Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writing About Plants

Ānand Rām Mukhliṣ (1699-1750) was a North Indian courtier and official of the Mughal Empire. He was born in Sodhra in what is now Pakistan into a Hindu Kayasth family of munshīs, or scribal clerks, with  a long history of high-level civil service. He, too, successfully pursued such a career and spent much of his life close to the imperial court in Delhi. A prolific writer in Persian, he left behind a slew of prose and poetry, ranging from travel accounts and chronicles of contemporary events to traditional romantic poetry. For the purposes of my research, I have been particularly interested in his lexicographical work. With the intention of elucidating and fixing proper usage of Persian vocabulary, especially in poetry, Mukhliṣ produced in his Mir’āt-ul-Iṣṭilāḥ or "Mirror of Terminology" (1745) a detailed account of the world around him, including its elite material culture and - this is where it gets really exciting! - its plants and horticultural practices. Mukhliṣ appears to have been rather interested in botanical and gardening matters; his tone and anecdotes are often unusually personal when it comes to these things. He discusses many plants at some length, including a few historically important garden ornamentals that I have begun growing this year. Here is what he has to say about China roses, which I have recently posted about here and here, first in the original Persian and then in my attempt at a translation:


در واقع به امتحان رسیده (که) هر نخل ثمرداری که گل صدبرگ دارد آن را ثمر نمی باشد


روزی شخصی شکوفهٔ صدبرگ شفتالو در چنگیری چیده به فقیر فرستاده بود. بسیار مشابهت با گل گلاب داشته تفاوت همین قدر بود که بوی گل نداشته است. چون نوعی از گل گلاب به هندوستان است که سداگلاب نام دارد و آن را نیز بو نمی باشد لهذا بعض اعزهٔ محفل را گمان آن شد که گل مذکور است. غرض که بعد طیّ مراتب تحقیق معلوم گردید که شکوفهٔ شفتالو است و نهالش بار نمی بندد. این سداگلاب را بته و برگ و گل بعینه به صورت بتهٔ گل است. نهایتش رنگ گل سداگلاب نسبت به رنگ گل شوختر و مایل به رنگ قرمزی می باشد و سالی دوازده ماه می شکفد. به همین جهت سداگلاب نام دارد زیرا که در هندی سدا به معنی همیشه است و واضح باد فقیر که در این مبحث دو سه جا گل گلاب به جای گل استعمال کرده ام بنا بر سهولیت عوام است. زیرا که به هندوستان گل به همین نام شهرت دارد. مبادا یاران خورده گیر غلط فارسی بر فقیر ثابت کنند و نیز در هند گل گلاب شرابی را گویند که از گلبرگ و قند و اجزای دیگر به موجب نسخه ای که مقرّر است بکشند و اقسام شراب هندوستان بسیار است لیکن به طعم و کیفیت گل گلاب هیچ یکی نمی رسد. امّا نسبت به شرابهای دیگر این ضرر بیشتر دارد و رعشه می آرد


As a matter of fact it has been proven that any fruiting plant that has double flowers does not bear fruit.


One day a person sent a double peach blossom placed in a small vase to this poor one. It was very similar to a rose flower, the difference being that it did not have the fragrance of a rose. Since there is a variety of rose in India named sadāgulāb ("eternal rose", i.e. China rose) and it also does not have a fragrance, some excellent ones of the assembly came to think that it is that aforementioned flower. In short, after thorough investigation it became known that it was a bud of peach and that its plant would not set fruit. This China rose has a shrub, leaf, and flower exactly like the rose bush in appearance. The color of flower of the China rose is much darker compared to the color of the rose and tends towards red and it blossoms twelve months a year. For this very reason it is called sadāgulāb, for sadā in Hindi means "always" and may it be clear that if I poor one have in this discussion used gul-i gulāb ("rose flower" in Indian (Hindi/Urdu) usage but, nonsensically, "flower of rose water" in Iran) two or three times in place of gul (flower/rose), it is for the convenience of the public. For in India, the rose is known by that very name. Let it not be that fault-finding friends accuse this poor one of a flaw in his Persian. And in India they also call a liquor gul-i gulāb which they make from rose petals and sugar and other ingredients according to a fixed recipe, and the types of liquor of India are many, but in taste and effect none reaches gul-i gulāb. However, compared to other liquors, it has more harmful effects and causes tremors.

