It was dusk in Madurai and the sky blushed in shades of red and pink at their unexpected arrival:
The moon appeared early in the sky, like the flower woman did, below on the street. She called out for buyers for her last stock of jasmine strings. As the moonlight grew brighter in this dim street; the jasmine buds strewn in her basket, bloomed open. The flower woman packed her last sale of the day in glistening banana leaves. No sooner had she walked away, than the malligai scent, lingered behind her.
Flowers such as the Jasmine have the power to invoke such heady emotions.
Found in contemporary decor in the west, their value is beyond being table centerpieces, in South India.
In this part of the world, Malli or jasmine flowers, convey what cannot be spoken. For example, in south Indian weddings, women braid jasmine garlands in the bride’s hair. The affable gesture is associated with the family’s love and bonding for the bride.
Quite often, in south Indian weddings, floral chains of jasmine and marigold cause a riot of white and amber hues. South Indian wedding decorators love to pepper bridal homes with jasmine flowers and nobody really escapes from the intoxicating pull of these flowers.
For a region so famous for its varieties in jasmine, many South Indians, are unaware of the flower’s traditional meaning. Hindu scriptures, like the Mahabharata, have several mentions of jasmines and deem it auspicious. Since most religions in South India are porous to Hindu customs; jasmines easily assimilate as floral offerings in sacred places, like dargahs and churches too.
In South Indian churches, jasmine flowers cover the statues of Jesus and Mary, as well as the crucifix. Sometimes, worshipers wrap jasmine garlands on graves of Sufi saints and other holy men buried in dargahs.
Similarly, South India’s culinary history also incorporates the use of jasmine flowers. Many cuisines across the Deccan region, use oil extracted from jasmine flowers, in scenting teas and sherbet. Jasmine scented rice is another example: The flower’s aroma in the rice, brings a sense of sweetness and kindness which is characteristic of the South Indian spirit.
South India’s culinary and customary traditions may have captured the jasmine’s aesthetic pleasures but South India’s regional governments use the flower for monetary gains. Jasmine is a state symbol for Andhra Pradesh that supports the state’s jasmine flower cultivation. Albeit; the flower’s GI tag traces to Tamil Nadu, a state that exports jasmines to countries in the Middle East and South East Asia. On the other coast, governments in Karnataka and Kerala, endorse jasmines to promote the flower’s use in aromatherapy and Ayurveda.
Among its many traits, the jasmine flower happens to share a common identity with flower sellers, in South India.
Male flower sellers don’t share garland making techniques with the women in the flower industry. Unlike stringing jasmines, making floral garlands, requires complex training and skills. Most women sellers don’t challenge such gender-specific roles and restrict themselves to picking and selling jasmine flowers.
However, the irony isn’t lost on these flower selling women. The women jasmine sellers know that like them; the malligai has its own little purpose, in a sea of South Indian customs.