Tag Archives: Flower trees in winter

Shishira Rtu

[Ms.B i; January 22, 2014; Dear Mr.Sreenivasa Rao,

I am currently working on indianising the curriculum for the school that I work for. In my research, I stumbled upon this article and the one on Sharad Ritu. It is very relevant to the work I am doing, as the curriculum is imparted mainly through stories embedded in local culture.

We are now in the season of Shishira. Would you be able to give a similar description of this season?

Ms.B ; January 24, 2014; what is said about this particular season in these translations is something that I cannot use… these descriptions cannot  be given to children.

I can see that there aren’t many flowers around in this season, but there still are. How are they coping with the cold? How about the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures? What are the first things to change at the end of Shishira, when Vasantha begins to set in? ]

floral design3

Dear Ms.B , I wrote the article on Rtu Varnana mainly thanks to my friend   Ms. Venetia Ansell, a Sanskrit Scholar from Oxford University – now in India. I expanded on Rtu Varnana by bringing in Barahmasa poetry and painting, just to make it a bit more complete.

Venetia Ansell is managing a Publishing House (Rasala) ; and also a website devoted to Sanskrit Literature

Please check on the latter link; and that could, perhaps, answer many of your concerns.

On that page, under the table ‘Categories’ you may click on Seasonal Poetry . There you will find that Venetia has written extensively on seasonal poetry in Sanskrit; as also on flowers of each season as described in the poetic works of Kalidasa and other eminent poets. I am sure the detailed references would be of much use to you in your task.

As regards Shishira please check on pages 10 and 11 of ‘Seasonal Poetry’ at   the following link for a brief description

Yes Maa, I agree. Those translated poems on Venetia’s site are about the pleasures of Shishira, enjoyable delights of lovers within the confines of the bedroom.  They, of course, are   not suitable for children. Those pieces of poetry were created in an entirely different context for the pleasure of a totally different set of readers. In contrast, the stanzas you have written are purposeful and serve your objective better.

I have just tried writing a few lines about Shishira. I now realize how difficult it is to write about these subjects for the children. It calls for a special way of understanding and a style of putting across the information in a manner that is at once simple, inoffensive, educative and enjoyable by the children. I had not attempted it earlier.  This is a new experience for me.  I am not sure I got it right. My respect for you, therefore, goes up all the more.

See, if the following could be any use to you. Modify it in any way you think best. I am sorry; I have not been of much help to you. Pardon me.

[As regards Yakshi and others you mentioned, let’s talk of them at another time.]

A. Shishira

Shishira Rtu

1. 1. In the part of country we live, Shishira and Hemantha run into each other. That is mainly because, unlike in the North, we do not experience severe winters. Though Hemantha is described as pre-winter and Shishira as late-winter, both the Rtus are moderately cold, and dewy. While Hemantha is colder, Shishira is its diminishing phase. 

1.2. Shishira is the Rtu comprising Magha and Phalguna, the months related to winter’s cold and snug- comfort.  The Shishira Rtu, season, usually starts in January and ends in March. The mild winter gradually gives place to spring (Vasantha), which itself transforms into summer (Grishma).

1.3. The temperatures during Shishira are pleasant, breaking into enjoyable sunshine, evoking images of warmth, the stoking of the fires.    The sun shines weakly and even the moon is pale. Days are short and nights long. Few flowers or trees are in bloom.  During the latter half of Shishira, trees may shed their leaves.  The life-force of the plants lie dormant, waiting to burst forth at the advent of Vasantha, the spring.  These seasons are typical to tropical and subtropical regions. Some, therefore, even call Shishira; the early spring – prelude to Vasantha.

2.1. Shishira is one of the many names of Vishnu (Shishira sharvaree Kara – Vishnusahasranama 97). And yet;   as Venetia says: ‘Śhiśhira is the much neglected step child among the seasons’. It doesn’t seem to have definition of its own. Shishira, unlike Vasantha or Varsha, is not much celebrated in our poetry.  In the ancient days of the Vedic texts, when the Rtus  were counted as five, Hemantha and Shishira were considered as forming one Rtu. Some texts did not even regard Shishira as a Rtu, but called it a month – Shishira Maasa.

