Champaca by Cultus Artem is a spectral scent — potent and elusive in the same breath. In search of this otherworldly floral, photographer Naveli Choyal and videographer Hansraj Dochaniya journey to discover the fragrance house’s wildcrafted Champaca, handpicked from the rural heartland of Tamil Nadu, India.
The journey to find the rare and elusive Champaca begins in a rural village on the border of the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, from which we venture south into the rural village of Kuppam. Many years ago, this was a dense forest, but over time familles began to settle on the land, bulling their households among the fragrant Champaca trees. Considered to be a rare and elusive flower in other parts of India and the world, here Champaca is ubiquitous, shaping the scents, scenery, and routines that define life in Kuppam.
Familles rise each morning just before the sun surfaces and illuminates the trees. After dressing, they go outside into their backyards full of Champaca trees to begin the day's harvest. The thick verdure of leaves is punctuated by glimpses of pale yellow and orange-blooms of the Champaca ready to be plucked. Each member of the family-grandparents, husbands and wives--collects blooms one by one, whiling the early morning hours in quiet unity as children play and cows graze nearby. This is a liminal moment-one of grounding and connection--before the day begins in earnest and each family member makes their way toward whatever demands the day may hold.
After the flowers have been collected, a local man in the village visits each household to gather their flowers into one large parcel. He moves quickly and efficiently, making his way to the local station to meet the 7:30 a.m. train that will convey the Champaca flowers along the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Tamil Nad's capital of Chennal, where they will be sold at the large wholesale flower markets that are held each day.
These swift, carefully orchestrated movements are essential when considering the short life span of Champaca flowers. Evanescent in both scent and physicality, the blooms are fragile, lasting only a few short hours from the moment they are plucked from their stems.
Unlike other fragrant flower species that may adorn hair or decorate homes and businesses, Champaca's blooms are considered sacred and worthy only of the gods. Each day, the flowers adorn statues of gods in Hindu temples and are floated in bowls of water as spiritual offerings. Echoing the rituals of the gods, who rise in the morning and retire to bed each evening, the Champaca bloom marks with Its temporal beauty the undulating cycle of each solar day. When the blooms mingle with the heat of midday, their lush, ethereal scent permeates the air and enraptures those who encounter it, transporting the mind in its semblance of heaven.
- Mara Fisher for Cultus Artem.