Creepers in vasanta

क्षमक्षमकपोलमाननम् उरः काठिन्यमुक्तस्तनम्

मध्यं क्लान्ततरं प्रकामविनतावंसौ चविः पाण्डुरा।

शोच्या च प्रियदर्शना च मदनक्लिष्टेयमालक्ष्यते

पत्त्राणामिव शोषणेन मरुता स्पृष्टा लता माधवी॥

kṣama-kṣama-kapolam ānanam uraḥ kāṭhinya-mukta-stanam

madhyaṃ klāntataraṃ prakāma-vinatāv aṃsau chaviḥ pāṇḍurā |

śocyā ca priya-darśanā ca madana-kliṣṭ’ eyam ālakṣyate

pattrāṇām iva śoṣaṇena marutā spṛṣā latā mādhavī ||

(Her) face has deeply sunken cheeks, her bosom has lost the firmness of her breasts, her waist has grown thin, her shoulders droop limp, her skin is pale; tormented by love, she appears both pitiful and lovely to behold, just like a mādhavi vine, touched by a wind that withers it leaves.

King Duśyanta describes Śākuntalā – 9th verse in the third act of Abhijn͂ānaśākuntalā of Kālidāsa, translated by Somadeva Vasudeva

Delicate curving creepers winding themselves around large sturdy trees make for plenty a lover analogy, and none more so in vasanta than the mādhavī and atimukta – the vāsantī vines.

Although strictly speaking the same plant – both in traditional Indian terms and, as far as it is possible to tell, from the perspective of Western botany too – these two climbing shrubs have personalities of their own.

The atimukta is most often found wrapped around the mango tree, and thereby its natural favourite.  In Aśvaghośa’s Saundarananda, the young hero, Nanda, abandons his wife to follow the higher course offered by Buddha but the onset of vasanta seriously weakens his resolve.  He sees something of his wife in every flower – the pale hue of her face in the priyaṅgu, her dark hair lying upon her white dress in the dark cuckoo that perches on a white-flowering tilaka.  In the blooming atimukta creeper entwined around the cūta mango he sees the two of them together; “When will Sundarī embrace me like that?” he asks.

The mādhavī is sweet with nectar, as its name – derived from madhu or honey – implies, and thus often covered in bees.  The following verse from Māgha (which makes much of the śabda-alaṃkāras of which he is so fond and must be read aloud for full effect) plays on the connection between bees – madhukaras (‘honey makers’), madhu, Madhu (here vasanta itself) and the mādhavī creeper.

मधुरया मधुबोधितमाधवीमधुसमृद्धिसमेधितमेधया।

मधुकराङ्गनया मुहुरुन्मदध्वनिभृता निभृताक्षरमुज्जगे॥

Madhurayā madhu-bodhita-mādhavī-madhu-samṛddhi-samedhita-medhayā

Madhukara-aṅganayā muhur unmada-dhvani-bhṛtā nibhṛta-akṣaram ujjage 6.20

The delightful lady honey bee, her brilliance heightened by the wealth of honey proffered by the mādhavī creepers that Madhu has roused and thus buzzing passionately, sang aloud a hidden syllable.

6.20, Śiśupālavadha – Māgha

Like the priyaṅgu it can also represent the fragility of a love-sick woman as in the verse at the top of this post.   

Both the atimukta and the mādhavī also very often form bowers where the love-separated or the love-united can retreat, as many of Kālidāsa’s heroes and heroines do. 

Names

The Amarakośa lists five names for the plant: atimukta, puṇḍraka (more often used to mean sugar cane), vāsantī mādhavī, and latā (the generic term for creeper). 

Monier Williams identifies the atimukta and mādhavī as the Gaertnera Raceomosa.  Pandanus however associates it with the Hiptage  Benghalensis or Madablota, the clustered Hiptage in English, and at least one other source supports this. 

There are a great deal of names for the plant in modern Indian languages, which suggests that the creeper is as popular as ever:

Hindi = mādhavī, madamālatī, vasantī, mādhavīlatā, madhumālatī

Marathi = halad bel, pibalī bel, mādhavī

Bengali = mādhavīlatā vosantī

Gujarati = mādhavī, raktapitta

Nepali = carapare lahar

Panjabi = bekor, cubak, coyer

Kannada = ātimūrti mādhavī, basanta duti

Telugu = atimutam

Tamil = ādigam, ādigandī, mātavi, vacantakāl mallikai

Mal – sītāmpū, sītāmpu

Botanical Description

The Pandanus database of Indian plants has the following description for Hiptage Benghalensis:

A large, woody evergreen climbing shrub, growing all over India up to 1800 m, leaves simple, opposite, coriaceous, elliptic, flowers yellowish white, fragrant, fruits 2 – 3 winged samara, seek globose

The image above is of the hiptage benghalensis.

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