Indians have been cultivating Mangoes for more than 4000 years. Whether it is mango pulp, or refrigerated mangoes, mangoes sliced dried, or mango fresh, the Indian mango, the king of fruits, has been reaching out the world through various forms. Thus, the Western world has been savouring this delicious Indian fruit for the last 400 years now!
With around 30 varieties of commercially grown Mangoes, India’s superior quality mango varieties such as Alphonso, Dashehri and Kesar mango, which find their roots back to ancient Indian soils, are much in demand today. In fact, overseas demand from Korea, Singapore, US, Europe is really strong.
However, Indian trees producing these juicy fruits since ages, are now facing deficit in its production. Faced with climatic adversities and competition from neighboring countries, India is expected to face troubles in the export market for its famed mangoes. Unfortunately, India’s exports of mangoes have been going down consistently since last few years. Thus, owing to the loss in their production and subsequent price hikes, Indian mangoes need to be internationally competitive now. Associations as the Mango Growers Association have also been demanding of an export incentive package from the Centre.
However, Indian mangoes continue to be a treasure for the country and exhibit an age old history. Scientific fossil evidence indicates that the mango made its first appearance even earlier – 25 to 30 million years ago in Northeast India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, from where it travelled down to southern India. It’s no wonder then that the mango is rightfully called the king of fruits.
With mango festivals being celebrated in Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Allahabad, Delhi, and Goa, mangoes in India have become a symbol of summer and are no less than a cultural legacy. Noted mango cultivator Haji Kalimullah has even named a new variety, a cross-breed of Kolkata’s Husn-e-Aara and Lucknow’s Dussehri, as the “Modi Mango” !
If you are curious about its origins, here is the interesting journey of the mango in India over the years.
How it received one Moniker?
The earliest name given to the mango was Amra-Phal. It is also referred to in early Vedic literature as Rasala and Sahakara, and is written about in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and the Puranas, which condemn the felling of mango trees. On reaching South India, the name translated to Aam-Kaay in Tamil, which gradually became Maamkaay due to differences in pronunciation. The Malayali people further changed this to Maanga. The Portuguese were fascinated by the fruit on their arrival in Kerala and introduced it to the world as Mango.
Not just a fruit but a tradition!
In ancient India, the ruling class used names of mango varieties to bestow titles on eminent people – like the honour given to the famous courtesan of Vaishali, Amra Pali. The mango tree was also associated with the god of love, Manmatha, and its blossoms were considered to be the god’s arrows by the Hindu Nanda Kings. It was during the Nanda rule that Alexander arrived in India and fought the famous battle with King Porus. When it was time for him to return to Greece, he took with him several varieties of the delicious fruit.
With the rise of Buddhism, mangoes came to represent faith and prosperity among the religion’s followers, as there were several legends about the Buddha and mango trees. Among Buddhist rulers, mangoes were exchanged as gifts and became an important tool of diplomacy. During this period, Buddhist monks took mangoes with them wherever they went, popularising the fruit.
Megasthenes and Hsiun-Tsang, the earliest writer-travellers to ancient India, wrote about how the ancient Indian kings, notably the Mauryas, planted mango trees along roadsides and highways as a symbol of prosperity. They also wrote about the incredible taste of the fruit, bringing the mango to the notice of people outside India. The Munda tribals and the Dattaraya sect of Swamy Chakradhar were also instrumental in taking this decadent fruit to the masses of ancient India.
In the medieval period, Alauddin Khilji was the first patron of the mango and his feast in Sivama Fort was a real mango extravaganza with nothing but mangoes in different forms on the lavish menu. Next came the Mughal Emperors, whose fondness for the mango is legendary. The obsessive love for mango was, in fact, the only legacy that flowed untouched from one generation to another in the Mughal dynasty.
Akbar built the vast Lakhi Bagh near Darbhanga, growing over a hundred thousand mango trees. This was one of the earliest examples of grafting of mangoes, including the Totapuri, the Rataul and the expensive Kesar.
It was also mangoes that Aurangzeb sent to Shah Abbas of Persia to support him in his fight for the throne. This was how mangos travelled. Also, the famous Persian poet Amir Khusrau called the mango Naghza Tarin Mewa Hindustan, the fairest fruit of Hindustan.
The Mughals relished their favourite addiction, with Jahangir and Shah Jahan awarding their khansamahs for their unique creations like Aam Panna, Aam ka Lauz and Aam Ka Meetha Pulao, a delicate mango dessert sold all through the summer in Shahjahanabad. Nur Jahan used a mix of mangoes and roses to create her legendary wines. The yellow-golden Chausa Aam was introduced to celebrate Sher Shah Suri’s victory over Humayun, while the luscious Dussehri Aam owes its birth to the Rohilla chieftains.
The Peshwa of the Marathas, Raghunath Peshwa, planted 10 million mango trees as a sign of Maratha supremacy. Folklore has it that it was a fruit from these trees that eventually turned into the famous Alphonso, the king of mangoes. Besides, the Mulgoa mango is the outcome of Portuguese experiments with new varieties of mango, a result we cherish today.
Mango: symbolizing life & existence
Today, the curvaceous shape of mangoes, which has long held the fascination of weavers and designers, has become an iconic Indian motif. The mango is seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity and in many parts of India mango leaves are strung up over the front doors of homes as Toran.
Another interesting belief comes as a Purnakumbha! It is a pot filled with water and topped with fresh mango leaves and a coconut. It is considered to be the foundation of a puja, with the mango leaves symbolizing life.
Mangoes were never just a fruit to us! The advent of Europeans eventually affected the mango, which fell from its position of empire builder to simply a fruit – the British had no use for it in matters of diplomacy. Though, today it has retained its superiority of taste, many varieties have disappeared from the scene while several new ones have emerged.