Indian culture is almost incomplete without flowers. Flowers have an important value in tradition, culture and religion. Spiritually too flowers and blooms add positive effect to home and mental well being. They signify love, beauty, happiness and generosity. Give a bouquet of flowers to a patient, friend or a loved one and see that instant wide smile.
Flowers take the tears of weeping night, and give them to the
sun for the day’s delight.
From dawn to sunset it’s a hectic time for flower gatherers and sellers. Flower picking, sorting, packaging and delivering to markets and then making garlands and selling them is a long day’s process. Whether they are used for decorating homes, for festivals, weddings, adding grace to a bride’s hairdo or offerings in a temple, flowers find their way into every Indian home! In Ayurveda and medicine also flowers of Basil (Tulsi), Coriander and Jasmine are widely used. Many a Bollywood song and dance sequence are in the midst of blooms. ‘Phool khile hai gulshan gulshan’ and phool tumhe bheja hai khaat mein describe the beauty of blooming gardens and sending flowers in love letters.
A trip to Bengaluru flower market
Malleshwaram and adjacent Yeshwantapuram street markets in Bengaluru, India were buzzing at 10 am. Women vendors busy completing arranging flowers, men making garlands of 3-4 kg. each, decorating them with glitter, and customers who wanted to offer flowers to the nearby temples made for a colourful sight. This place is not near the famous KR market, which is in the heart of the city).
Thanks to my dear friends who took me and guided me with many a local story and flower name as we busied ourselves with photo taking.
Mounds of coral coloured Kanakambaram, yellow tiny petaled chamanti or crysanthemum, fragrant white malligai, pinkish white jaji malligai, petals of fragrant red roses, blossoms of orange marigolds or banti phulu and other deep purple crispy flower heads, the scene was surely a photographer’s delight! Forget the shabbily erected wooden platforms and petals strewn on the floor underneath, both men and women sellers had no time to waste looking at us with our cameras. They sensed we were not the ‘interested’ buyer!
Lakshmiamma and Narsaiiah are two such vendors who rise early at 2 am each day and buy flowers from the main market haggling for the right price of the day. Back home with heavy baskets, they begin to sort, pack and make malai for selling, along with family or others from community. By 7 am they have few baskets ready, lined with tender green banana leaves to wrap the flowers in. Off to the market, to set up shop, carrying their tiffin food. They (like other vendors) will spend much of the day sitting crouched or cross legged busy tying assorted flowers to make garlands and sell.
‘ It’s Friday today, day for praying to the Devi goddess‘ reminded my friend. Prices go up, especially for flowers used for temple offerings – like malli, kanakambaram, red hibiscus, lotus and Tulsi These flowers are associated with Indian Gods and Goddesses ( mind you, there are hundred different ones!) but Lakshmi, Vishnu, Saraswati, Kanak Durga and Maa Kali to name a few.
Flower garlands for temples and weddings
We watched a group of men working fast and concentrated on stringing white tuberose flowers. They inserted a long needle into the tubular end towards making a huge garland. To make it circular, each time 8 flowers were stranded diagonally. After measuring about 3 inches in height, they would then add 1-2 inches of rose flowers and folded assorted green leaves for a colour change. A garland would take 2 people about 4 hours and would weigh between 2-5 kg. Sold at Rs. 500 to Rs. 800 per piece, depending upon the weight and type of flowers the garlands are truly works of creativity, besides being a photgrapher’s or artists delight.
Next stall a vendor delightfully called us to see specially crafted small ‘veni’ or malai made with tightly closed white buds. These veni are specially given to married women and young brides to decorate their hairdo’s on festive occasions. Extra thoughtful touch of this street artist to tie the buds in coloured threads of blue, green and red to match the wearer’s traditional saree. Sold at Rs. 70 each,for a small piece, they were special.
”Çome, come”….waved another vendor, eager for us to take some exotic photos. Bright pink rose petals tied tightly to form a long pendular piece and finished off with rolled tubular green leaves.’Where did you learn this?’I inquired. “From my father came the reply, I used to sit with him after school hours, now I own this business.”
Such artists find work ONLY if there is a customer! And exotic garlands and bouquets of flowers do not come cheap, and depend on the climate and season.
The traditional ever fragrant malligai malai was in circular mounds, flowers came from Belgaum or far away Madurai, world famous for these flowers. ( Even BBC travel magazine has an article dedicated to it.) Each ‘more’ or hand length sold for about Rs. 30, price adjusted higher for the festivals and puja season. These fragrant white jasmine strings are most popular with women. At times they are interspersed with rose petals, orange buds or green fragrant marjoram leaves to give a colourful twist.
Not just flowers, but tender coconut leaves are crafted into Thoran used to decorate doors, a wedding dias or mandap and temple gateways. Deft hands and time tested experience is required to be able to source the best leaves and twist them as needed. ( I’ve seen elaborate similar craft in S.E. Asia, especially in Bali for temple decorations).
This write up just cannot be complete without the highlight of our outing. Saving the best to the last!
There was a (trained) Indian bull commonly called Kole Basava parading the busy street, and his care taker played tunes on his pipani or shehnai. The bull was adorned with embellishments, trinkets and ankle bells and clothes, donated by people in exchange of blessings. Strings of colourful flowers- red, roses, yellow crysanthemums, white jasmine were tied around his neck and horns, the simplicity and purity of flowers was Mother Nature’s best way to decorate the animal.
We took lots of photos with this ‘special’ animal, as the Kole Basava or Gangi Reddu ( as called in Andhra) visits homes and market people only around Sankranti festival. The caretaker played some old traditional tune for us on his pipani, in exchange for some alms. The Kole Basava are a surviving folk art form, and the community lives on alms. The bull is taken from village to village, house to house and they collect and survive on the donated grain and clothing. The bull is much revered to date, as people seek his blessings.
At the end of our visit it was time to tuck some fresh malligai into my hair known for its natural perfume. The trip however would be incomplete without the traditional Udipi dosa and filter kapi. Rightly so, it was the next stop.
Do tell us if you have visited a flower market and what did you see there ? Or leave your comments on this article if it has interested you.
For another flower market see here.