* Saffron

One of the most expensive spices in the world is grown in many regions including Iran, Spain, France, Morocco, and Kashmir. The delicate flower blooms in the morning, wilts during the heat of the day and withers completely by evening. Hence, the three crimson stigmas which are the female sex organ in the center of the purple flower is hand plucked, early morning. The word saffron comes from the Arabic word 'zafaran'.
The flower comes under triploid variety, which means, they are self-incompatible and male-sterile and hence does not grow in the wild. As the flower does not produce the seed, human assistance is needed for reproduction. The underground, bulb-like, starch-storing organs must be dug up, divided, and replanted for the next season.

Saffron's aroma is described as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while it's taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron is used in traditional medicine, food, dying, and perfumery.

It takes around 45,000 flowers to produce 500gms of saffron. This fragrant spice is so costly that it's associated with forgery and other crimes. In 1374 the hijacking of 300 kilos of saffron to Basel resulted in 14 weeks long saffron war. While in Nuremberg a man was burned alive for adulterating saffron with marigold.

The ancient Greeks associated saffron color to the goddess of dawn "Eos". While Cleopatra bathed in it, Alexander the great applied them on battle wounds and used to dye his hair with it. In ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into textiles and ritually offered to divinities.

In Hinduism, the deep saffron color is associated with sacrifice, religious abstinence, quest for light and salvation. In Buddhism, the color represents abstinence from the worldly good. Zoroastrian priests used saffron as ink to write special prayers to ward off evil. For the Sikhs it represented the fight against injustice, it was customary for the disciples to carry fire along. The inconvenience to carry a burning substance over long distances may have given rise to the symbol of a saffron flag.

In today's India, saffron represents a gamut of notions and emotions. Today it is believed that the saffron in our national flag means "courage and sacrifice" however in 1947, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan explained " the saffron color denotes renunciation and disinterestedness, our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work", going by that explanation, saffron has seldom brought the best from our elected representatives.

Courtesy: Google/Pinterest.

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