Interestingly, Mukhliṣ is writing right around the time that the ever-blooming China roses are beginning to reach Europe. A red China rose was likely in cultivation in Italy since the mid-17th century, 'Old Blush' reached Sweden in 1752, and 'Slater's Crimson China' is documented in England from 1792 onwards. It is noteworthy in this context that many of these early China roses to make it to the West did so via India, specifically via the British colony in Bengal. They are still often referred to as Bengalrosen in German and rosiers du Bengale in French because of this association. The sadāgulāb that Mukhliṣ knew seems to have been a cultivar very similar to 'Slater's Crimson China' - deep pink tending to red, somewhat double,  blooming as long as conditions permit, and not setting seed - though it also appears to have been devoid of scent, like 'Old Blush' and many other China roses. That all of these traits would have stood out to Mukhliṣ as remarkable makes sense since the typical garden rose of northern India in his day was likely a damask of some sort, light pink, intensely fragrant, and once-blooming. It is also interesting that Mukhliṣ and his circle noted the connection between double flowers and sterility in many plant varieties, though obviously he overstates the fact by claiming that no double-flowered plant produces fruit.

An older bloom of 'Slater's Crimson China'

An opening bud of 'Old Blush'

An older flower of 'Old Blush'

Another garden flower of long-standing popularity which Mukhliṣ discusses and which I am growing this year is the four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa):

 لالهٔ عبّاسی

به معنی گل عبّاسی است که به هندوستان هنگام شام بشکفد و جوش بهارش در موسم برشکال است و به هند بهتر از همه جا در دکن می شود. محسن تأثیر گفته

  برد اندوه ز دل تهمت زرداری هم
داغ بر دل نبود لالهٔ عبّاسی را

و ظاهر است که لاله داغ دارد نه لالهٔ عبّاسی و عباسی نیز آن را گویند. راضی گفته

    بر گل رو ز مقیّش خالت
تخم عبّاسی افشان شده است

و نیز عبّاسی نوعی از زر است که منسوب به شاه عبّاس است و در ایران رواج دارد

احوال لالهٔ عبّاسی

باید دانست که اقسام لالهٔ عبّاسی که عبارت است از گل عباسی بسیار است. بعض گل را نصف رنگ زرد و نصف رنگ سرخ می باشد و بعض نیمی ابیض و نیمی گلابی می شود. علی هذا القیاس و یک نوعش آن است که اگر رنگ گل سرخ است نقاط سفید یا زرد مثل افشان دارد و اگر رنگ گل زرد است افشان سرخ مانند نقاط شنجرف دارد. گویی نقش بندان قضا و قدر حریرپاره های رنگارنگ را گلبندی ساخته اند یا مصوّران کارخانهٔ قدرت بر صفحه کاغذی به افشاندن قلم آلوده به رنگ پرداخته اند. باری تعلّق به سیر دارد

Lāle-ye 'abbāsī (four o'clock, Mirabilis jalapa)

 It means the gul-i 'abbāsī which in India flowers in the evening time and grows most lushly during the monsoon. And in India it grows better in the Deccan than anywhere else. Muḥsin Taʼs̲īr has said:

Grief carried even the suspicion of wealth from the heart
The  four o'clock did not have a burn mark on the heart

And it is apparent that the lāle (tulip) has a mark and the lāle-ye 'abbāsī (four o'clock) does not and they also call it 'abbāsī. Raz̤ī has said:

On your rose face is a freckle of gold embroidery
The seed of 'abbāsī has been scattered

 And an 'abbāsī is also a type of coin named for Shāh 'Abbās which is current in Iran. 

Account of the four o'clock

One ought to know that the varieties of lāle-ye 'abbāsī ("'Abbāsī tulip"), which is another name for gul-i 'abbāsī ("'Abbāsī flower/rose"), are numerous. Some flowers are half yellow and half red and some are half white and half pink and so on. And one variety of it is such that if the color of the flower is yellow, it has red sprinkles like dots of vermillion. It appears as though divine embroiderers have made flowers from multicolored strips of silk, or as if the painters of the workshop of nature had set to sprinkling on a page of paper with a pen dipped in color. In short, it is worth beholding. 

A florid description for a fancy flower. I love it. 


Haynes, Jerry. "History of Roses: China Roses." http://www.rose.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/History-of-Roses-China-Roses-Part-One.pdf.

 Mukhli, Ānand Rām. Mir’āt-ul-Iṣṭilāḥ. Prakashika Series. Delhi: National Mission for Manuscripts, 2013.


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