Madurai: Flowers hold a special place in Indian culture as they are intrinsic to many customs and rituals. From birth to death, flowers adorn our lives. Jasmine, which is associated with love and romance, is mentioned in old Hindu scriptures and ancient works like 'the Mahabharata' and 'Kamasutra'. Madurai Malli, as the jasmine from the ancient temple town is known, is famed for its fragrance. “To be overcome by the fragrance of the flower is a delectable form of defeat," Beverley Nichols had said and Madurai jasmine has such a captivating fragrance.
Madurai jasmine plays a key role in Tamil Nadu culture and economy. The sacred flower has a unique link with Madurai dating back to 300 B.C., or even earlier. One of the Tamil poems of that period sings of King Pari, who gifted his royal chariot to the jasmine plant which was creeping on the rough forest land. Another mythological story says Parthan, the King of Ayodhya, became “Malleeswaran” after he worshipped Lord Shiva in a forest filled with jasmine creepers.
“Madurai jasmine symbolises ancient Tamil tradition and is regarded as one of the few remnants of our cultural past. It has a great demand among the Indian Diaspora in places such as Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai and also in Western Europe, especially France," said Karthikeyan, an exporter here.
To meet the enduring demand for the flower for varied uses, jasmine is cultivated across 1,200 hectares in the eponymous Tamil Nadu district alone. Madurai is its production and trade hub owing to the age-old popularity of this flower variety.
At the Madurai flower market, the small white flowers conquer the customers with its pleasant fragrance and brisk trade goes on. The queen of scent starts her journey every day early in the morning as garlands to be adorned on deities at temples as well as in homes and shops. It is available in several forms based on the weaving pattern as ‘uruttu kattu,’ ‘pattai kattu,’ ‘kadhambam,’ ‘maalai’, ‘thirumbipaar etc. Madurai jasmine is widely used for weaving garlands and its extract is used in the making of perfumes, soaps and lotion. It is also used as a flavouring agent for rice known as malli rice.
About 1 ton of the flower is required to extract 1 kg of jasmine concentrate which sells at around Rs 1 lakh.
Unlike the other places, the jasmine plucked from the farms in Madurai bears a thick fragrance and bulky petals. The colour and the fragrance of the flower stay intact for two days due to its thick petal because of delayed flowering period (anthesis). Due to the topography of the region, alkaloids like ‘jamone’ and ‘alpha-terpineol’ accumulate in the flowers, resulting in the heady fragrance. Moist, well-drained, sandy loam soil in Madurai is ideal for jasmine cultivation. Tonnes of jasmines are produced by jasmine farmers here every year, though the prices vary from Rs 60 per kg during high production months of Chithirai and Aadi (April to July) to Rs 700 during winter months (November-February) corresponding to Karthikai and Maasi on the Tamil calendar.
There are a few private factories, which extract the scent from this flower, but none of them is in the vicinity of jasmine farms in Madurai. Farmers say that a scent factory situated close to their farms will help them get a stable price.