Trees and other plants endowed with supernatural qualities have a long history in the visual culture and literature of India. Throughout the South Asian subcontinent, many populations recognize the power of divinities who personify the life-giving forces of nature to confer gifts of abundance: food, wealth, and children. In art, an image of a woman or goddess of child-bearing age could visually signal the same ideal as do depictions of trees or other types of vegetation bearing fruits and flowers. This ideal is auspiciousness, which refers to the success and good fortune brought by entities that give and support life. Filling spaces with vegetal imagery communicates plenitude and auspiciousness, which, in turn, are considered visually beautiful.
In paintings, textiles, and jewelry, images of supernatural plants mark the presence of magic associated with powers of nature. Individual flowers also connote specific concepts to the knowledgeable viewer. The lotus, a water flower, signals birth, creation, preservation, and transcendence. Narcissus, which blooms in early spring, references mystical renewal or rebirth. Roses are used in the context of love and fidelity.
Talking trees, animal-bearing plants, and other supernatural aspects of nature feature in stories that circulated among travelers across land and sea routes connecting India with the greater Islamic world. The works in this gallery reveal how extraordinary vegetative imagery resonated internationally and across religious and social divides.