Life & Style

Saying it with flowers

A view of the Srirangam flower market. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

A view of the Srirangam flower market. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

Business is blooming for the flower markets in a never-ending wave in Srirangam and Tiruchi

On a hot weekday in Srirangam’s Sathara Veedhi, framed through the stone archway, is a scene that looks like something straight out of a Hollywood movie about ‘exotic’ India: stalls with rows and rows of shallow metal platters holding flowers in a merry profusion of colours. This is the street where the temple town’s flower trade has thrived for over a century.

“It’s winter time, so the white jasmine varieties malli, mullai and jaathi won’t be as commonly available as the colourful blossoms like saamanthi (chyrsanthemum) and roses,” says TSM Rangathurai, a flower commission agent who has been in the business on the street for over 25 years. He has followed his father T S Mani, the former head of the Srirangam Pushpa Vyabari Sangam (an association of flower commission agents founded in 1966) in the trade.

Open all hours

In a business that flies on just an overwhelming public demand, the sale of flowers seems to keep no real hours. The blooms, all of them picked by hand directly or with special tools, are in transit over road from the previous evening from growers within Tamil Nadu and without, timed to reach the market before sunrise the next day. Prices per kilo are fixed by consensus, with the most abundant flower being the most affordable. Trading begins by 3.30am and carries on late into the night.

Around 10 traders have their residences behind their stores on the street, making it a safe place for visitors at all hours, says Rangathurai.

A few stalls away, is the PSM Pushpa Commission Mandi, where chrysanthemums and marigolds vie for attention with blush pink and yellow roses. “We have around 100 suppliers from Hosur, Rayakottai (Krishnagiri district), Dharmapuri and so on. We also have flower farmers based in Tiruchi district who deliver their stuff on two-wheelers every day. The more exotic flowers like roses are sourced from Bengaluru. Around 1 lakh small-time flower sellers outside Srirangam come to us for their stock,” says A Raja, proprietor of the 50-year-old agency.

The profit of the previous day determines business for the next. Jasmine prices have been affected by the excessive rain this year. The jaadi poo, for instance, is selling for a steep ₹100 per 100gm.

Supply and demand

“We already have an idea about which flower is in demand before we fix the price. Some flowers like sampangi (Polianthes tuberosa) and chrysanthemum are in over-supply this year, so they are going for ₹50-60 per kg. On an auspicious day, it can go for up to ₹300 per kg,” says Raja, adding that the market sells 1 tonne of flowers on a normal day, while it goes up to five tonnes during festivals.

Garland makers at the Srirangam flower market. Photo: M.Srinath/THE HINDU

Garland makers at the Srirangam flower market. Photo: M.Srinath/THE HINDU  

The ongoing Vaikunta Ekadasi festival at the nearby Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple has added to the activity of the bustling market. Garland makers are in great demand now as custom-made floral accessories, especially the maalai to adorn deities in Vaishnavite temples, are sent from here daily to Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh for 10 days by refrigerated trucks.

Functional purpose

“People buy flowers for happy and sad occasions,” says N Mohamed Omar Farouk at the KMK Khaja Malar Mandi in Gandhi Market, that forms the heart of Tiruchi’s commercial district. At 11am, the flower stalls here are overrun by buyers, sellers and the merely curious, as prices are yelled out and the heady fragrance of sampangi mingles with that of roses. As in Srirangam, commission agents here have been awake since early morning, and each stall hopes to move most of its perishable stock by the close of day.

Garlands to go
  • Karthik has been making flower garlands in Srirangam’s Sathara Veedhi for the past 13 years, and has his hands full with orders for the various religious and matrimonial ceremonies that take place in the temple town through the year.
  • “Srirangam garlands are held in high regard by devotees of Lord Perumal, as they are made with a specific design and selection of flowers,” he says, while expertly twisting banana fibre around the blossoms into a colour-coordinated strand.
  • The Aandal maalai and Perumal maalai made here are famous, not just for religious purposes, but also for weddings. “The virichi poo (jungle geranium) and the magilam poo (Spanish cherry) are exclusive to the Tiruchi district, and are commonly used for the devotional accessories,” he says.
  • Wedding orders (for the bride and groom) usually involve sets of four garlands, which have to match the grand costumes for the big day.
  • Floral workers are contracted to supply fresh garlands daily to the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, during the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival.
  • Though their income is modest through the year, garland makers can earn up to ₹5000 per day during the Ayudha Pooja period, when demand outstrips supply, says Karthik. “We are paid according to the size and labour that a garland requires. On average, the cost for a 1.5 metre garland is from ₹400 to ₹1000, depending on the flowers used.”
  • Seasoned plantain fibre is still preferred over twine for the garlands, mainly due to religious requirements, says Karthik.
  • He’s happy that his work cannot be mechanised. “Machines produce heat that will make the flowers wilt faster. It’s better to do it all by hand,” he smiles.

“During festival time, any flower that is used to adorn the hair such as jasmine and rose, is in great demand. For funerals, the chrysanthemum is preferred by the Christian community. People buy it loose, and also as garlands. We sell the flowers for growers and claim a commission of ₹10 for every ₹100 worth of flowers sold,” he says.

Many agents in Gandhi Market have diversified into stage and room decoration to keep up with the changing customer base. Quite a few of them also maintain websites with galleries featuring pictures of their recent work.

“Besides decorating stages and bridal suites with flowers, we also create wedding accessories like sehra (flowers interwoven with beads to form a decorative screen) for the newlyweds,” says Farouk.

Smells like change

Traders in both markets agree that the reliance on high-yield crops and chemical fertilisers has changed the quality of the blooms over the years.

“People often remark that the roses and jasmines don’t have the same fragrance as before, and they are right,” says Rangathurai.

“Organic farming is not economically viable in floriculture, so we are getting to see more hybrid blooms than before. The naatu sampangi, for instance, used to be smaller, but had a stronger fragrance than the hybrid variety that has become more popular now. But buyers prefer the hybrid version, because it is bigger and can be strung in garlands more easily,” he says.

Added to this are developmental woes, which have reduced the space to do business.

The Sathara Veedhi traders wouldn’t mind moving to a bigger premises nearby, but haven’t found any support from the authorities so far on this.

On the other hand, Gandhi Market stall operators have been protesting an initiative mooted by the Corporation to shift them to a purpose-built complex in Kallikudi, a few hours away by road from the city.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 12:41:25 PM |

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