Malappuram: In Thirunavaya, a land famous for coconut and paddy, 50-year-old Musthafa Chakkaliparambil, a Muslim, raises lotus like a few others of his community here. He has been cultivating lotus for 40 years and it has a steady demand from the numerous temples across north Kerala and outside. The lotus flowers that adorn the deities in such shrines had bloomed in the fields of Musthafa and many other Muslim farmers in the area, which is on the banks of Bharatapuzha.
The flower crop earns the lotus farmers good income; however this unique floriculture activity is not just an income-earner of a few Thirunavaya locals, but a testimony to the communal harmony in the land where different faiths coexist. The lotus trade between two communities was not a compulsory or intentional, but it was just accidental, Musthafa felt. He and other Muslim lotus farmers in the area are direct links to the temples across the state, and even outside.
Musthafa ventured into lotus cultivation as an aide to his father Kunjahammed Haji, and continued its farming after his death. However, the activity is more than a means of income as he had taken it up and continues it as a duty. Musthafa's lotus flowers have good demand in temples cross the north Kerala as well as in the temples of Thrissur district like the Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, as well as the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temples, both associated with the renowned Pooram.
Musthafa does not remember when exactly this association with temples began. It was during his father's time that the family started cultivating lotus, a not so familiar crop in the area they lived at that time. He just continued what was started by his father and put his heart into it.
"During a journey, uppa (father) saw a lotus field and got attracted to that sight. It was such a beautiful scenery, he used to say. He collected some seeds and planted it in our nearby field. It was just four or five seeds. But it spread to the whole pond and it was such an amazing sight to have the flowers bloom together,” he recollected with child-like innocence.
When lotus bloomed in a huge area, Kunjahammed thought of taking it up as a source of income. In the intervals of paddy cultivation, he cultivated lotus, which yielded sufficient income, apart from beautiful scenery.
“We take the fields on lease and cultivate lotus. Seeds are collected and kept for the next season. It takes three months for the lotus to bloom. So, we calculate seasons like Sabarimala or Thrissur pooram, or when temple festivals are aplenty. There are 20 acres at Valiya Parapoor, 10 acres at Cheriya Parappoor and seven acres here (Vavoor Padam),” he pointed at the field from where lotus flowers were just plucked and sent to various temples.
Musthafa is not alone on the lotus fields; nearly 40 Muslim farmers continue the lotus cultivation in the area. One Abdul Rahman Karakkadan raises lotus on 85 acres. “The blessings of those deities are also behind the success of our business. We need their blessings too to survive. Nobody checks the religion of the one sending the flowers. Everyone is same before the Almighty. The decades-old business of ours is a proof for that,” he added.
The lotus farmers here sell a minimum of 20,000 flowers on a daily basis during season and they fetch a handsome price. “Now since the labour charges have gone up, the rates of the flowers also have gone up. Earlier, we could sell one for 30 or 40 paise. Now one flower alone costs Rs 2.50, whereas the Tamil farmers are able to sell at a lesser cost, since their labour charges are less. Here labourers demand Rs 850 for a day's work. When the water level is high, they have to go in small boats to pluck the flowers. Frequent care is needed for the lotus, as the new flowers would not bloom in the absence of sunlight. Older leaves have to be plucked and removed often so that new ones sprout. Other aquatic plants and weeds also have to be removed periodically,” Musthafa explained the difficulties in proceeding with the business.
Lotus seeds are planted in June and July after tilling the land. After filling the field with water, it has to be tilled again for the better penetration of the lotus roots. His wife Sulekha helps in classifying the lotus. “She too has a special interest in the lotus cultivation. She spends hours classifying the flowers. The rates of the flowers depend on their size, bloom, colour etc. So, one has to be very careful in classifying them accordingly,” Musthafa revealed.
However, he admitted his children, who are in schools and colleges, do not prefer to continue the business. Eldest son Dilshad is doing his B Tech. while younger ones, Rinshad and Irshad, are in the school. “Maybe the new generation does not want to get close to the land much. Who knows whether the cultivation would continue after our generation?” Musthafa wondered.
Musthafa can't see at first hand the flowers adoring the deities, though he often gets to see their photographs sent to him. “There are many religious restrictions, which are obvious in any community, but I am not in the least disappointed over that. For years, they are using flowers cultivated by me and the Warriers (caretakers of the temples) send me pictures clicked after adorning the deity,” he added.