As soon as I took the picture for this blogpost, I took my lovely malle mala (jasmine string) off my jasmine plant and clipped it to my hair. Tying these lovely fragrant malle (also called mograw) flowers into a string and wearing them is a favorite ritual for my summer evenings. It reminds me of childhood and reminds me of everything fun about the summer season. It used to be a daily indulgence for me while growing up until the summer I became a medical intern when I could no longer go back home for summer and I had to give up many of my favorite activities (more on that at another time).
More than a decade later when I moved into my own independent house, I started looking for a jasmine plant. My research on this topic revealed that the scientific name of the plant is Jasminum sambac. It’s called Arabian jasmine in English and there are at least 20-30 varieties of jasmine with different shapes of flowers. While some varieties grow as creepers, most of them grow as an evergreen shrub that 4-5 feet tall. The flowers typically have a short thin green stem and a single row of 6-8 oval white petals. There are thicker varieties with two or three rows of petals –Maid of Orleans, Mysore malle, Belle of India, and Arabian nights. The thickest bulbous variety is almost like a small rose, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. There is a Thai hybrid variety called Mali chat which has several tiers of petals and they are great for making leis. There are also the varieties with long slender green stalks and thin white elongated petals – Jasminum multiflorum, and the wild jasmine, Jasminum angustifolium. I did not know that jasmine is called sampaguita in the Philippines and that it is their national flower!
The flowers also remind me of the hustling and bustling Indian street side where they are sold loose or as strings in wicker baskets, along with other flowers, fruits and vegetables. In our family, whoever stepped out of the house in the evening had the responsibility of buying at least a moora (a cubit length) of malle mala (jasmine string) or a chataku (an old Indian measure; 58 grams) of loose flowers. Of course, you buy a lot more when there is a festival or a wedding or a celebration of any kind. Each moora used to cost about 1 rupee when I was growing up and it costs more than 25 rupees now. These flowers drive a significant part of the economy in South India and they are the livelihood for many. About ten years ago when I was in Hyderabad during summer, I was happily surprised to see many flower sellers carry cell phones and not come down on the price! They are in great demand for weddings where the florists use them for very elaborate and intricate designs and decorations. The same decorations would cost a fortune in the US, even if the flowers were to be available! For right now, I will enjoy wearing my lovely smelling, pretty flowers!
More info on jasmine plants at: https://toptropicals.com/html/toptropicals/articles/shrubs/jasminum_sambac.htm