Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jasmine-Scented Chennai

Few things are more symbolic and representative of Tamil Nadu than its temples and prolific use of jasmine. This fragrant white flower permeates all of Tamil society. Nearly every street corner has a woman busily stringing together these white buds. From festivities to paying homage, inside temples as well as adorning the virgin Mary, and secured to the braided black hair, the simple jasmine flower can be found. Its life span with maximum fragrance is around 24 hours, requiring a quick turnaround from plucking to customer.

The main source of flowers headed to the main Chennai market of Koyembedu comes from Periapalayam, Oothukottai, Arni, Vengal, Chengalapattu, Madurantakam, and Tiruvannamalai. (Some day I'd love to visit a jasmine farm in one of these towns). A smaller market for jasmine is found in Parry's Corner. These markets are particularly popular with women, who then string them into garlands sold by the mozham, the length between the elbow and fingertips. At about 4AM, the first of the flowers arrive. These early batches command the highest prices. As the day wanes, so does the price. Scent factories have begun purchasing jasmine in bulk during the late afternoon hours, reducing waste and benefitting the farmers. Irregardless of the price, most regular customers wouldn't do without their daily purchase of jasmine. 

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