Making of Flower Garlands
Flowers play a central role in Hindu religious and cultural practices, and significant life events. Whether in temples or at home, flower garlands are frequently used in worship, which is also known as puja (“worship” in Sanskrit). Garlands of various flowers and leaves are offered to deities and adorn their statues or images. In other religious, cultural and secular functions, flower garlands are used for decorative purposes and also presented to people as a sign of blessing and honour.
The craft of making flower garlands originated in the Indian subcontinent and has spread throughout the world with the Indian – particularly Hindu – diaspora. In Singapore, flower garlands and other puja items are often sold near Hindu temples or at designated areas within temple premises. Besides the five-foot-ways of Little India, there are also flower garland makers in heartland neighbourhoods across the island.
The making and use of flower garlands are primarily associated with the Hindu community in Singapore. Apart from rituals and worship, flower garlands are used in festivals like Pongal and Deepavali, as well as significant life events such as weddings.
Associated Social and Cultural Practices
In puja, the draping of flower garlands on the deity’s image represents the devotee’s obeisance and piety. For garlands used in religious worship, flowers and leaves are selected according to their characteristics and properties. Although there are no restrictions on the type of flowers used in these celebrations, popular fragrant varieties would include jasmine, rose, tuberose, and chrysanthemum.
Apart from flowers, leaves and grasses are also used to make garlands for deities. For example, tulasi (holy basil) is the preferred offering for Krishna and Vishnu, vilvam (bael) for Shiva, arugampul (Bermuda grass) for Ganesha, and neem leaves for Mariamman. On the other hand, orchids, due to their colour and relatively neutral scent, are the preferred flowers used in garlands for secular events. After the puja, the flowers used are considered as prasadam (divine substance) and are distributed to devotees.
Hindus may also don flower garlands in other religious functions and festivals, such as Deepavali and Pongal. For instance, kavadi bearers and devotees sometimes wear garlands during the street processions of Thaipusam and Panguni Uthiram. At a Tamil Hindu wedding, the couple exchanges flower garlands as a sign of union and mutual trust.
Garlands are made not only to adorn deities and individuals; they are also used to beautify the spaces and objects. On special occasions, the frame of the main entrance of homes may be decorated with a thoranam (a garland usually comprising mango leaves and flowers) as a symbol to welcome auspiciousness. In accordance with traditional Indian customs, initiation ceremonies and commencement of new activities – be it a rite of passage, acquisition of new vehicles and homes, or opening of new businesses – are often graced by the use of garlands.
Since the flowers to be offered in puja must be fresh, unsold flowers are properly discarded so that they “return” to nature, such as disposing them at the base of a tree or in a flower compost. The perishable nature of a garland is indicative of the fragility of human sentiments. Nonetheless, despite their short-lived lifespan, garlands remain a medium to express sentiments of purity, honour, goodwill, love, and beauty.
Experience of a Practitioner
Mr R. Jayaselvam opened his shop, Anushia Flower Shop, in Little India in 1994. A self-taught flower garland maker, Mr Jayaselvam would often talk to his trade counterparts in Tamil Nadu to broaden his knowledge in the craft. In addition to his spiritual commitment as a practising Hindu, he is not only glad to support the religious life of the local Hindu community by making flower garlands, but also to contribute to the cultural diversity of Singapore. Nevertheless, he is worried of the future of the craft in Singapore. Few, if any, from the younger generation are willing to pick up the necessary skills and knowledge to become flower garland makers. Mr Jayaselvam also thinks that the influx of imported pre-packed garlands in the market may further endanger the local flower garland making industry.
The demand for flower garlands remains high in Singapore, particularly during Hindu religious festive periods. While there are concerns about the declining industry, some entrepreneurial business owners – including Mr Jayaselvam – have made attempts to stay current by bringing their flower garland making businesses onto digital platforms.
Reference No.: ICH-093
Date of Inclusion:November 2020
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