2.2. Shishira (magha –phalguna) is the transitory season of cool days; the waning phase of winter, when the season of cool comforts steadily picks up heat gets quietly warmer. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric. It acquires a rather rough surface after the dry winter. Then the earth switches into its explicit warmer mode.

Aayanas and change of seasons

3.1. Shishira marks the Parva-kaala – change of seasons – from winter into spring; from short days into longer days; and from Dakshinayana into Uttarayana.  It transfers from the night (Dakshinayana) of the gods to the day (Uttarayana) of gods. Shishira stands at the head of Uttarayana. 

3.2. The Indian year is divided into two semesters (Aayana): the fiery (agneya) in which the Sun rises higher in the sky with each passing day, spreading heat, blowing winds, and sapping out (aadana) fluids from all living things. The other is the lunar season (saumya) during which the moon is relatively higher up in the sky than the lowering Sun. It pours in (visarga) moisture through the rains.

3.3. The first of these, the hot season, roughly corresponds with the period between the winter (14th January) and summer solstice (14th July). During this Aayana, the Sun’s angle of elevation increases; and the point of sunrise moves northward (Uttara) along the horizon with each passing day. This is known as Uttarayana; and roughly corresponds to the period between 14th January and 14th July.

3.4. The second is the period between summer and winter solstice, when the Sun’s angle of elevation decreases and apparently moves along the horizon southward (Dakshina). This is the Dakshinayana – the period between 14th July and 14th January.

4.1. The turning points (Sankarnathi) fall on or about 14th January (Makara Sankranthi) and 14th July (Karka Sankranthi) when the Sun’s orientation shifts, and when winter and summer change places. Shishira Rtu covers the transition period from winter to spring, from Dakshinayana to Uttarayana. Uttarayana Sankranthi (14th Jan) is celebrated to mark the beginning of the sun’s journey in the northern solstice. On this day prayers are offered to Surya, the visible representation of the God.  This is followed by Ratha Saptami marking the seventh day of Sun’s journey in the north-easterly direction. And, with that the day temperature increases gradually. Ratha Saptami heralds staring of the harvesting season; and, are celebrated as Surya Jayanthi (birthday).

[This traditional explanation is from the point of view from the Earth.  But, we all know that the Sun does not move; and it is the Earth that rotates on its axis round the Sun.  The earth is titled at about 23 degrees and circles around the Sun with this tilt. It is this tilt that creates the various seasons on different parts of the Earth.


The tilt of the Earth and its rotation round its axis is very important for the creation of seasons. Supposing the Earth did not tilt round its axis, and had been erect (zero degree), the sun would always have been below on the horizon; the Sun would set and rise at the same time everyday of the year; there would be no variation in daylight hours; there would less sunlight towards either ends of the Earth; and, It would be warm at the equator and cold at the poles. That is to say; with zero tilt,    a single uniform weather condition would have prevailed over the Earth. All through the year, it would have been as if it is the middle of fall or spring; we would have a totally different plant and animal life. Or , it could possibly have been something else; who knows !

With no tilt, the most profound impact on temperatures would have been at the poles where the sun would always circle round its horizon and the temperatures throughout the year would have been uniform.  The day in the Polar Regions would be shorter and colder; the effect on animal and plant life would have been significant without having any ‘growing’ or migration seasons.

Therefore, the earth’s 23 degree tilt doesn’t just give us the variations of the seasons and all the wonderful things we’ll be experiencing from season to season.  The tilt is really important for setting the basic foundations of the environment we take for granted in our part of the world. As you can see, we’d have a very different planet without those 23 degrees.

Having said that; let us be aware that the earth hasn’t always rotated with a 23 degree tilt. Its tilt varies by a couple of degrees every 41,000 years or so. And, that changes the strength of the seasons on the earth as we experience it.  When the tilt is greater, summers are warmer and winters are colder; and, when the tilt is smaller there’s less of a difference in the seasons. Over the last million years the changes in the tilt have   just been 2 or 3 degrees. And, that is huge enough to force huge climate shifts of the glacial cycles that the earth has experienced. Scientists say that the Earth’s tilt is slightly decreasing, which means the variations among the seasons ,  ever so slowly,  is getting less perceptible  .]

