Marigolds at UIC Heritage Garden

Working in the UIC Garden Satellite sites, while picking the Marigolds for the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the fragrance of those flowers brought back many memories to me. It was the Diwali weekend, the time when my Indian heart was bursting with cultural feelings. Diwali is an Indian Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of goodness over evil and the prevalence of light over darkness. On this day, people decorate their houses with candles and oil lamps (diyas) and pray to Lakshmiji – the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. They also decorate their houses and make Rangolis (a form of art made on the floor with color and flowers) with marigolds. And it was these marigolds that I was picking on a cold winter morning for Dia de Los Muertos, the day when the Latinos call back the dead and remember them. It was very striking for me to see how the same flowers were so important in both these holidays that were so different from each other, yet came around at the same time of the year.  

Surprised at my discoveries, I started talking to more of my friends back in India and my Latinos friends and coworkers at the Heritage Garden. Every year during Diwali, I see pretty pictures of Rangolis made by so many people trending through my Facebook newsfeed. Among them, the Rangolis of these two cousins, Neha di and Shibani di, always catch my attention. Their Rangolis are always made with tea lights and the marigold flowers. I decided to talk to them in detail about what significance the marigolds have in their Diwali. For Shibani di, these flowers are spiritual flowers. They have the ‘flowers for God’ feeling to them. Their brightness is a constant reminder of the festivity and positivity of Diwali. Every year, during Diwali time, she buys the many different shades of marigolds and makes her Rangoli. She adds tea lights to them and they further complement the brightness of these yellow-orange flowers, making her house look even more beautiful during Diwali. And because of this, Diwali is her favorite festival. Even for Neha di, every year, Diwali time means making the pretty Rangolis around the house with colors and marigolds and candles. While I talked to her, she shared how she uses these flowers in her Diwali Puja (the prayers), and in decorating her house year after year. She feels decorating her house with these bright yellow flowers brings sunshine, peace and joy in the lives of her family. Its that time of the year when everyone is buying new things, exchanging gifts and preparing for the auspicious holiday, and these flowers help bring a touch of newness and festivity to the air. The marigolds are a very integral part of Diwali, and both of them agreed that Diwali would be incomplete without the presence of these flowers. We all couldn’t trace back to when and how the marigolds became a part of the Diwali traditions, but for all of us – Diwali only begins when we see the markets filled with these flowers and diyas and candles. 

I talked to Mario and Yaxal in the office to find out more about what significance of the marigolds in Dia de los Muertos. For the Latinos, these flowers are considered as the flowers of the dead. The Alter is decorated with these flowers with other personal favorite items to invite the dead back into the homes. On this day, while honoring the dead, we all realized how we take life for granted, and how in the end, it will be the little things that matter. Even though I’m not a Latina, I understood the purity of these celebrations. 

As I attended these celebrations at the Latino Cultural Center, remembering my own grandfather who passed away 3 years ago, I felt a rush of emotions. It was Diwali time, and every year before he passed away, we would do the traditional Lakshmi Puja where he would recite the religious hymns and we’d pray for happiness and prosperity for our family and friends. Since he passed away, Diwali hasn’t been the same. Every year as I decorate the house with Marigolds, I remember him and miss him all the more. 

Its interesting how these two holidays that have very different significances use the same flower and come around at the same time of the year. Maybe its because the marigolds are grown at the same time of the year, or maybe its something more traditional and cultural. Either way, for me, this year, these two holidays came together perfectly to sum up all the emotions I felt. And now every time I see or smell the marigolds, I have both of these festivals coming to my mind.