits all the way back to Greece from the court of Porus!!
In Ancient India, according to the Chinese traveler HiuenTsang, the Mauryans planted Mango trees along roadsides as a symbol of prosperity. And with Hiuen Tsang, the Mango first travelled to China! 

mango national fruit history
Feroz Shah Tughlaq, commissioned this 3 storey building to support the Ashokan pillar originally installed at Topra, near Ambala. The pillar’s inscription mentions : “…Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted…”

While Babur found the Mango to be overrated, the fruit found its way into the hearts of other Mughal royals:

Akbar really set the benchmark high, planting 1,00,000 mango trees near Darbhanga, Bihar.   But it is Jahangir who took the love for mangoes to another level.

Not withstanding the sweetness of the Kabul fruits, not one of them has, to my taste, the flavour of the mango.
– Jahangir

It didn’t take long for the Mughal cooks to figure dessert-recipes  : it certainly won them favours from Shah Jahan and Jahangir!! Aam Panna, Aam ka Lauz and Aam Ka Meetha Pulao – who wouldn’t be rewarded for this?!

mango national fruit history
In this painting, “Jahangir Entertains Shah Abbas,” the dish to Jahangir’s left bears traditional Central Asian fruits such as apples, grapes, and a melon. The dish to Jahangir’s right bears more exotic fruits such as oranges, lemons, pineapple, bananas, and of course, mangoes.

Nur Jahan wasn’t too far behind either. For Jahangir, she made the choicest of wines, mixing mangoes and roses!! Intoxicating eh? Really got to give this one a try!!

mango national fruit history
A Mango-shaped flask : the mango had started to influence design as well!! Collection of The Met Museum

According to a research by Dr. Indu Mehta:

Mughal patronage to horticulture led to thousands of Mangoes varieties that were grafted, including the famous Totapuri, which was the first variety to be exported to Persia and other Kingdoms.

This list should also include the Rataul, grafted by Kareemuddin in 1874 and the most expensive of all, Kesar, which was first cultivated by Nawab of Junagarh in 1931.

Small wonder that our best varieties of mangoes bear names such as Jahangir and Himayun-ud-Din. Even Bahadur Shah Zafar, had a mango garden known as Hayat Bakhsh in the gardens of the Red Fort in which some of the most delicious and juicy varieties were grown. – Ghalib’s Letters

mango national fruit history
Mango Trees and Peafowls. Baburnama, Agra, ca. 1590, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Shah Jahan’s love for mangoes knew no bounds. Can you believe he established a sort-of courier system from the coasts of Mazgaon to Delhi,  just so he could have his favourite fruit! While the Mango featured prominently  in Jahanara’s must-have list for numerous get togethers, it was maintained as a tool for diplomacy by Aurangzeb.

mango national fruit history
a recipe of Mughal “Mango Buttermilk (Lassi)” from the book “Curry” by Lizzie Collingham

Soon after having proclaimed himself Emperor, Aurangzeb wanted to placate Shah Abbas, King of Persia, and sent a wily messenger Tarbiyat Khan with costly gifts, and made special arrangements to ensure that fresh mangoes were available at Isfahan when Tarbiyat Khan arrived there, so that he could present them to the Shah. His brother Dara Shikoh on the other hand, went on to become a seasoned horticulturist, writing in detail about mangoes and their grafting in his book “Nuskha Dar Fanni Falahat”

But it wasn’t just the Mughals! Under the Nizams, each mango variety cultivated had its own elaborate naming ceremony.

 

mango national fruit history
Sultan Ali Adil Shah sits in camp under a canopy erected beside a mango tree. Collection of the Ashmolean – Jameel Center for Islamic and Asian Art
 While we were busy relishing mangoes, the Portugese saw it as an opportunity for trade.

By the 16th century, India’s sea-faring Portugese colonists took the Mango to Africa, Brazil, and other parts of the world! In fact, the English name of the fruit originates from the Portuguese manga, which in turn was borrowed from the South Indian Tamil word (m)aam-kay [latermangay]. 

mango national fruit history
Love him or Hate Him, but he introduced Alphonsos to India!! Collection of the ASI Museum Goa.

 They introduced grafting on mango trees to produce new varieties.  One of them is the Alfonso, a sort of national-obsession even today.

The Alfonso takes its name from Afonso-De-Albuqurque, a Portugese military expert who helped establish the colony…and well, even the mango variety.

#DidYouKnow : In 1953, the Alphonso was shipped to London for the Queen's coronation - all the way from Mumbai's famous Crawford Market!! #mumbai #mango Click To Tweet

Smitten by Mangoes

mango national fruit history
“A Parrot Perched on a Mango Tree, a Ram Tethered Below “, from Golconda (1630-70), Collection of the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Art, Hyderabad.

From royalty to the ‘aam’ (common) man, mangoes have delighted one and all – even the Cuckoo! Kalidas uses the symbolism in his famous play Shakuntala :

Why, little bee, you know that the cuckoo goes crazy with delight when she sees the mango-blossom.

The love relationship of cuckoo and the mango has made it to many songs and stories. Here’s a gem by Amir Khusrau, who called the mangoes “Fakhr-e-Gulshan” or the pride of the Garden!

sakal ban phool rahi sarson
ambva phootey, tesu phule,
koel boley dar dar,
gori karat shingar

Translated: The mustard blooms in every field, Mango buds snap open, the flower blooms, The cuckoo sings from every branch, The damsel adorns make-up.

Ghalib and the love for Mangoes

In the months of June-July, Ghalib’s love for poetry and wine became secondary to his love for mangoes. In letters to friends he mentions having tasted about 63 varieties of mangoes !! Now that’s what we call a true connoisseur!

In his own words:

mango national fruit history
A book on the life of Ghalib | Photo: Asif Khan Dehlvi

mujhse poochho, tumheñ khabar kya hai
aam ke aage neyshakar kya hai…
ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

baagh-baano
ñ ne baagh-e jannat se
angabee
ñ ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas
bhar ke bheje hai
ñ sar-ba-mohr gilaas

[ Ask me! for what do you know? a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane… perhaps from the great heights above the gardeners of heaven’s orchards have sent, by the order of God wine filled in sealed glasses ] 

William Dalrymple mentions this incident in a book about a time when Ghalib was asked to spell out his eating preferences. Ghalib’s response to mangoes was: 

Aam meethe ho… aur bohot se ho! (Let there be sweet mangoes, and in plenty!)

We couldn’t agree more!!

In these hot summer months, if you’re not sharing a peti (crate) as per cultural norms, share this post and spread some mango-love!!

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mango national fruit history

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