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In India, flower garlands have an important and traditional role in every social and religious festival. Hindu deities are decorated with garlands made from different fragrant flowers (often jasmine, rose, tube rose and marigold) and fragrant leaves.
Both fragrant and even non-fragrant flowers and religiously-significant leaves like Marukozhunthu, Thulasi, Vilva, Durva grass etc are used to make garlands to worship Hindu deities. Some of these flowers are as follows: jasmine, Champaka, lotus, lilies, Ashoka, nerium/oleander, chrysanthemum, roses, hibiscus, pinwheel flowers, Manoranjini etc.
In Tamilnadu, main door frame of the house is decorated with door frame garland known as Nila Maalai during a house-warming party.
Leaves and grasses like local Arugampul, Maruvakam, Davanam, Maachi, Panneer leaves and lavancha are also used for making garlands.
Sometimes even fruits, vegetables and currency notes are used for garlands, given as thanksgiving.
In Hindu weddings, the bride and groom wear a beautiful, colourful wedding garland. On other occasions, a flower garland is used to show respect and devotion to a human individual or a statue or picture of God.
In Tamil Nadu, marigold flower garlands are used only for dead bodies and last rites.
A Gajra is a flower garland which women in North India wear in their hair during traditional festivals. It is made usually of fragrant jasmine. It is worn both around a bun and in braids. Women usually wear these Gajras when they wear traditional Sarees.
In Hindu temples in ancient Tamilnadu, kings appointed people for making garlands daily for deities. Each Hindu temple in southern India has Nandavanam (heavenly flower garden) where floral plants and tree leaves for making garlands are grown.
Huge Shiva temples like Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, Thyagaraja Temple in Tiruvarur and Arunachaleswara Temple in Thiruvannamalai still preserve such Nandavanams for supply of flowers for everyday temple rituals.
Stone Inscriptions of Raja Raja Chola I at Thanjavur in Tamilnadu gives details of patronage of royals to the conservation of Nadavanams that belonged to The Big Temple ( Brihadeeshwara Temple )
In Srirangam in Tamilnadu, Sri Ranganathar temple only uses garlands made by temple Sattharars (people whose only job is to make garlands for the temple and never marry – surrendering their whole life to the service of the Lord ). No other flower garlands are used to adorn Lord Ranganatha in Srirangam temple.
Temple Sattarars have traditional rules for everything – from plucking flowers to making garlands. Some of them are as follows:
The flowers should be plucked in the early morning.
The flowers should not be smelled by anyone.
They should be plucked only after having bath.
The flowers which fall down on earth or dirt should not be used. Naamajapam or the chanting of holy names should be done while plucking flowers.
While making garlands they keep flowers and other materials on a table because the garland for God should not touch the feet. It is always kept above hip level.
Depending upon the patterns and materials used, the south Indian garlands are of different types. Some of them are as follows:
Thodutha Maalai – which means garlands made using banana tree fibers. Most of the garlands used for Hindu marriages and temple worship in southern India are made using this method.
Kortha Maalai – made using needle & thread. Jasmine, Mullai, and lotus garlands are made using this method.
The Maala for Gods has 2 free lower ends with Kunjam (bunch of flowers). Each Hindu deity has a unique garland :
Goddess Lalitha wears hibiscus garland,
Lord Vishnu wears Thulasi leaves garland,
Lord Shiva wears Bilva leaves garland,
Lord Subrahmanya wears jasmine garland,
Mahalakshmi wears red lotus,
Saraswathi Devi wears white lotus garland,
Durga Devi wears nerium oleander garland and
Vinayaka wears garland made of Durva Grass.