Prof Mrinal Chatterjee

As the rainy season sets in, the mango season in India is gets over. And that is a pity. One can get mango throughout the year, thanks to the cold storage, but they do not have the taste and aroma of the fresh mangoes.

Mangoes are considered indigenous to southern Asia, especially Myanmar and Assam state of India. Indians have been cultivating this juicy fruit in practically all regions for more than 4000 years. The Western world has savoured it only for the last 400!

Mangoes find mention in the Vedic and Buddhist texts and the Ashokan inscriptions and the records of foreign travellers like Hiuen Tsang.

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.

Legend has it that the Buddha was presented with a mango grove so he could rest under the shady trees. Mangoes in fact were much a part of the ruling class and were held in high esteem since ancient times.

Alexander the Great arrived in India and fought the famous battle with King Porus. When it was time for him to return to Greece, It is believed that he carried the mango back to Macedonia from the court of Porus.

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.

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.

It is interesting to note the vivid and extraordinarily detailed picture of the mango found in Mughal testimonies. The Baburnama, considered the first autobiography in Muslim literature written by the Mughal emperor, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur presents a thorough narrative of the fruit. Emperor Jahangir in his memoirs the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri says about the mango, “Of all fruits I am very fond of mangoes.

The Mughals relished their favourite addiction, with Jahangir and Shah Jahan awarding their khansamahs for their unique creations like Aam Panna, Aamka Lauz  and Aam Ka Meetha Pulao, a delicate mango dessert sold all through the summer in Shahjahanabad.

There are beautiful Mughal miniature paintings that dwell exclusively on the mango fruit. These paintings display lush green mango trees laden with mangoes on which are perched birds while a peacock and a peahen stroll leisurely beneath.

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, arguably the king of mangoes. The variety’s name is derived from Alfonso de Albuquerque, an outstanding military figure. It is also called ‘hapoos’. 

Kesari from Gujarat, Dashehari from Lucknow, Chausa from Uttar Pradesh, Badami from Karnataka, Langra from Varanasi, Himsagar from West Bengal, Amrapalli from Odisha are some of the most popular varieties of mangos in India.

As the mango season ends, I am looking forward to the next summer – just for the juicy mangoes. I found a couplet in Hindi on internet expressing the exact feeling:

Aam se hame itna pyar hai
Garmi jaldi aa jaye, intejar hai.

I love the mango so much
That I wish the summer to come early.

(The author is Regional Director Indian Institute of Mass Communication, IIMC Dhenkanal. Views are personal)