5.1. The Dakshinayana begins with pouring monsoon rains beating down the heat and ushering in cool relief, And, as the Aayana ends, the mild winter steps into prelude to spring. Dakshinayana is the life giving season in which all creatures and vegetation thrive. The thirsty plants and animals fanatically drink and soak in the elixir of life, and regain their vitality.   It is the season of life and festivity.  All the major festivals from Krishna Janmastami, through Gauri, Ganesh, and Nava Ratri, on to Deepavali are celebrated during Dakshinayana. This particularly is the Aayana of the Devi – the Mother. Dakshina is also understood as the grace; the feminine principles, the Mother who can create, unfold and manifest. Dakshinayana is the time of receptivity and is the feminine phase of the Earth.

5.2. In contrast; the Uttarayana (Jan – July) is a long period of dry heat, blazing summers and swirl dusty winds. During this uncomfortable season of heat, dust and winds the life withers and dies.  The heat takes away moisture from all living things. It is also the season of ‘hot’ diseases and epidemics. The village minor goddesses such as Sitala (small pox) are ‘cooled’ or appeased (shanthi).

small pox

At the same time; Uttarayana is also the invigorating   , new good healthy wealthy beginning.  It is the time of harvest, gathering the fruits of your efforts.  Uttarayana is also the northward noble path (Deva Yana) that leads the virtuous to gods; and, is therefore called Uttarayana Punyakaala. The old warrior Bhishma of Mahabharata lay in wait on the bed of arrows for the arrival of Uttarayana. On the dawn of Uttarayana the Grand-old Bhishma chose to give up his life. Uttarayana is the time of fulfilment, while Dakshinayana is the season of growing up.

5.3. Maha Shivaratri which heralds the true beginning of hot summers, as also the Holi  the festival of colours marking  the burning down of Kama are celebrated during Uttarayana . Shivaratri, it is said, is the remembrance, in gratefulness, of Shiva the Neelkanta who saved the world by consuming the deadly poison thrown up after Samudra Manthan, churning of the ocean. And, Holi, in some parts of the country, is day on which the fearsome Lord Narasimha killed the tyrant king Hiranyakashipu. 

Many of the festivals in Uttarayana are in celebration of male gods. The season of six months from January to July is regarded   masculine in nature, while Dakshinayana is the feminine phase of the Earth.

[In the ancient and medieval times, Dakshinayana was also the season of re-union; when men travelling on business hurried back home before the rain bearing clouds broke out in torrents; and, when the separated lovers ran into each other arms.

Even for the ascetics, the recluse and the Parivrajakas (wandering monks) the monsoon was a period of retreat. During the four months (Chatur-masa) of Dakshinayana when travel used to be difficult and hazardous the monks in the olden days used to assemble at a place far away from towns for exchange of views and experiences. It was essentially a period of study, reflection and contemplation. The period of retreat commenced from the end of Ashada (June–July) and through the months of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Asvina and ending in the Kartika, the day after Deepavali (November) marking the beginning of  winter ]

6.1. The Rtu of Shishira bridges the winter and hot seasons, marks the transformation of the Earth in its nature and appearance. Shishira stands at the threshold when earth changes its fabric; switches from Devi to Shiva; from thriving into fulfilment. It leads on to way to openness and liberation.


B. Birds and flowers


7.1. Shishira is the season of migratory birds. Every year, in this season, varieties of colorful migratory bird species flock to the   habitats that suit them in Southern India. In these sanctuaries, the arrival of migratory birds commences in the last week of October and continues till February end. 

sea geese in ontario

The annual migration of snow geese turning up in Ontario, Canada is  not only an incredible demonstration of the unique and amazing ways the flocks of birds  have evolved to survive;  but,  it’s also a visual spectacle

7.2. For instance, birds from North Europe, Afghanistan and West Asia make their home in the wetlands of Malady in Udupi district between September and March. The influx of waterfowls in the wetland crosses 1.2 lakh every winter. The best time to watch them is in January and February. Some birdwatchers say they have identified here even the bird species from Patagonian region of South America. These include different varieties of ducks, coots, swans, birds of prey and many others.

