Petals of Peace and Protest: #Day 5

Inspired by the Flower of Srebrenica, this six-day special series on the anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre (11 – 22 July, 1995) looks at six floral iconographies that have come to define war, revolution and resistance. Today we look at Karthigaipoo or Gloriosa Lily, the national flower of Tamil Eelam.

Karthigaipoo (Gloriosa Lily)

Karthigaipoo, commonly known as flame or fire lily, is a tropical flower that derives its name from Kartikeya, the Hindu god of war who is worshipped as Murugan by Tamils. Its distinctive, tendril like petals are found in hues of yellow, orange, red and deep pink. It is described as a ‘blood red flower’ in Sangam literature (ancient Tamil) associated with ‘lovers in the hills’. On its own, however, Karthigaipoo is beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. While this exotic flower is commercially grown for its medicinal properties, accidental and suicidal poisonings with its tubers is widespread.

Karthigaipoo (Gloriosa superba). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) administration chose Karthigaipoo as their national flower during the ‘Great Heroes’ remembrance week in November 2003 to honour LTTE fighters and Tamil lives lost in the Sri-Lankan civil war. To mark the day the first LTTE cadre died in combat in 1982, Great Heroes Day or Maveerar Naal is observed on November 27 worldwide. A stylized form of this flower was also adopted as the logo for the television network launched by the LTTE in early 2005.

How did it come to be selected? Karthigaipoo that lends its red and yellow colours to the Tamil Eelam national flag is ubiquitous throughout north-eastern Sri-Lanka where the LTTE fought a near 30-year war for Tamil self-determination. And in the course of the protracted struggle, the rebels often used the vine and root of Karthigaipoo (apart from cyanide pills) to commit suicide in order to avoid being captured. Fierce and formidable, the fire lily has been immortalized as a symbol of struggle and sacrifice in the collective conscience of Tamil Eelam supporters around the globe.

A memorial sculpture in the German town of Essen constructed in memory of the Tamils who lost their lives during the Sri-Lankan civil war. The names of 27 Thuyilam Ilam (Tamil war cemeteries) and their locations in Tamil Eelam are engraved on the plinth that is crowned with Karthigaipoo petals.
Courtesy: Nivens Photos.

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