Marigold Madness

Words by
Richard Unsworth
| December 18, 2013

If you think we do flowers well here when we tie the knot, you should see how they do it in India. It’s not only about the brides’ flowers, it’s about decorating the entire bridal party, the building and every single guest. And Indians seem to invite A LOT of guests!

The humble marigold is a definite favourite for two reasons; their holy saffron colour and their longevity. Whole buildings are festooned with their strands, their staying power making up for their lack of scent. Personal malas, the string of blooms worn by bride, groom, and guests around their necks, incorporate more fragrant flowers, roses being a particular favourite.

Not only particular to weddings, flowers are central to many celebrations in India. Daily devotional fresh specimens are left at pujas and shrines as an offering to one of the many Hindu gods (my favourite is Ganesh the remover of obstacles, he can work miracles that one).  The blooms stand out as godly symbols of purity, simplicity, and hope amongst the dust, polluted air and rubbish-strewn streets.

I’m a big fan of train travel in India, it feels so old-school and adventurous.  A few years ago I was travelling with my brother on an overnight train from Jaipur to Delhi which pulled in at about 5am.  Bleary eyed, sleep deprived and a little dusty we took an auto rickshaw to our digs near the grandly named Connaught Place (believe me it was most certainly not grand!)

Unable to check into our hotel for a few hours we set off just to stretch our stiff legs and happened to stumble upon the city’s central flower market.  What a find after a long sleepless night! I love visiting Sydney’s flower-market at Flemington, however the Delhi flower market was a completely different ballgame. Enchanted, we walked between the hundreds of individual merchants vying for business.  Grouped together by plant species, it was a sea of massed colours and heavenly scents as far as the eye could see

I distinctly remember huge swags of fragrant tuberoses garlands all hand sewn onto cotton threads, proudly displayed by beaming vendors.  Mostly the flowers were traditional – dahlias, pinks, chrysanthemums and roses of all kinds and colours.  Their take on the contemporary wasn’t particularly good- dyed orchids in radioactive glowing blues and purples and lots of gaudy gerberas.

My strongest memory of scent unfortunately wasn’t from the blooms themselves but the overpowering smell of ammonia when we inadvertently walked past the market’s makeshift urinal. Hardly pleasant but it did make me laugh, as it was such an Indian pendulum-swinging sensory experience – one minute enthralled by a heady floral scent, the next a little nauseated by stale pee.  Lovely.

This festive season grab some string, a big darning needle, some blooms and make malas for your loved ones, but most importantly always remember to flush the toilet after use.