Scent of devotion, petal by petal

Scent of devotion, petal by petal

Scent of devotion, petal by petal

Floral tribute: Garlands being readied for worship.

After an extraordinarily fortunate five-minute-long darshan of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala-Tirupathi which came after a three-hour wait in the queue, we sit down, wholly gratified but completely exhausted at a flights of steps behind the sanctum-sanctorum.
 We are inclined to make a leisurely visits to and circumambulations of the many sub-temples that surround the main deity of Venkateshwara, at this, the world’s most-visited temple. But we have an appointment with the garland-makers of Tirumala at the Garden Office of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD), a few km away.

They make for a fascinating subject, considering this temple and its surrounding ones use a staggering 250 kg of flowers and leaves everyday for worship and decoration. And all women here are told not to wear flowers in their hair since all flowers in this temple town are meant only for God!

The flower-tying ritual for the main Tirumala temple alone uses 45 fulltime staffers while another 75 employees are employed for the same work for the eight Tirupathi temples. This is the largest figure of its kind for any cluster of temples anywhere in the world. And why not! The presiding deity Venkateshwara is known as Pushpaalankarapriya or one who loves adornment with flowers, hence the humungous quantities of flowers and leaves employed.

We reach the garden office in a few minutes and are pointed out the hall where all the action happens. This hall is where the flower-tying happens for the main Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala while the Tirupathi temples down below have a different work area and separate employees for the same ritual.

  We leave our footwear at the entrance and step through a small room into a much larger one. It is a delightful mélange of richly hued flowers, leaves and roots in various stages of readiness for temple-use that we see at this hall. The air is laden with the scent of richly scented jasmine, roses and dhavanam leaves. From outside a strong breeze brings in the fresh hilly air that surrounds Thirumala. We take a deep breath and inhale these scents and balmy air with a thrill which we will never know back in our pollution-choked city.
In the far corner and below two enormous pictures of Lord Venkateshwara and his consort Padmavathi, sit four women before the flowers strewn on the floor before them, sorting out the finest specimens for creating strings of jasmines. Another dozen men sit before the various flower-and-leaf-laden tables that line both sides of the room weaving large lifesize garlands for the main idol of  Lord Venkateshwara.
These flower-specialists work deftly and with nimble fingers threading flowers and leaves, and weaving beautifully patterned garlands. Their dexterity comes from years of practice. And they all work swiftly, knowing they have to complete the job while the leaves and flowers are still fresh and fit for worship. Garland woven, they take a close look and then hold it aloft and slightly away from their faces to check its fall and tautness.

Once they are satisfied with the result, the garlands and flower-strings are then handed over to be weighed. Finally, they are carefully placed in circular piles within huge cane baskets kept ready by their tables. A TTD van will arrive into which they will be loaded and carried away to be handed over to the temple priests. The van is appropriately named Pushparadham — (flower chariot in Telugu). If there is a time-lag, however slight, the garlands are stored in a massive refrigerator attached to this hall.
Not every flower that blooms or even leaf that sprouts is considered worthy for worship. The temple has a list of flowers and leaves that alone are to be employed for decorating the deities as well as the temple walls and niches. The lists are drawn from Hindu Shastras which lay down the most auspicious varieties deemed fit for the divine. They also mention the no-nos.

Moreover, these holy texts tell us there are differences in the dos and don’ts between Shaiva and Vaishnava temples. In fact, every god and goddess in the Hindu pantheon has his or her own favourite floral(s) and this includes the Navagrahas or nine planets. Some varieties, however, find equal favour with most gods like jasmine flowers for example.

At the Shri Venkateshwara temple, there are about 20 varieties that make the cut when it comes to use in worship and decoration, informs S Srinivasulu, garden superintendent, TTD
For the main shrine, the largest quantities are used on certain festival days like Ugadi, Vaikuntha Ekadashi, Brahmotsavam (Garuda Seva day), and Pushpayaagam. The last is also the day when the maximum number of varieties is employed, a total of 18. For the Pullangi ritual which happens every Thursday evening, the Lord Venkateshwara uses no ornaments and is entirely adorned with flowers. Even his cloth dhoti or angi is substituted by one made of closely woven flowers.