Tiruvannamalai Flower Market

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In India, flowers are used every day in many ways: for worship at temples and for home poojas, in women’s hair, and to honor people in various celebrations and rites of passage. Flowers are not so much used to decorate one’s home, though. In every Indian city you will find a flower market, just as you will find vegetable markets and fruit markets. Though we have lived in India for six years, we had never until recently visited the Tiruvannamalai flower market. We were going to visit a Western friend for a meal, and wanted to bring them something, maybe flowers, so we went to the market to see what was on offer.

What is visible from the street are a few vendors who offer flower malas, garlands of flowers.

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The flower market is on Car Street, near the Arunachaleswara Temple, close to the vegetable market.

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These malas we see at the entry to the flower market are used mainly for worship, celebrations like marriages, and honoring people. When we recently celebrated my 70th birthday and re-marriage, we were given multiple malas. One of the biggest uses of malas is for processions to the cremation grounds, where flowers are strewn in front of the highly decorated car that carries the body to be cremated. These malas will be torn apart in front of the car to pave the way.

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A variety of styles, colors and sizes is available. Reds, pinks, and yellows are most common. Green leaves are also used. Often the white flowers are some fragrant bud, maybe jasmine, that open as the malas are worn, filling the air with its heady scent.

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This man is making a mala, stringing flowers onto a cord.

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For ceremonies like a wedding, the bride will hold a flower arrangement like the one shown below.

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She will also wear a special flower arrangement in her hair. The one below is more than one meter in length and weighs several kgs.

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A shop is filled with bags and piles of various flower blossoms.

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Here is another arrangement of flowers for a bride to carry. This one has fancy variegated leaves. 

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Somehow this seems a lot like India in my mind: a pile of garbage, topped by a layer of flowers.

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I don’t think the flower market gets many Western visitors. We caused quite a stir as we walked though with our camera, taking photos. Many of the vendors offered a flower to Carol, so by the end of the visit she had a dozen blossoms to juggle while taking photos.

The man below saw what we were doing, and followed us along the way. He spoke more English than the other vendors, so I think he was ‘helping’ us.

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Some flowers (flower buds, really) are mainly used for women’s hair. These are sold to street vendors who go out through the city. They are packaged in bags, like the pink ones seen below. I think these pink buds are fairly special, I don’t see them very often in women’s hair.

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The only flowers we see that have stems, so can be used in a vase, are roses. So I guess we will get our friend some roses.

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Bags of flower heads. If you are going to have a big pooja, offering lots of flowers, you will get them at a place like this.

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Two men, showing us their wares. They sell small red roses that are fully open.  Please note how willing these men were to pose for a photo.

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I wonder if they can be used for anything besides a pooja, to toss to the god?

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Below, a man showing us his yellow mums. He has bags and bags of them. I wonder how it is that a person can specialize in open red roses, or bags of yellow mums? With India’s caste system, are these the sons of flower sellers? Did Grandfather have some special dealings with red rose growers? With India’s long history, were there flower seller stalls in cities like Madurai two thousand years ago? I often wonder at the things we see, musing to myself, “What in their life and culture brought this about?” Today I wonder about flower sellers.

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The pile of white buds will mainly go for the ropes of flowers that most local girls and women wear in their hair. 

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This is very much the wholesale center of the city’s flower business. So what we see are large quantities of various flowers. It looks like they are brought from the growers in big bags. So I guess early this morning at nearby flower farms there were people out, plucking flowers, then getting them ready for today’s flower trade. The flower business deals with perishables. Nothing lasts very long, and yesterday’s offerings and decorations must be renewed today.

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This man has piles of flowers.

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I am not sure what these are for. They are a nice pale orange and seem pretty delicate. They are the only flower that is this color.

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A man uses a balance scale to weigh out an order for a customer. These are sold by weight.

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A pile of yellow flowers mounded against a wall.

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This man does not seem to have very much to offer. But the flowers on the left are pretty special, the only ones of their kind here today.

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Bags of flowers, with a pile of roses in the upper left.

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We will remember the people more than anything. We really felt like celebrities coming through with our camera. Everyone wanted to pose for us, like the lady below. Carol has found that in India, the best way to operate is to ask permission to take a person’s photo, and then to show them the photo on the camera screen after it is taken. So after this photo was taken, Carol showed it to the lady, who, I am sure, giggled at it, pleased.

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Three flower men sitting for a photo. See our ‘guide’, now sitting the the middle of the group. He picked up some roses to show in the photo, and one of the other men followed suit.

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These men are making packages of flowers to deliver. They set out each order, then wrap it in newspaper, and bundle them all up together for delivery to the customer. In the lower left is a pile of papers, unsold ones from an earlier day. So this is one thing that happens here to old newspapers. 

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Roses and their vendors, and man and his wife, I am sure.

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Carol liked this couple so much that she came in for a close up. You can see how happy this makes the woman.

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After a while we came to a vendor that was selling very nice roses with long stems that are wrapped in white corrugated cardboard. These are the nicest thing here for cut flowers and we get some for our friend. I think they were something like, in US money, $1.50 per dozen. Below the display of roses was a basket full of different colors of dyed string.

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More open area of the market so you can see a bit of what it feels like to be here.

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Baskets and bags of flowers, more pink and white flowers for the ladies’ hair. More orange and yellow ones for poojas.

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Another photo of some of the vendors, I think another husband and wife pair. With our new friend in the center of the photo. How did that happen?

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This man is preparing his red roses for delivery. A metal basket, overfull to the top, will be poured into newspaper and wrapped up.

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This man sits proudly amidst his flowers.

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A vendor makes up an order for a woman, a retail customer, I’d guess a household order.

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We continue to explore where we live, bit by bit. So far every time we do this, we find something interesting to us, and enjoyable. Thank you for reading this, and letting us share our experiences with you.

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3 Responses to “Tiruvannamalai Flower Market”

  1. jjriddiough9 Says:

    Reblogged this on jjriddiough and commented:
    Missing the flowers! x

  2. agoyvaerts Says:

    A really lovely and informative article Richard, and beautiful photos.

  3. ghariharan Says:

    Tamil women are passionate –one might even say, obsessed– with decorating their hair braids with flowers, especially jasmine (malligai), for which Madurai is very famous. Crate loads of malligai are air-borne to markets in the middle east and even USA. Then, there is the tuberose flower, mainly from Mysore (sampige, or sampangi). Varieties of these two flowers are ever popular in south India. Recently jasmine was selling for Rs. 1000 per kilo in the Chennai market. Yellow mums are not as popular as malligai or mullai. But they are more affordable. Generously used for decoration of Gods. The dark orangish mums-like flower that is very popular all over north India for temple use, is strictly a taboo in the south, perhaps because of its pungent smell, but it is used in funeral processions. Roses are not very popular in south India, perhaps because of thier limited availability, historically speaking. Tuberose flowers are exported from Madurai to Europe, esp. France for making perfume concrete.

    The orangish, light-weight flower in string that you have wondered about in your post is called kanakambaram. It is a poor woman’s substitute for decorating her hair in place of jasmine. It retains its freshness much longer than the jasmine, but has no scent as the jasmine does.

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