In a country as varied as India, autumn arrives in different ways. Way up north you can see fall colours while down South the autumn sees rains. Nevertheless for most of India, the autumn comes after the monsoon and a time of being constricted and confined by the rain is replaced by clear skies and an abundance of life, reflected in the country’s many festivals in October/November.
Given urban life as well as the many influences and images that are now readily accessible, autumn may well evoke both our festivals with their Indianised marigold flowers as well as the American fall, Halloween and the like, even if the latter is confined to the urban, upper classes.
But to really understand the Indian autumn (sharad ritu), you have to go back to the works of pre-Industrial India which evoke the landscape and people, often through poetry. Vishakhadatta for example evokes the skies that follow the rainy season.
The above fragment refers to waterlilies, which along with lotuses, are autumn blooms. Understandable given rivers, ponds and lakes are full after the monsoon. It really is the flower of the season, though not one we would see often nowadays.
Lakshmi, Sunayani Devi via NGMA. The goddess, who is worshipped
in this season, holds a lila-kamal (long stemmed lotus).
Along with the lotus, the Ritusamhara’s opening lines (above) also refer to kash phool, which is still very much part of the mythos in the east of the country and probably most famously appears in Pather Panchali (1955). As for the wild geese, they along with cranes, also appear in autumn poetry.
In the pic above Durga chews sugarcane, in general grasses grow all through the monsoon and are ripe and ready as it ends. The paragraph below refers to this. The extract is from Qurratulain Hyder’s Fireflies in the Mist, which has a beautifully evocative chapter on the seasons.
In the South, the autumn is associated with the kurinji flower, though it blooms at intervals. I looked around for a picture with a garland but it appears the flowers remain untouched since the God Muruga wove one for his marriage to Valli. The blue flowers seen in this wall painting probably represent kurinji. See also this illustration of Valli’s marriage.
Perhaps due to its once in a while blooming, it is best experienced than plucked:).
Pic of kurinji via Vikatan.
Lotuses, waterlilies, kash, saptaparni – the trees and flowers that occur in old poetry are no longer as abundant as they once were. Neither do women use flowers as ornaments anymore. Still once the monsoon is past, even in an urban environment the changed landscape, the falling and drifting leaves, the flora all inform us that an Indian autumn is upon us. Soon it will be winter – largely mild in India of course – but still a different season, a different mood.
PostScript: Of course if anyone has observations on autumn and its festivals in other parts of India (see for example the Bihu of Assam), do post in the comments!