An Udumbara Surprise
In Chinese, the fig is known as the wúhuāguǒ (無花果), or the “flowerless fruit.” But it seems not all figs would agree with this name. I’ve got a fig, and it has a flower—an udumbara flower.
The rare udumbara flower was first mentioned by the founder of Buddhism, Buddha Sakyamuni. He prophesied that in 3,000 years, this mystical flower would appear, and its appearance would signify that the Holy King Who Turns the Wheel has arrived.
So what exactly does this flower look like? Basically just a white little bloom of petals supported by a long stem, the udumbara is simple, but beautiful. Most notably, the udumbara is small. It’s tiny. From bud to stem, an average flower measures about 4 mm (yes, millimeters). Over the last few years, these flowers have been sighted around the world on a variety of surfaces—everything ranging from Buddha statues and wooden pillars to windowsills, vegetables, and, most recently, figs.
As surprised as I was to discover an udumbara flower on my fig, I must admit that I found it equally miraculous as to how the flower managed to stay in one piece. My roommate and I, well, let’s just say we aren’t the gentlest of fruit handlers. Arriving in Melbourne, roomie and I made a beeline straight for the famous Queen Victoria’s Market, affectionately dubbed “Queen Vic’s” by the locals. There we hit jackpot, scoring a whole load of lovely figs.
Like anyone who got a bargain-priced tray of 28 figs, we were excited, halving and eating, stacking and juggling the poor figs before the miraculous finding. How a single, tiny udumbara flower survived our rough play, I can only imagine. But when I saw it, in all its gloriously minuscule beauty, I could only think one thing (other than “Good Golly, I already ate eight figs”): “I want to share this with the world.”
Grand legends and epic myths—sometimes they don’t always come in the biggest forms; sometimes they’re easy to miss. Sometimes, they are only 4 mm tall. But sometimes, it’s the small things that hold the greatest meaning.
P.S. As chance, or providence, would have it, we have a dance about the udumbara flower in this year’s program. Our MC tells me that, the last few days since I told him of my discovery, every time he introduced this piece he has a hard time not thinking of figs. As for me, every time I dance The Mystical Udumbara, I feel a renewed sense of enchantment.
March 1, 2016