We Indians love wearing strings of flowers in our hair, when we dress in our traditional saris. If we braid our hair, then the string of flowers is pinned on top and let to flow down with the braid, if we are doing up our hair in a chignon, then the string is artistically positioned around the chignon or under it.
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The most commonly used flower to adorn the hair is the jasmine. The heavenly smell of the small and beautiful jasmine flower has to be experienced!
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Most cities and towns in India, especially in the South, have flower markets, which sell all kinds of flowers, both for hair adornment, for decoration, for gifting and for weddings (which is really big business in India).
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Jasmine strings are sold in small stalls or by women, who have big baskets with many rolls of these fresh flowers, beautifully strung together. The strings are sold by a traditional measure, called the ‘muzham‘, which means the length of the flower-seller’s arm from the finger to her elbow.
So, when we buy flowers, we ask for 2 muzhams or 3 muzhams, and it is fun to watch the flower-seller, measure the string the required number of times on her hand and then cut it.
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On closer observation, most of these women have another basket with unstrung flowers. They string these flowers together on long strings of fiber from the banana plant. These strings are pliable, but also strong. Watching these women stringing the flowers is a lot of fun. Their hands deftly place the stalks of the flower on one side of the string and rapidly turn the string around the stalk, and so on till a long string of jasmine flowers is ready.
During my childhood, it was expected that we knew how to string flowers together. My grandma was my teacher – she would take a few loose flowers and then show me how it was done. It took a while to learn the skill, as the flowers would fall away, if the string was not bound properly. With time, we learnt and could string flowers together.
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These holidays, my mother suggested to my daughter that she learn how to string flowers together. My daughter clucked her tongue in exasperation, as the flowers kept falling out. But I’m sure she will learn.
When I was growing up, I used to wonder if there was any use in learning these things, but now I realize that I want my daughter to learn these things too, which form an integral part of our culture and tradition. And they look so beautiful and smell heavenly, so why not?