[It appears, during this season, in the warm waters of South India, Olive Ridley Turtles arrive to lay eggs.]

7.3. The other is the famous bird sanctuary at the mini-islets of Ranganathittu along the River Cauvery, near Mysore. During the months of January and February, more than 30 species of birds are found here. About 50 pelicans have made Ranganathittu as their permanent home. The season of the sanctuary is from November to June, when Ranganathittu comes alive with birds of different species flocking there to herald the nesting and breeding season. About 40,000 birds of various plumes arrive here from the cold regions of Siberia, Latin America and the Himalayan regions in North India, to nestle and hatch eggs. They stay throughout the summer and fly away after breeding ahead of the onset of monsoon.

7.4. The migratory birds that arrive at Ranganathittu are of wide variety .They range from Pelicans, Painted Storks, Open Billed Storks, River Terns, Spoon Bills, Night Herons, Cormorants and other birds. A lot of other varieties such as Kingfishers, Hornbills, Wagtails and many other species can also be found. Between February and April you’ll find a greater variety of birds with their breeding plumage are at their finest. And, between April and July, you’ll still get to see the Mother birds with their offspring.


8.1. As regards the flowers of Shishira as described in the Sanskrit poetry, you may refer to Venetia Ansell’s most delightful series of posts on Seasonal poetry. Please click here for the link.  

Here, she talks of:” Priyagu creepers, their young shoots bowed under their burden of golden yellow  blossom, outshine the beautiful hue of women’s arms arrayed with jewellery – Ritu Samhara of Kalidasa; 3.18.

; And of Kunda – Jasmine buds that bloom in Shishira and withers at the onset of spring  (Vasantha)  , and  “that shine with a glistening sheen as if stars, terrified of the cold, have taken refuge in the kunda creeper: Verse 3 of Śiśira in the Subhāitaratnabhāṇḍāgāram.

 8.2. The season of Shishira is special, as both winter and summer flowers blossom around this time of the year. While the winter flowering plants do wither away, the summer ones begin flowering around January and February.  “In January and February, winter flowers cease to bloom slowly and summer flowers start blossoming”.

The biannual flower show at Lal Baugh celebrates the culmination of the seasonal flowers of winter and summer.


8.3. Though it is true that flowers bloom in full in spring and summer seasons, there are yet a large variety of flowers that can decorate and brighten-up your garden with their colour and style in the cold months of January and February. These include, among others: 

Witch Hazel, a shrub which produces sweet-smelling flowers having yellow;

the elegant looking Pansies of white, purple, pink or yellow;

the graceful winter Jasmine glowing in mild yellow  strung along creepers lazing on garden slopes;

the coloured snow Drops that create an illusion that garden is covered with snow drops;

and, the Winter Iris of  deep blue, white and lilac that are refreshingly aromatic having  lemony-vanilla-fragrance

. For details please click here.

 Flowering trees

9.1. There are a number of trees in South Karnataka that flower during the Shishira Rtu – January and February. The list is exhaustive. But, let me mention here just a few of the flowering giants of January – March:

Booruga (Kannada) – Red Silk Cotton – bearing   large, cup-shaped, crimson flowers that attract a variety of birds; 


Muttuga (Kannada) – Flame of the Forest – like many of the other trees in this season sheds most of its leaves before putting forth clusters of bright orange red flowers that stand out amidst  dry and leafless vegetation;


Honge (Kannada) – Indian Beech Tree – the native, evergreen and hardy Honge – that bear small – pea-plant like flowers – in colours  from white to pale purple attracting butterflies;


Haladi Mara (Kannada) –  The Tree of Gold – bearing large clusters of bright yellow flowers on its crooked branches;

Haladi mara

Another type of Honge –  Moulmein Rose Wood – bearing   bright mauve flowers on its  drooping stalks ;

Moulmein Rose Wood

and,  Pink Tabebuia- stunningly beautiful clusters of  flowers in deep pink with a pale yellow centre  .

