Razy Shah | May 13, 2015
Have you ever wondered why Indian women wear jasmine flowers in their hair? Ever been curious about the meaning behind the huge flower garlands given to important people at an event?
Garlands and the act of garlanding are deeply rooted in Indian culture. They can take the form of a gajra, which females used as a floral decoration for their hair, or as religious symbols to honour gods or even as a symbol of respect to a distinguished guest.
Read on to discover how flower garlands feature in Indian culture in our ultimate guide to Indian garlands!
We all love flowers. We are drawn to their attractive colours and their wonderful fragrances. We have woven them, strung them and infused meaning to all their aspects. The Hawaiians have their lei garlands. The Thais have their malai, but Indian culture goes a step ahead and uses garlands beyond just gifts and mere decorations.
Varmala is a tradition from ancient times where a beautiful garland of flowers symbolizes a proposal of marriage. In times gone by, once a girl attained a marriageable age, she would follow the tradition of Swayamvar. She would choose her life partner from a group of suitors by placing a flower garland around the neck of her chosen man. Once the girl had made her choice, a marriage ceremony would be held right away.
The tradition of garlanding is one of the many rites in an Indian wedding. When the groom garlands his wife, it is believed he bestows half of his spiritual energy on her. Likewise when the bride garlands the groom, she similarly shares her spiritual energy with him. This exchange is said to mean the couple will uphold one another as gods in their heart and respect each other. This bestowing of spiritual energies ultimately symbolizes the union of two souls in marriage.
Often used as a mark of respect for the groom, the money garland signifies that money has no value compared to the prized groom. They are unique to Indian weddings and almost always seem to be for the groom. Considering the amount of jewellery an Indian bride has to wear, she’s probably relieved that this does’t go around her neck too!
The gajra is a time honoured Indian tradition. Adorning the hair of the Indian lady, traditionally gajras are made from or contain jasmines as they are regarded as the most beautiful and fragrant of India’s native flowers. The most common reason that this custom exists is that it represents auspiciousness and prosperity. However, it is likely that it started off as a way of natural perfuming the hair as the scent of jasmine releases feel-good chemicals in the brain! Who needs chemicals when a gajra can do all the work!
In Indian culture, flower garlands are used as a symbol of respect and are frequently used in the temples to adorn the statues of their deities. Although any flower can be used for worshipping any God, it is often believed that each God has His or Her own favorite flower and using them will bestow favor more easily.
Flowers and flower garlands are an important part of puja (worship) – both at the home and in temples. You are unlikely to find an image of a God at any altar to be without flowers. In fact the word puja is derived from the Dravidian word pu meaning flowers (Fact Source)
Betel leaf garlands and Neem leaf garlands are the two common leaf garlands used in worship. The betel leaf garlands are offered to the Hindu deities after making a food offering as these leaves are known to aid digestion.
Neem leaf garlands are offered to the female goddesses namely Kali and Durga. The Goddess Kali is associated with healing and protection against negative energy. Since Neem is an important medicinal plant that is known for its healing properties, its only natural for it to be associated with Kali.
The Grass Garland is unique for the elephant god, Ganesha. Ganesha is the deity for being the clearer of obstacles.
The Lime Garland is offered to the Goddess Durga. The goddess is worshipped to ward off evil spirits. Since lime is believed to help remove evil spirits, the lime garland is associated to Durga and offered to her during worship.
Garlands are used to honour guests when they arrive. Indian culture believes in saying “Athithi Devo Bhava”, meaning “Guest is God”. Since the Gods are honoured with flower garlands, likewise flower garlands are used to welcome the guests. This can be seen whenever foreign dignitaries arrive in India. The guest of honour at an Indian event is always garlanded.
Whether found in your hair, around your neck or given as a offering, being around flowers is sure to bring a smile to your face and the Indians sure discovered the secret to constantly making that happen!
Note: Thank you to Rohan Mishra Photography for generously sharing their amazing pictures with us.
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