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garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Spring running lightly all over the world

In the two-thousand-year-old Sanskrit epic poem Ramayana, Hanuman the monkey god encourages a group of bears to join him in a Wine Forest. Soon the animals are drunk, “a mob of bears bristly with glee, … singing and imitating birds and thumping their feet on the ground.” When challenged by the guard in the Forest, Hanuman himself “whizzed out of the bushes. He had orange-petaled flowers and red berries, vines and blue-green leaves and buds stuck all over his white fur. He looked like Spring running lightly all over the world.”

Flowers such as those stuck to the monkey god’s fur have for millennia played a highly significant role in Indian life – used for festivals, rituals, weddings, temple offerings and all sorts of other religious and cultural displays. Above is a 2011 recreation of the Ramayana in Rajasthan, for instance, complete with flowers and feathers and the little red face of Hanuman to the left.

Last week we visited the flower market in Kolkata, in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. It was the day after Holi, the festival of colours, when vast amounts of flowers are ground into powder to colour water and pastes that people apply to each other in a mad, joyous celebration of Spring and love. So we feared the flower farmers may have rather exhausted their supplies and, indeed, were told that the market was smaller and more subdued than usual.

Yet it was still a jostling, hectic mass of sellers. We squeezed unheeded between and among them, surrounded by streamers and colours and haggling. Although this is a wholesale market, it still felt fairly small-scale and personal. Indeed it is only in the past two decades or so that flowers have really been grown commercially in India.

Kolkata flower market7

West Bengal may be the country’s largest producer of cut flowers (those sold with their stems, for bouquets), but their presence in the market was still dwarfed by the amount of traditional loose flowers on sale – bags and boxes of flower buds and flower heads of marigold, chrysanthemum, tuberose and hibiscus. It is these that are used as hair decorations and made up into countless garlands and streamers for all those festivals and celebrations.

Kolkata flower market 5

Our time in India is coming to an end, and this mix of colour and ritual is one of the things we shall miss most, that sense of it being always like Spring running lightly all over the world.

Kolkata flower market 2

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8 comments on “Spring running lightly all over the world

  1. Of Gardens
    March 14, 2015

    I wish I had been there – the flower garlands were one of the things Ioved best about India. I do love a flower market, so can only envy you this experience.

  2. usjapanesegardens
    March 15, 2015

    truly lovely…thanks for all the photos

  3. hunnybunny14
    March 16, 2015

    Lovely post, lovely colours. We will have to have a Holi festival when you get home. Throwing paint over Mike might appeal to Elin!

    • landscapelover
      March 16, 2015

      Yes I understand Holi has become rather popular in the UK. Being wet-through with paint is quite fun in Delhi, where the temperatures in early March are typically high 20s. I guess it’s more of a challenge back home when it’s still doggedly in single digits!

  4. catherine
    March 16, 2015

    Thank you for taking me back to the colour and crazy, crowded joy of an Indian market. During our trip in Rajasthan last year we saw so many marigold garlands but so few fields of them growing anywhere. We couldn’t work out where they’d all come from but it seems it’s still very much a cottage rather than big commercial industry.

    • landscapelover
      March 16, 2015

      Catherine, yes you don’t often see big fields of flowers, even in the southern and eastern states, where most of the flowers are grown. It is amazing to me that until about 20 years ago flowers weren’t really grown commercially at all in India. Everyone I guess had their own patch or their own family, friends and neighbours who supplied them. But of course the climate in much of India is perfect for quick, reliable production of flowers pretty much all year.

  5. Matt
    March 17, 2015

    Great post and the pictures were awesome, love all the cut flowers I wish we had a Holi fest in my neck of the woods.

  6. Lula
    March 18, 2015

    I really love your images about all-color-flowers, cut flowers, garlands, buds for hair arrangements … I cannot have enough of colors from India. I guess you are going to miss many things. Thanks for your comment in my blog, well, life now it’s going to be between London and Madrid (Spain), interesting! I’ll email you with news about Blanc’s vertical garden in Madrid, they have replanted on area but in general is thriving. Are you going back to UK?

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This entry was posted on March 13, 2015 by in India and tagged , , , , .

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