The mallikā is one of India’s many jasmine varieties – of which there are up to 80 according to some – and a favourite of poets in many contexts, not just descriptions of the seasons. The variety of descriptive names, some very beautiful ones such as vana-candrikā (‘forest moonlight’), gives us an idea of the mallikā in popular perception. The range of names in modern Indian languages attests to its continued popularity.
Although the mallikā makes several appearances in vasanta, it is grīṣma that is said to bring out the plants’ flowers and its scent. In Bāṇa’s depiction of grīṣma as Shiva in the Harshacaritam, the god’s laugh is formed by the white-blooming mallikās, and the mallikā is one of the chief ornaments of women in this season – usually woven into a necklace or a hairbraid – which, along with the sandal-wood paste smeared over their breasts, adds to the cooling effect they have on their lovers.
The mallikā is both grammatically and poetically very much female, and in Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa the bride of the tree. She is also the subject of a delicate verse in this poem:
वनेषु सायंतनमल्लिकानां विजृम्भणोद्गन्धिषु कुड्मलेषु।
प्रत्येकनिक्षिप्तपदः सशब्दं संख्यामिवैषां भ्रमरश्चकार॥
vaneṣu sāyaṃtana-mallikānāṃ vijṛmbhaṇ’-odgandhiṣu kuḍmaleṣu |
pratyeka-nikṣipta-padaḥ sa-śabdaṃ saṃkhyām iv’ aiṣāṃ bhramaraś cakāra ||
And in the forests, the black bee, with the humming noise, placing its foot on each of the buds of the jasmine creepers, evening blooming, emitting perfume in the act of opening, counted, as it were, their number.
16.47 of the Raghuvaṃśa of Kālidāsa, translated by CR Devadhar
The mallikā can also be called mallā or mallī in Sanskrit; malliā in Prakrit. Other names are more telling: vārṣikī (‘the rainy one’) suggests its association with that season as well as vasanta and grīṣma; śīta-bhīrū (‘afraid of the cold’); bhū-padī (‘rooted to the ground’); vana-candrikā (‘forest moonlight’) and gandharāja (‘king of fragrances’).
The mallikā is identified as jasminum sambac, and in English called Arabian jasmine, Tuscan jasmine or Sambac jasmine.
There are several other types of mallikā, some of which are often treated as if identical to the mallikā. For the purposes of this article, I have assumed that navamallikā and mallikā are the same plant, but that vanamallikā and sūcimallikā, wild jasmine and needle flower jasmine respectively, are different species. Vanamallikā in particular is very often thought to be the same as mallikā though, as the name vana-candrikā and the appearance of this same name among the Hindi and Bengali synonyms seem to attest. Apte in his dictionary seems to equate the two. Vicakila is also identified as jasminum sambac although at least one poet distinguishes it from mallikā, describing a woman with shoulder garlands of mallikā and a separate garland of vicakila.
Modern names include:
– Hindi – bel, moghrā or mogrā, moyitā, vana mallikā
– Bengali = mallikā, malli, belā, bel phul, beli, ballikā, mogrā, belā, vana mallikā
– Marathi = mogrā
– Gujarati = mogro, dolerā
– Punjabi = mugrā, caṃbā
– Telugu = male
– Kannada = balli mallige
– Tamil = mallikai, aṭukkumallikai, kuṇṭumallikai, tiripuramallikai, perumallikai, mullai, anaṅgamū
– Malyalayam = mulla
– Urdu = āzād, rāybel, sosan
– Arabic = sosan
The Pandanus database of Indian plants describes it as:
A shrub (sometimes climbing), white pleasantly fragrant flowers, grows all over India, also cultivated as ornamental plant.