The Beauteous Brahmakamala

A flower that blooms only for a night
Bramhakamala photo clicked by Anu Anniah

Once upon a time, when I was still in college, my mom had somehow acquired this wondrous plant and given it a home in our garden. Then we moved homes. Several times. The poor plant in a big cement pot came along with us faithfully from home to home.

Somewhere along the way, though, the plant lost its will to bloom and focused on just staying alive. Mom never gave up on it. She left us in 2017, but she left behind this plant as a memory of her love for plants.

Amidst the pandemic panic, our brahmakamala suddenly decided to sprout some buds. We got a flower or two the entire season but that’s about it.

In 2020, as we battled the worst stage of the pandemic in Bangalore, our plant decided to give us hope! Several buds appeared and we hoped to see at least one bloom a day for a few days.

The brahmakamala or the lotus of lord Brahma blooms for a couple of months during the rainy season. Each flower blooms for a few hours during a single night. That’s it. A blink-and-you-miss-it lifespan.

But the different stages leading to the full bloom are a treat to watch. A tiny bud appears at the node — so tiny that a strong gust of wind might make it fall down. Slowly the bud grows and grows and you wonder at how the leaf node can possibly bear the weight of this big bud. As it grows, the flower stalk arches gracefully to allow the flower to bloom away from the thick leaf. It is a gravity-defying stunt! Finally, one night it is ready to reveal its full glory.

Triple bonanza and look at all the buds arched upwards waiting for their turn. Photo by Anu Anniah

Each bud blooms just for one single night. The process starts around 8 p.m. and the beautiful white flower is on full display in a couple of hours. I set a daily alarm to remind me to check each night. If we forget to peek out at night, we miss the most amazing sight.

If the window is open though, there is no way we can miss the bloom. Why? Because in addition to being such an unbelievable beauty, the flower also has a heady fragrance. In my parental home, we didn’t need an alarm to remind us. The aroma would come wafting in through the windows and drag us by our noses to watch the beauty unfold. My mom had a very sharp sense of smell. She’d know first and announce it to us. Dad, mom, my little dog, and I would tumble outside armed with a torch to view the spectacle of a bright white bloom in the darkness of the night. Such amazing memories!

Some people find the smell of the flower too strong, but mom and I found it heavenly. The fragrance continues to mesmerize me even today.

One bloom offered to God while the others continue to decorate the plant! Photo by Anu Anniah

One night we had 5 of these beauties at the same time. I almost forgot to have dinner while I hung around on my balcony admiring them from different angles, breathing in the sweet smell, and clicking photos for posterity. I was so happy to see so many at the same time.

Then my friend shared a photo from her parents’ garden — 25 white angelic blooms in a single day! What a treat! They must have been high with that strong smell and the astonishing sight!

In Hindu mythology, witnessing the brahmakamala bloom is considered lucky. Of course, it is lucky! We must be so blessed to see the flower during its short life, and even more blessed to have it on our own balcony!

I often wonder about a life like that — unbearably short, but filled with beauty, and casting such a spell on anyone who is in its vicinity. A life well-lived, wouldn’t you say?

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