Amra Phal finds a reference even in the Vedas. Varah Purana says, “one who plants one Peepal, one Neem, one Banyan, two pomegranates, two orange, five mango tress and 10 flowering plants or creepers shall never go to Hell”! Indians certainly have had a long association with the fruit.
It is said that when Alexander was returning after his famous battle with Porus, he took several varieties of the mango fruit with him. However, it is Alauddin Khilji who is feted as the first patron of mango. His feast in Sivama Fort is referred to as the beginning of the celebration of the fruit with nothing but mango on the menu.
Sher Shah Suri is said to have commemorated his victory over Humayun at the Battle of Chausa by naming his favourite mango as Chausa.
Next came the Mughals who not only dearly cherished the fruit but created several varieties of it. Humayun who took shelter in Kabul following his defeat by Sher Shah Suri made sure that he had adequate supply of mangoes through a courier system.
Akbar encouraged cultivation of thousands of mango trees by establishing Lakhibagh, an orchard with 100,000 trees, in Dabhanga, Bihar. Shah Jahan not only created a special delivery channel from Konkan coast to his court in Delhi but also imprisoned Aurangzeb in the Deccan for hoarding mangoes and not sending the ‘Nazrana’ due to the emperor!
Many believe that Shah Jahan was partial to his son Dara Sikoh because the latter was a seasoned horticulturist and who had compiled and edited the Nuskha Dar Fanni Falahat, recording the traditional art of grafting.
Abul Fazal’s Ain-i-Akbari and Tuzuk-e-Jehangiri also contain details of the varieties of mangoes segregated by quality, smell, shape and taste besides recording which emperor favoured which variety.
Both Jehangir and Shah Jahan encouraged ‘khansamas’ to experiment with the fruit and prepare different dishes and desserts. Aam Panna, Aam Ka Lauz, Aam Ka Meetha Pulao, the latter a delicate mango dessert, were particular favourites.
Marathas also considered mangoes to be a sign of power and prosperity. Raghunath Peshwa is said to have planted over 10 million trees.
When Jawaharlal Nehru sent a crate of mangoes to Mao-Ze-Dong, the Chinese chairman in turn distributed the mangoes as gift to other important leaders. A direct gift from the Chairman was like a divine benediction and therefore could not be eaten. So single mangoes were sent to community centres for contemplation and to factories for making wax models. Apocryphal or not, there are accounts that plastic models of the fruit appeared in shop windows, songs were composed and the models were sent on lorries to tour the country.
Historically, mango has been crucial in India’s diplomacy and Aurangzeb is said to have offered mangoes to Shah Abbas of Persia as a gesture in support of his claim to the throne.
Both India and Pakistan grow mangoes and export them. And as in sports and politics, there is a subtle rivalry between the neighbours over whose mangoes are better. When in 1981, General Zia Ul Haq sent Indira Gandhi a box of "Anwar Rataul" from a Pakistani orchard, the original growers from Meerut took offence and conveyed to the Indian Prime Minister that the origin of the Anwar Rataul was from Rataul, a garden called Shora-e-Afaq, near Meerut. There were two brothers; one of them, Anwar, migrated to Pakistan and started the variety Anwar Rataul,
In literature & the arts
“I have a rule that I offer to young writers. There must be no tropical fruits in the title. No mangoes. No guavas. None of those. Tropical animals are also problematic. Peacock, etc. Avoid that shit.” : Salman Rushdie in 2013 in New York
• How to write about Pakistan? Three of the 10 rules compiled by Mohammed Hanif, author of the satire, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and compiled together with Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Kamila Shamsie for Granta magazine were: 1. Must have mangoes. 2. Must have maids who serve mangoes. 3. Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.
• Mohammed Hanif ’s comic novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008) is based on the true events of the plane crash that killed the former President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, on 17 August 1988. General Zia’s C-130 plane was reportedly sabotaged by Ali Shigri, a junior officer in the Pakistani Air Force, as he sought to assassinate General Zia in revenge for the death of his father by loading the plane with crates of mangoes [concealed with bombs] from Bahawalpur from where the plane took off and crashed soon after.
• Ghalib’s oft-quoted response, when asked which fruits he preferred: Aam meethey hon aur bohat se hon (Mangoes should be sweet and in plenty). Another saying attributed to him was the taunt of a friend who said "Dekho gadha bhi nahin khata aam (even a donkey does not eat mangoes). Ghalib, quick witted as he was, retorted "Haan, gadha hee to hai (Yes, a donkey indeed he is ...)
• Ghalib was out on a stroll with Bahadur Shah Zafar when they came upon a mango orchard at Lal Qila. Zafar noticed that Ghalib was looking intently at one of the trees which were particularly laden with fruit. Perturbed, the emperor asked him why he was staring at the tree. Ghalib is said to have replied,
“Badshaah salamat maine buzurgo se suna hai/Daane Daane pe likha hai Khaane waale ka naam/falaan ka naam, in falon ka naam… Dekh raha hoon kisi aam par mere baap dada ka naam bhi likha hai kya.”
(Oh emperor, the wise say that each morsel has the name of the person who will eat it, am seeing if any of the trees have the name of my fathers or forefathers etched on them.) A crate of mangoes is said to have reached the poet from the emperor the same evening.
• Ghalib despised anyone who did not share his love for the fruit; one of his famous poems reads: mujhse poochho, tumheñ khabar kya hai aam ke aage neyshakar kya hai… ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se baagh-baanoñ ne baagh-e jannat se angabeeñ ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas bhar ke bheje haiñ sar-ba-mohr gilaas
(Ask me! for what do you know? a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane… perhaps from the great heights above the gardeners of heaven’s orchards have sent, by the order of God wine filled in sealed glasses )
• In Raag Bageshri, Ambua ki daali pe bole re koyaliya is the most popular bandish (Hindustani classical music.)