Flora of Gurbani
Natural forms are forever an inspiration for my pen but not as much as Gurbani. In this collection, titled "Flora of Gurbani" I blend my love for Gurbani and for natural forms such as leaves, florals, and trees. Each plant and or flower was handpicked to tell a unique story of the relationship of these plant form to us and to Gurbani while reminding us of the most truthful nature of our existence in relationship to our Guru.
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The collection is supported under the patronage of Ajay Pratap Singh and Harpreet Kaur.
Also known as the Indian Lilac, the Nimm tree is beautiful and well-recognized for its medicinal uses. I couldn't count the amount of times the juice of Nimm leaves was recommended for grownup ailments and teenage acne. While often referred to as a "lowly" tree in Gurbani, in the lines in this piece the nimm tree is said to rejoice in the presence of the fragrant sandalwood just as we find joy in the presence of the Guru.
A common sight in Southeast Asian landscapes, the simmal tree is known for its height, straight posture, and tasteless fruits. In Gurbani, the human body standing tall and strong as a simmal tree is described to be as useless as the fruits of the simmal tree.
The mango is certainly a favorite of many and for me also a sweet memory of childhood. In Gurbani, the mango is most often mentioned in connection to the “Kokil” or koel. The song bird seems to show an extraordinary affinity for mangoes and the love epitomizes the love we must hold in our hearts for One True Love. In the verse in this piece on the mango, Kabeer ji mentions the mangoes becoming ripe but the possibility of them reaching their owners depends on whether they are or not consumed by crows first. These lines didn’t make complete sense to me at first but it is clear Kabeer ji refers to the clock ticking and our time running out.
A plant with poisonous potential and prickly looking fruits, what is the castor oil plant doing in Gurbani? With the intention of helping us understand the embrace of divine Naam, the castor oil plant is mentioned most often in Gurbani at the same time as the Sandalwood tree. Sandalwood, serving as an example of the presence of divine blessing and Naam, spreads its fragrance to the nearby castor oil plant and transforms it positively. For me, this applies to surrounding our own castor-oil-plant-like existence into a more positive and fragrant one with the inclusion of Gurbani into our daily lives. On a completely random note about the castor oil plant, the ricin potentially used in “Breaking Bad” probably came from a castor bean.
The acacia tree is known to most like me with Punjabi roots as the “kikkar” tree. The common nature of the kikkar tree is referenced in these lines from Gurbani when talking about a farmer planting kikkars but expecting fruits as sweet and rare as grapes just as a weaver spins wool but wishes to wear silk. In these lines, Fareed ji inspires us to put in the work to get the desirable result rather than doing one thing and wishing for an unlikely and extremely better outcome.
Perhaps the most worshipped and revered flower there ever can be, the lotus is both beautiful and delicate but also a source of inspiration and example in many ways. However in this verse, the lotus is not the focal point. The focus of the verse is to point out our flaws in not recognizing the beauty of the divine just as the mud around the lotus and the frog that sits nearby on a leaf do not know the value of the lotus.
The bamboo, a symbol mostly of strength and growth, has often made it to our homes as a housewarming gift. However, these same qualities seem to be components of the egotistical nature of bamboo mentioned in Gurbani. In the lines in this piece, Kabeer ji talks about our ignorane and blindness as humans making it difficult for us to learn any of our Guru’s teachings. The comparison of our state is made to the useless act of blowing wind into a bamboo without being able to produce a sound.
Part of many rituals in inciting the love of the divine, saffron holds a special place in the world of devotion. Saffron is harvested from a beautiful flower growing in the some of the most unfavorable terrain and weather. In these lines from Gurbani, the devotee describes the different ways of perceiving Naam of the divine. Specifically, the devotee offers a shower of Naam reverently to the divine just as the saffron is sprinkled over deities to offer them worship.
While the beautifully shaped betel leaf or paan is a symbol on divine veneration in some religious customs around the world, in Gurbani the paan is most often mentioned as a source of freshness of breath and redness of lips. The betel leaves are mostly referred to as reminders of a false decoration of self with fragrance and lipstick versus a true decoration with devotion and love for the beloved. In the verse used in this composition, the act of consuming the betel leaf for its sweetness and frangrance is used as a parallel to consuming oneself in the sweetness of Naam.
In the verse from Gurbani incorporated into this piece, the devotee asks for the wheat of compassion among other gifts. Wheat is an important part of lives of many around the world. Mostly we have lost our connection with wheat with its dilution to our memory of it only as bread or other products made of wheat. However, wheat is still used as a part of auspicious occasions around the world even if it’s forgotten as a source of daily nutrition in our lives.
Known to live a life of almost 100 years, the palmyra is best known for its leaves being used as paper for writing. Believed to be a tree of many uses, it is well regarded in most Asian and African cultures. In Gurbani the palmyra is mentioned as a tree regarded as "impure”. However, Gurbani also states that this tree's leaves once impure become an object of reverence when Gurbani is written on them. The example of the palmyra leaf is an example of transforming from worthless to valuable given the presence of devotion.
Commonly referred to as a banana flower or “keli” in Punjabi, the plantain flower has many uses and is often depicted in traditional Indian miniature paintings along with the banana tree. The piece features a short verse from Gurbani harnessing the beauty of a blooming flower and the sunshine that triggers the bloom.