By Sonali Semwal | Illustrated by Nandana Anand

This unique flower enjoys its stature as the ‘King of Himalayan flowers’. The Brahma Kamal is venerated as the official state flower of Uttarakhand.

Mythology of Brahma Kamal

Brahma, the creator of the cosmos according to Hinduism, holds a certain type of lotus in his hand. This flower is said to be the Brahma Kamal.  Some myths even say that the creator of the cosmos was born of the Brahma Kamal, hence the name. These flowers are offered at various  Hindu shrines like Kedarnath, Tungnath and Badrinath, especially during the festival of Nand Ashtami. The flowers which are offered to the deity are given as Prasad (token of blessing) to devotees. Legend has it that the Gods once showered handfuls of Brahma Kamal from heaven in celebration, and it landed in the Valley of Flowers!

Scientific Glance

Commonly known also as ‘Queen of the Night’ and ‘Lady of the Night’, the botanical name of Brahma Kamal is Saussurea obvallata, a species of flowering plant under the family Asteraceae.

Brahma Kamal is endemic  to the high-altitude Himalayan region. It is native to The Himalayas, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Northern Myanmar, and South West China. In the Himalayas, it is found at an altitude of around 4500 m and seen in the regions of Tungnath, Valley of Flowers, Kedarnath, Satopanth lake, Shrikhand Mahadev etc. The plant grows up to a height of 1 foot (0.3 metres) and has large, white star-like flowers. The plants become visible between April and October. The blooming season of its flowers falls in the mid monsoon months of July and August. Something unique about these flowers is that each one blooms only for one night throughout the entire year, somewhere between July and September.  

Medicinal properties of Brahma Kamal

Brahma Kamal is a very useful plant in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Its uses are little known to the rest of the world, but the native people who reside in the Himalayas are well aware of its medicinal properties. The flowers, rhizomes and leaves are used in the treatment of bone ache, cough, cold and urogenital disorders. In the Tibetan system of medicine it is also used in the treatment of limb paralysis and cerebral damage. 

The Threat of Extinction 

According to the Conservation Assessment Management Plan (CAMP) which assigns threat levels to species, the Brahma Kamal plant is categorized as endangered. Since the flowers of Brahma Kamal fetch high prices on the black market due to their medicinal properties, they are plucked and traded widely. A recent survey conducted by scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) found that the plants’ numbers are diminishing due to climate change and reckless exploitation. According to a report from a survey conducted in the Panch Kedar region of Uttarakhand, there has been a staggering 70% decline in the population of the Brahma Kamal. Due to this, conservation efforts are now being made. Experts suggest that farming Brahma Kamal in high-altitude regions where it occurs naturally, such as in Uttarakhand, may help save the species. Some other regions where the Brahma Kamal is being protected include the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and Akshot Wildlife Sanctuary. Starting a species recovery programme is the need of the hour to save this beautiful plant from extinction or we risk losing the ‘Queen of the Night’!

Word of the Day

Endemic = a species that is native to the region where it is found

About the Author:

Sonali Semwal has grown up watching mountains and has always felt close to nature. Hailing from Mussoorie, in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, she is currently pursuing a degree in Forestry.

About the Artist:

Nandana Anand is a graduate from Azim Premji University, Bangalore, and is currently working as an English teacher. She is interested in art and dance and is absolutely obsessed with plants and literature.