Alphonse DeCandolle considered it probable that the mango could be included among the fruits which have been cultivated by man for 4000 years. Its prominence in Hindu mythology and religious observance leaves no doubt as to its antiquity, while its economic importance in ancient times is suggested by one of the Sanskrit names, am, which has an alternative meaning of provisions or victuals.
Dymock, Warden, and Hooper (Pharmacographia Indica) give the following resume of its position in the intellectual life of the Hindus:
"The mango, in Sanskrit Amra, Chuta and Sahakara, is said to be a transformation of Prajapati (lord of creatures), an epithet in the Veda originally applied to Savitri, Soma, Tvashtri, Hirangagarbha, Indra, and Agni, but afterwards the name of a separate god presiding over procreation. (Manu. xii, 121.) In more recent hymns and Brahmanas Prajapati is identified with the universe.
"The tree provides one of the pancha-pallava or aggregate of five sprigs used in Hindu ceremonial, and its flowers are used in Shiva worship on the Shivaratri. It is also a favorite of the Indian poets. The flower is invoked in the sixth act of Sakuntala as one of the five arrows of Kamadeva. In the travels of the Buddhist pilgrims Fah-hien and Sung-yun (translated by Beal) a mango grove (Amravana) is mentioned which was presented by Amradarika to Buddha in order that he might use it as a place of repose. This Amradarika, a kind of Buddhic Magdalen, was the daughter of the mango tree. In the Indian story of Surya Bai (see Cox, Myth. of the Arian Nations) the daughter of the sun is represented as persecuted by a sorceress, to escape from whom she became a golden Lotus. The king fell in love with the flower, which was then burnt by the sorceress. From its ashes grew a mango tree, and the king fell in love first with its flower, and then with its fruit; when ripe the fruit fell to the ground, and from it emerged the daughter of the sun (Surya Bai), who was recognized by the prince as his long lost wife."
When introduced into regions where climatic conditions are favorable, the mango rapidly becomes naturalized and takes on the appearance of a wild plant. This fact, together with the long period of time during which it has been cultivated throughout India, makes it difficult to determine the original home of the species.
Sir Joseph Hooker (Flora of British India) considered the mango to be indigenous in the tropical Himalayan region, from Kumaon to the Bhutan hills and the valleys of Behar, the Khasia mountains, Burma, Oudh, and the Western peninsula from Kandeish southwards. He adds, "It is difficult to say whether so common a tree is wild or not in a given locality, but there seems to be little doubt that it is indigenous in the localities enumerated." Dietrich Brandis (Indian Trees) says it is indigenous in Burma, the Western Ghats, in the Khasia hills, Sikkim, and in the ravines of the Satpuras. R. S. Hole, of the Imperial Forest Research Institute at Dehra Dun, considers that the so-called wild mangos which are found in many parts of India are mostly forms escaped from cultivation, as shown by the fact that they are always near streams or foot-paths in the jungle, where seeds have been thrown by passing natives.
Alphonse DeCandolle says: "It is impossible to doubt that it is a native of the south of Asia and of the Malay Archipelago, when we see the multitude of varieties cultivated in those countries, the number of ancient names, in particular a Sanskrit name, its abundance in the gardens of Bengal, of the Dek-kan peninsula, and of Ceylon, even in Rheede's time. . . . The true mango is indicated by modern authors as wild in the forests of Ceylon, the regions at the base of the Himalayas, especially towards the east, in Arracan, Pegu, and the Andaman Isles. Miquel does not mention it as wild in any of the islands of the Malay Archipelago. In spite of its growing in Ceylon, and the indications, less positive certainly, of Sir Joseph Hooker in the Flora of British India, the species is probably rare or only naturalized in the Indian peninsula."
Most species of Mangifera are natives of the Malayan region. Sumatra in particular is the home of several. While it is known that the mango has been cultivated in western India since a remote day, and we find it to-day naturalized in many places, it seems probable that its native home is to be sought in eastern India, Assam, Burma, or possibly farther in the Malayan region.
The Chinese traveler Hwen T'sang, who visited Hindustan between 632 and 645 a.d., was the first person, so far as known, to bring the mango to the notice of the outside world. He speaks of it as an-mo-lo, which Yule and Burnell consider a phonetization of the Sanskrit name amra. Several centuries later, in 1328, Friar Jordanus, who had visited the Konkan and learned to appreciate the progenitors of the Goa and Bombay mangos, wrote, "There is another tree which bears a fruit the size of a large plum, which they call aniba." He found it "sweet and pleasant." The common name which he used is a variation of the north Indian am or amba. Six years later (1334) Ibn Batuta wrote that "the mango tree ('anba) resembles an orange tree, but is larger and more leafy; no other tree gives so much shade." John de Marignolli, in 1349, says, "They also have another tree called amburan, having a fruit of excellent fragrance and flavor, somewhat like a peach." Var-thema, in 1510, mentioned the mango briefly, using the name amba. Sultan Baber, who wrote in 1526, is the first to distinguish between choice and inferior varieties. He says, "Of the vegetable productions peculiar to Hindustan one is the mango, (ambeh). . . . Such mangos as are good are excellent."
The island of Ormuz, in the mouth of the Persian Gulf, was settled in early days by the Portuguese and became one of the great emporiums of the East. Garcia de Orta, a Portuguese from Goa, wrote in 1563 that the mangos of Ormuz were the finest in the Orient, surpassing those of India. It is probable, however, that the mangos known at Ormuz were not grown on the island itself, since it has very little arable land and water is exceedingly scarce. The Cronica dos Reys Dormuz (1569) says that mangos were brought to Ormuz from Arabia and Persia. Later, in 1622, P. della Valle speaks of the mangos grown on the Persian mainland at Minao, only a few miles from Ormuz.