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Symbol of secrecy

Rachna Chhabria

The red rose was used as a symbol of not only love but also of secrecy.

TRUE LOVE: Legends are made of these. Photo : V.Ganesan

Poets have used the rose as a symbol of love. Robert Burns compared his love to a "red, red rose newly sprung in June". But for medieval Christians, the rose symbolised the church. Gothic cathedrals had rose windows to inspire hope and faith.

Servants and tavern workers in England wore roses behind their ears as a sign that anything they overheard would not be repeated. When a guest in a German home saw a bowl of roses in the dining room, he or she knew that it was absolutely safe to speak freely. The Romans hung a rose over meetings to indicate that the meeting was confidential. Attendees understood that whatever was said under the rose (Sub Rosa) had to remain a secret.

Rosa rugosa, one of the oldest species of rose had five petals and pentagonal symmetry, just like the guiding star of Venus, giving the rose strong iconographic ties. In addition the rose had close ties with the concept of "true direction" and navigating one's way. The compass Rose helped travellers to navigate, as did the Rose Lines, the longitudinal lines on maps.

When roses warred

The Pharaohs cultivated roses in their gardens and many of them had roses buried in their tombs with them. Two famous royal houses of England used two different roses in their coat-of-arms. The House of Lancaster had the red rose, while the House of York by the white rose. When these two families clashed in the 1400s, the resulting conflict was called "The War of the Roses". After the families were joined together peacefully, a new hybrid rose was named "York and Lancaster" in their honour.

The ancient Romans made a wine from roses. In the 1700s, people actually ate rose petals in salads and used essence of roses to flavour ice cream! Closer home kings in India had rose petals strewn on their bath water, and rose water and rose oil were used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Gulkand, a tonic made from rose petals, is an excellent digestive aid. Today, the fragrant oil from rose petals is used in cosmetics, perfumes and even in the flavouring of syrups.

There is an absolutely wonderful Greek legend that says Earth first produced the rose to show the Gods that it could equal them in creating a thing of perfect beauty. Whether that story is true is not known, but the red rose is a flower that legends are made of.

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