Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brahma Kamal or Flower of Bethlehem

Either name is too exquisitely perfect for the breathtaking beauty of this flower. Have you seen one? It is a profound experience. It is also a commitment. Although we have had this plant in our garden for two years I saw it in bloom for the first time only last night. I am still speechless and overwhelmed.

Its poignantly brief life is part of its charm. From the first bud to the final sleep is a matter of weeks, but the true transformation - from a tightly closed mass of thin, tapering petals to a glorious and dazzling display of full, sensuous, open-hearted beauty - takes place over a few short hours. Look the other way, get lost in a novel or facebook, and you miss the whole show.

I missed more than I care to think about over the past few weeks, but this time, I was ready. Stalking the Flower of Bethlehem, you might say. I checked on it every morning and every evening. Not knowing exactly what I was looking for meant I had to make multiple visits each night to be sure I wasn't missing anything.

At night! Yes. This is a night-blooming flower, which adds immeasurably to its mystery and allure. It begins to emerge around 7 PM  and then continues to blossom till after one in the morning.

This was right around seven and it was different enough from the day before that I began to hope it might actually, at last, be the night.

7:30. Dusk setting in and the flower seems to feel more confident, more willing to reveal itself.

Then dinner details took over and the rituals of feeding Moy Moy and putting her to bed. It was almost nine before I got out again and what I saw was so magical I went right back and woke Moy Moy up and took her out in her wheelchair into the dark, green, damp garden so she could see for herself.

Though, like Moy Moy, this was my first encounter too, somehow I knew this was only the beginning.

Reluctantly, I took Moy back to bed and continued my vigil outside. My sister-in-law was with me and we took turns taking pictures from different angles and comparing our results.

Then suddenly (OK, we had gone inside to have our soup and bread - a light dinner, too much excitement!), there was a sea-change.

Those curved-in-on-themselves lines now edged out and flared into separate rays. But there was still more to come.

The pencil-thin rays defined themselves further as separate, twiggy free-standers while the center plumped and glistened, showing off those impossibly delicate little (what do you call them, all you botanists out there?).

And then . . . a fragrance. A fragrance! As if the visual weren't glory enough. A fragrance so bewitching it made me want to cry just a little. A tang of lemon, a splash of something spicy, and all on the cool, rain-spattered night sky.

Finally (it was two AM), I had to say good night.

I plucked one of the flowers - we had three -  photographed it in the less difficult indoor light:

and went to bed.

In the morning, there was this:

A tired, spent and still beautiful blossom, one who had saved everything for a single blaze of glory.

I couldn't help but think of this as a metaphor for the people in our lives whose time of transcendence and astonishment we miss because we didn't happen to be watching at the right moment: the ones we see all tight and furled, never realizing they are just - about - to - open. Or the ones we see all drooping and exhausted, never realizing that they just - gave - it - all - they - had.

I love that we get to see this enacted in nature and then learn its lessons for our own sweet lives.


Entropy said...


The same stream of life that runs
Through my veins night and day
Runs through the world and dances
In rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy
Through the dust of the earth in
Numberless blades of grass and
Breaks into tumultuous waves of
Leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in
The ocean-cradle of birth and death,
In ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by
The touch of this world of life. And
My pride is from the life-throb of
Ages dancing in my blood this moment.


Anonymous said...

Evocative piece of writing.

ana @ i made it so said...

how beautiful is this post, the words, the photos, the flower! i had no idea that this flower existed and behaved this way (and i took a whole semester of botany ;)) and i'm so curious at what triggers it to bloom at night. there has to be a reason. what an intriguing cycle!

thank you for sharing this with me (and others, ok, but i'm being selfish for a moment)... i'm fascinated to learn more.

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Thanks, ana! Yes, it was a revelation to all of us, too. We were giddy with excitement the first time.

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully written! I happened to witness the beauty of the Brahma Kamal last night in my garden as well. I was about to write a post describing the experience when I happened to read yours. Once very well written - you have a gift - keeping writing.


Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Thank you, Sonal. I would love to see your post! Can you send me a link?


Rizwana Mundewadi said...

Breath taking, touching the heart direct! what a wonderful post and thanks for sharing your beautiful experience of blooming Brahma Kamal with the world.
I wish I could get some tips for the flowering as mine has not flowered since many years.
Take care.