Pink Tabebuia

For details, please click here for Karthik’s Journal on Flowering Tree.

This is a wonderful site where Karthik has posted information and pictures of about twenty-six flowering trees that are found in Bangalore. He has also identified the locations in Bangalore where such species are to be found.

 C. You asked what do the birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures do in winter


10.1. Yes, when the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and the leaves loose colour and fall off the tree, it surely is a hard time for birds, squirrels, worms and other creatures. But, animals are amazing creatures and are very inventive. They learn to survive the cheerless winters by resorting to many tactics. They might: migrate, hibernate, adapt to the situation, and find many other ways to see through the cold unhelpful conditions.

You may find these links useful while teaching the children

Let’s look at these with reference to moderate climatic conditions, setting aside the extremes in polar and desert zones.  ;



10.2. The birds, for instance, might migrate to far off warmer places if they can fly long distances. Else, they may just fly into a nearby more tolerable place. Similarly, whales, fish etc travel South or move into deeper, warmer waters. Insects also migrate. Some butterflies and moths fly very long distances.  The mammals in the colder regions also move out in search of food. But, this happens only in extreme conditions. And, it is not warranted in South India which enjoys moderate climate.

As regards the insects and termites, they move through holes in the ground downward into the soil looking for winter shelters. Earthworms also move down, some as far as six feet below the surface. Insects, most times, take shelter beneath the bark of trees, deep inside rotting logs or in any small crack they can find.


Snakes and many other reptiles find shelter in holes or burrows, and spend the winter inactive, or dormant. This is similar to hibernation.



10.3. Animals, like Bears and some bats, hibernate for part or all of the winter. This is a special, very deep sleep. The animal’s body temperature drops, and its heartbeat and breathing slow down. It uses very little energy. Every living thing learns to adapt.

In the autumn, before the onset of winter, these animals are prepared to live through winter by eating extra food and storing it as body fat. They use this fat for energy while hibernating. Some also store food like nuts or acorns to eat later in the winter.

 As regards the insects, every type of insect has its own life cycle, which is the way it grows and changes. Different insects spend the winter in different stages of their lives. Many insects spend the winter being dormant, or in hibernation. It is a time when growth and development may temporarily halt. The insect’s heartbeat, breathing and temperature drop. Some insects spend the winter as worm-like larvae. Others spend the winter as pupae. (This is a time when insects change from one form to another.) Other insects die after laying eggs in the fall. The eggs hatch into new insects in the spring and everything begins all over again.



10.4. If an animal or plant is to survive it must be able to fit in with the environmental conditions which surround it in its habitat. This adjustment is called adaptation.

Depending on what sort of habitat it lives in, an animal or plant may have to adjust itself to changes in its environment.  In winter, the most obvious changes are those of shortening of daylight hours and decreasing temperature. This is what happens when autumn turns into winter.

Some animals continue to be active in the winter. They however learn to adapt. Sheep, for instance, grow thick fur or wool to keep warm. So do the Rabbits.

Animals may find winter shelter in holes in trees or logs, under rocks or leaves, or underground. Some mice even build tunnels through the snow. To try to stay warm, animals like squirrels and mice may huddle close together.

Food is hard to find in the winter. Some animals, like squirrels, and mice, gather extra food in the fall and store it to eat later. Some, like rabbits and deer, spend winter looking for moss, twigs, bark and leaves to eat. Other animals eat different kinds of food as the seasons change.

Other ways


The puffin species have predominantly black or black and white plumage, a stocky build, and large beaks. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air they need to beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times a minute) to stay airborne (Samuele Parentella)


10.5. Water makes a good shelter for many animals. When the weather gets cold, they move to the bottom of lakes and ponds. There, frogs, turtles and many fish hide under rocks, logs or fallen leaves. They may even bury themselves in the mud. They become dormant. Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water, and the frogs and turtles can breathe by absorbing it through their skin.


References and sources

The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India by David Gordon White



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