Flowers with a sweet scent are given more preference than the others, however, non-fragrant flowers are also used. The most popular flowers are jasmine and tuberose, followed by marigold, chrysanthemum, roses, and hibiscus that are used widely in the worship of gods and goddesses. Other flowers such as lotus, lily, ashoka, oleander, and manorajini are also used. Each of these flowers has a symbolism attached to them and are used in combination with each other to make garlands that fulfil different purposes. To enhance the beauty of the garland, some decorative foliage from ornamental plants such as ferns are also incorporated. It is important to note that the flowers listed here are the most commonly used, however, various other flowers such as seasonal varieties specific to a particular area may also be used in the garlands.
A cotton/nylon/silk thread is used to bind these flowers together. However, in some cases, the stem of the banana plant is also used as an alternative to thread. By pinching out the outer skin of the banana stem, it acts as a silky thread and is then used for making lei and flower garlands (especially those made of jasmine) In Madurai, usage of the banana stem for making the garland is a common practice. Since the banana stem is strong, it can hold big and heavy flowers that are used for making large, decorative garlands.
In order to make the garland more extravagant, crystal stone and decorative balls are also incorporated alongside the flowers.
In Madurai, Mattuthavani is the main flower market where a large number of flower vendors and garland weavers sell their products. Due to the bulk of flowers that is brought in every morning, the lack of dustbin bags, and sanitary facilities, this market faces a huge problem pertaining to the flower waste and its disposal.
With over 100 shops in the market and approximately 10 tonnes of flowers brought in every day, (and even more during festive occasions) the smell of the decaying flowers often overpowers the fragrant, sweet-smell of jasmine, rose and marigold. In an interview with Times of India, a rickshaw puller named Deivendran claimed that as he took tourists to the flower market, they expected to bathe in the aroma of the flowers but were instead disturbed by the rotting flowers on which they had to walk. Apart from this, many flower vendors also complain about the lack of amenities in the flower market. S. Muniyandi, a flower vendor from the market complained about how the toilets that had been constructed in the past were of no use now since they had not been maintained. He also specified that no toilets had been created for women. Apart from this, a lack of water drinking facilities in the market also posed as a great inconvenience, not only for the vendors but also for the tourists. Another vendor called R. Chandrasekar pointed out that the garbage had not been cleared for over 10 days by the municipal corporation. The potholes and huge amounts of garbage in the flower market made it inconvenient and unsanitary to the vendors, customers, and tourists.
Keeping these concerns in mind, a makeover for the Madurai flower market was initiated. The market committee in 2013, distributed 20 dustbins for biodegradable waste and 10 dustbins for non-biodegradable waste. A team of 15 members was also called upon to clean the entire premises including the toilets. Moreover, a fine of 50 rupees was issued on any violator who spilled garbage inside the market. After these efforts were made, a flower merchant named Meena expressed her gratitude, however, she also stated that the market committee must ensure that continuous and diligent measures are taken to keep the market clean. The secretary of the market committee, J Thavasu Muthu, stated that to ensure this momentum, efforts were required by all stakeholders.
The Madras High Court Bench communicated to the district administration the need to “develop the Madurai flower market as a model facility in the State, in view of the Geographical Indication tag given to the ‘Madurai Malli’ and the commercial importance on account of the said recognition.”
Various petitioners from the ‘Madurai Flower Merchants and Commission Agents Association’ stated that the lax attitude of the Madurai Marketing Committee and the Municipal Corporation had led to a neglect of the flower market and incompetent garbage disposal. Though efforts were then made by the marketing committee, AVE Kesavan, the former president of the committee stated that "It is due to the irresponsible ways of the vendors, who just throw the unused flowers without depositing them in bins. Also, as there is no coordination between the various associations at the market, the question is, who will bell the cat?" highlighting that the lack of sanitation could not be entirely blamed on the committee.
Some vendors also raised concerns about how different political affiliations with the market was creating a disparity among the associations, as a result of which, they were unable to come to a consensus.
