A tapestry of pink and white oleander petals folded to look like rubies and pearls, dotted with twists of emerald hued ‘nochi’ leaves, and finished with a tasselled fringe of flowers! Orange ‘coral’ rose petals embedded with mogra buds. Garlands studded with tube roses, jasmine and tight rosebuds, orchid jhumkas, necklaces of ‘vasamalai’ and fern and mogra bangles… It is garland and flower jewellery all the way at Parijatam, a workshop on flower garland stringing and flower art organised by the World Craft Council, Poompuhar and the Government Museum.  It is a fragrant exercise, expressive of adornment and adoration symbolic of the cultural act of offering flowers to gods and humans and defining festive spaces and joyous rituals.

With 25 trainee participants and six traditional ‘pookaras’ from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, Parijatam brings to the fore the intricacy and innovativeness of the craft. It also establishes the pookaran as a designer artist who works with the most ephemeral of raw materials; work has to be done before the jasmine begins to wilt, the rose and oleander fade way, the tube rose turns brown or the hardy marigold droops.

For special occasions

M. Muthuperumal of Chennai comes from a paramparik family of garland makers with an experience of 50 years. “Earlier we used to string garlands only for temples. But now I make garlands and decorations for weddings and other festive occasions as well. It is hard work. We have to ensure that we get flowers and buds at the right time; folding the petals is a specialised task since they can get damaged very easily. Also, our finished product should last three days and so, needs careful handling.”

Muthuperumal’s floral designs can be seen at many local temples and weddings. “It’s about harmony and getting the technique right,” he says as he trains a group of young men in the intricacies of folding. His whole family is involved in his work.

Murugan from Coimbatore is another master artisan who makes maalais for the local Murugan temple. With an experience of 35 years, he is in great demand especially during festive and auspicious occasions. It is fascinating to watch him twist banana fibre strands into long loops and tie bunches of vasamalai with a thread. He intersperses the vaasamalai with tube roses as deftly as he embellishes his folded rose petals with mogra buds.

K. Ramu, also from Coimbatore, fashions incredibly delicate mogra venis. He has made maalais for the Tirupathi temple. “We have a free hand in mixing and matching the flowers for the gods barring the use of marigold. This is a creative craft.”

Devram from Maharashtra is a jewellery expert and creates bridal jewellery from matha tikka to paezebs. He also fashions jewellery for the deity at the local Radha Krishna temple. Devram surmounts the language barrier by talking to his trainees through the magic of his fingers as he twists the rose petals, stacks them on a long needle, and expertly alternating them with jasmine buds. A touch of zari, gold beads and pearls add glamour to his garlands and jewellery.

Seeing the response from the participants to the Parijatam flower stringing and garland making workshop, one hopes the traditional skills are passed on to Gen Next and the heritage is kept alive , and at the same time, provide employment opportunities to those skilled in the craft. Above all, this is one way of adding a touch of beauty and fragrance to our lives. How better than to say it with flowers!  

On at the Government Museum, Egmore, till January 9.