White Ginger Lily, also known as Butterfly Ginger Lily, is a white flowering plant from the ginger family. Its Malayalam name is Kalyanasougandhikam or Sougandhika,
It is cultivated in many parts of the world as an ornamental plant.
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Butterfly Ginger Lily has very rich rhizomes which spread easily in moist soil. The plant is perennial and usually grows to a height of 2 meters on average, under suitable conditions. The long leaves grow directly from the stem and have pointed tips.
The plant belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. Leaves are long and resemble that of Canna Indica and Ginger.
The flower has bulbous endings filled with nectar which attracts bees.
Its scientific name is Hedychium coronarium.
Kalyanasougandhikam is a native plant in China, regions around northeast India, Nepal and many southeast Asian countries. It is also seen in tropical South India including Kerala. However, the plant also exhibits its invasive nature in many parts like Africa and America where it was introduced from the east.
There is a story about Kalyanasougandhikam in the Hindu epic Mahabharatha. The story goes like this:
One day, while in the forest, Draupadi (Panchali) noticed a beautiful fragrance spreading in the air and she identified that it was from a white flower.
The fragrance was so pleasing that she decided to take the flower with her. Returning home, Draupadi told her husband, Bheema about this. Noticing her desire, he decided to fetch more such flowers for her.
So he set out to the forest in search of it. As a man known for his power and strength, Bheema began destroying every obstacle (even trees) in his way.
Hanuman, the son of Vayu, was sitting on that way where Bheema was about to come. But he was aware of Bheema’s arrival beforehand. As Bheema is also the son of Vayu, Hanuman decided to calm down his brother.
So before Bheema’s arrival, he took the form of an old monkey and lied on the path. When he came, Bheema got agitated by seeing the monkey carelessly resting on his way. So he asked it to move away.
But the monkey replied that it was too old and could not move, and asked Bheema to relocate him. Judging it as a silly thing, Bheema tried to lift the monkey’s tail with his Gada (a weapon with a round head). To his utter surprise, Bheema could not do that.
Understanding that it was not just an ordinary monkey blocking his way, Bheema enquired who he actually was. The monkey replied that he is also Vayuputra (son of Vayu). Bheema suddenly recognized his older brother and felt extremely sorry for his behaviors.
Being a kind and loving elder brother, Hanuman showed his original form and forgave his little brother. He also blessed Bheema and told him where to find the Kalyanasougandhika flower. With his elder brother’s blessing, Bheema continued his journey to fetch the flowers.
The above story is the base for the famous artform Kalyanasougandhikam OttamThullal created by Kalakkathu Kunjan Nambiar in the 18th century.
Similarly, there are several Kathakali plays based on this epic story.