As recent as 2019, Madurai Corporation initiated a cleaning drive in the market wherein 75 workers were deployed for cleaning purposes. One tipper truck, a tractor, an earthmover, and two autorickshaws were used to clean the market. Areas facing the issue of rainwater stagnation had also been cleared out. Apart from this, S Visakan also conducted a surprise inspection of the market wherein he found the flower vendors still making use of the banned plastic bags. As a result, a warning was issued to all flower vendors stating that they will be fined for 5000 rupees if they were found using the plastic bags again.
Therefore, despite the blame game that has taken place in the past regarding the responsibility of cleanliness of the flower market, efforts have been made by all stakeholders to bring about a change and keep this flower market clean and sanitary.
Tools & Technology
In order to make flower garlands, needles, threads/banana stem, and different varieties of flowers are used.
Flower garlands are widely used not only in Madurai but all over South India for various rituals and ceremonies.
The rice harvest festival of Onam is celebrated by all communities in South India. A part of this celebration involves the usage of flowers to make a flower carpet called ‘pokkallam’ or ‘rangoli.’ This is done to welcome the spirit of King Mahabali in whose honour Onam is celebrated. The rangoli is made by the girls at the entrance of the house and the boys help in flower collection. Different petals from different flowers are used to create a colourful design and arrangement that involves creativity and art. Petals of jasmine, rose, marigold, daisy, and kanakambara are used to make the rangoli and many times flower garlands and methi leaves are used to outline the rangoli.
Pushpanchali, also known as ‘flower offering’ has been mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita and is considered an annual even in several South Indian temples where heaps of flowers are offered to the deities.
The jasmine flower has special significance in Madurai and used for the worship of goddess Meenakshi. She is adorned with jasmine flowers every night in a ceremony that prepares her for her time with her husband, Shiva. A commonly held belief in Madurai is that the goddess and her love for the jasmine flower is the reason behind the unique variety of jasmine being found here.
Andal of Srivilliputtur, who was a devotee of Vishnu is made a special offering with one of the biggest flower garlands called Andal Malai. It is usually 8 feet long and is made up of different flowers. Many times, this flower garland is also offered to political candidates after winning elections.
Apart from these, garlands and flowers play a significant role in marriage ceremonies where a special ‘varmala’ or ‘jaimala’ is designed for the bride and groom as a symbol of love and unity. In south Indian weddings, the area above the mandap is decorated with flower drapes. Sometimes, floating flower decorations are also made on top of the mandap not only for traditional but also aesthetic purposes.
Flower garlands are also used in various other South Indian rituals that involve worship and prayer, weddings, house warming, and decoration.
For the flower market in Madurai, the process of collecting the flowers begins early in the morning around 3 am where the plucked flowers are brought in by the farmers in large sacks. The prices of these flowers are then fixed by commissioning agents. These prices fluctuate on various factors such as the flower quality, weight of the produce, day of the week, and other special events. For example, Fridays are special prayer days for goddess Meenakshi due to which the flower prices hike. After the auctioning and vending, the flowers are brought to their locations- temples, flower vendors, garland makers, and horticulturalists.
The process of making the garlands is an intricate and delicate process wherein the flowers are strung together one by one. This process can be broadly classified into two categories- first, garland making with the needle and thread, and second, garland making without needle and thread.
In the first type, the process of making the garlands involves using of a thread and needle. Multiple flower varieties are sewn together by using different needles and one common thread. This thread is strong enough to hold small as well as slightly heavy flowers.
In the second type, banana stems are used for making the flower garlands instead of the needle and thread. The artists use a folding and knotting technique that allows the flowers toget stringed together onto the banana stem. The banana stem is usually used while making big garlands that include a lot of flowers or heavy flowers.
This process of garland making varies with the different designs used for garlands. Since there are different ways of arranging the flowers in a garland, the process of making these garlands depends on the expected style and design required.