Marigolds: How a Mexican Flower Bloomed in South Asia

The blossom ubiquitous in the subcontinent and pop culture — from ‘Monsoon Wedding’ to “Genda Phool” — isn’t native. But its mystique unites people oceans apart.

marigold feature
Marigolds at Fatehpuri flowers market in Central Delhi, India (Javed Sultan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Allana Akhtar


August 18, 2023


7 min

In Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair’s enduring portrait of a young couple’s looming nuptials, marigolds take center stage. The film opens with the flower’s petals showering an aggravated Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), who’s overseeing the preparations ahead of his daughter’s wedding. Garlands, bouquets, and steep piles of the flower appear in nearly every scene. The wedding planner, Dubey (Vijay Raaz), absently chews on the orange petals while fantasizing about his love interest, the housemaid Alice (Tillotama Shome). The two later embrace and wed under a marigold-adorned umbrella, as water and flower petals rain down.

In many ways, Monsoon Wedding is a quintessential South Asian film, depicting the complicated yet tender familial and romantic love that characterizes so many of our relationships. Marigolds seem an obvious choice to color such an intimate story — the flowers are ubiquitous in the Indian subcontinent, appearing on statues of deities, in rivers and fountains, below the windshield of rickshaws.

And yet, marigolds are not native to South Asia. Aztecs cultivated the flower in what is now Mexico, before Portuguese traders brought it over to India in the 16th century. But the marigold’s journey  embodies much of what makes South Asian culture unique: arguably the world’s most conquered land, the subcontinent is a blend of all the tokens visitors have left behind and residents have embraced as their own — including marigolds.

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