A garland is a decorative wreath or cord (typically used at festive occasions) which can be hung round a person’s neck or on inanimate objects like Christmas trees. Originally garlands were made of flowers or leaves.
In India, where flower garlands have an important and traditional role in every festival, Hindu deities are decorated with garlands made from different fragrant flowers (often jasmine) and leaves. Both fragrant and non-fragrant flowers and religiously-significant leaves are used to make garlands to worship Hindu deities. Some of those flowers are as follows:jasmine, champaka, lotus, lilies, ashoka, nerium/oleander,chrysanthemum, roses, hibiscus, pinwheel flowers, manoranjini etc.Apart from these, leaves and grasses like arugampul,maruvakam,davanam, maachi, paneer leaves, lavancha are also used for making garlands. Also fruit, vegetables and sometimes even currency notes are used for garlands, given as thanksgiving. Also in wedding the couple wears a wedding garland. In other occasions, it is used to show respect to an individual person or statue (murti).In Tamil Nadu marigold, nitya kalyani flower garlands are used only for dead bodies or burial rituals.In functions, garlands are used to denote the main person(host).
A Gajra is a flower garland which women in India and Bangladesh wear in their hair during traditional festivals. It is made usually of jasmine. It can be worn both around a bun and in braids. Women usually wear these when they wear sarees. Sometimes, they are pinned in hair with other flowers, like roses.
In Tamil Nadu temples (ancient) kings appointed people for making garlands daily for a particular deity. They were not allowed to sell that garland. Each Hindu temple in southern India has nandavanam (flower garden) where floral plants, trees for garlands are grown. Huge Shiva temples like Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, Thyagaraja Temple, Tiruvarur and Arunachaleswara Temple, Thiruvannamalai still preserves such Nandavanams for supply of flowers for everyday rituals. Stone Inscriptions of Raja Raja Chola I at Thanjavur gives details of patronage of royals to the conservation of Nadavanams that belongs to The Big Temple.
In Srirangam Ranganathar temple only garlands made by temple sattharars (people who make garlands and never marry – surrendering their life to the lord’s service) are used to adorn Lord Ranganatha. No other garlands, flowers are used there. Sattarars have traditional rules for everything – from plucking the flower to making garlands. Some of them are as follows:
- The flowers should be plucked in early morning.
- The flowers should not be smelled by anyone.
- They should be plucked only after having bath.
- The flowers which fell down on earth or dirt should not be used.
- Namajapam or the repetition 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 pattern and materials used the south Indian garlands are of different types. Some of them are as follows:
- Thodutha maalai – which means garland made using fiber (usually banana tree fibers (vaazhainaar)) is used. Most of the garlands used for marriage, Gods are made using this method. It ranges in length from 1 1/2 feet to 12 feet and has a thickness from 2 inches to 3/4 feet in diameter. In all Hindu marriages the bride and bridegroom exchange garlands three times.
- 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), i.e. only the upper two ends are joined and the lower ends should not be not joined. It has two kunjams. Whereas garlands for humans have both lower ends joined together (only one kunjam).
Each Hindu deity has a unique garland: Goddess Lalitha wears hibiscus garland, Lord Vishnu wears tulasi leaves garland, Lord Shiva wears Bilvga leaves garland, Lord Subrahmanya wears jasmine garland, Mahalakshmi wears red lotus, Saraswathi devi wears a white lotus garland. Durga Devi wears nerium oleander garland, Vinayaka wears garland made of Durva Grass.