Kerala farmer Ashokan shares how he grows the GI-tagged Udupi mallige, a type of jasmine that is famously used during weddings and at temples during festivals.
The seemingly nondescript town of Shankarapura has been, for the last 100 years or so, a major cultivator of a peculiar type of jasmine — the Udupi mallige.
It is said that this GI-tagged variety was first cultivated by the Christian community in the town. Today, it is hard to find an auspicious ceremony or festival in South India where the jasmine does not feature.
The country’s southern region is replete with jasmine farmers, owing to its unending demand. Unlike other flowers whose prices fall during off-season, jasmine is eternal in the stable income it generates for its cultivators.
When Ashokan K K, resident of Kasargod, visited Udupi in 1999, he was introduced to Udupi mallige for the first time. Having been a farming labourer for about 10 years, he decided to bring home a sapling to adorn his home garden.
“My grandfather was a farmer and had many stories to tell about this flower, which grows abundantly in Karnataka. Other than sight seeing, getting a healthy mallige sapling was also my aim of visiting Udupi,” says Ashokan.
He notes that the flower grew rapidly in his garden. Within six months, he had harvested a handful of mallige that his wife Shailaja turned into a garland.
“I have about 25 cents of land around my house. I understood that this flower would grow well in the soil here. After conducting a small market study, I realised that the mallige garlands cost up to Rs 1,000/metre. My wife and I decided to grow jasmine alongside the vegetables we had already been growing, and sell them as garlands. In 2000, we began planting more saplings to make a small jasmine farm,” he tells The Better India.
While there are several varieties of jasmine, the three most popular are the Mysore mallige (jasminum trifoliatum) from Mandya district, Hadagalli mallige (jasminum azoricum) from Bellary district, and Udupi mallige (jasminum sambac) from Shankarapura.
Of the three, Udupi mallige is the most expensive, costing around Rs 1,500/atti (cluster). This type of jasmine earned the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2013.
Even today, almost all households in Shankarapura depend on jasmine cultivation and garland making for their livelihood. Their major markets are wedding parties, temples and festivals. Udupi mallige is also exported to foreign countries in order to prepare essential oil, soaps, perfumes and other luxury items.
A mallige farm
Ashokan says that since he began cultivating Udupi mallige, customers often come directly to his house. “I never take the garlands to the market for sale. Wedding parties and temple authorities come by to pick them up. The price is decided based on the current market rate and the charge for tying. It usually comes around Rs 1,000/metre,” he says, adding that he sells about two metres every day for at least 15 days a month.
He adds that it takes 2-3 hours to pluck the buds from the plant. In all, he makes about 15 metres of mallige garland every month.
“Unlike common jasmine, the buds are small, but long. They will bloom in 5-6 hours and must be tied before that. I harvest them twice a day and make about two metres of garland in a day. If properly wrapped in a banana leaf and sprinkled regularly with water, the flowers can last for up to 10 days after plucking. But this delay could diminish its strong fragrance. When big festivals or wedding orders come, we prepare the garlands this way,” he explains.
“No matter what, there is always demand for jasmine. Anyone can cultivate the flower easily if rich laterite soil is available,” says Ashokan.
GI tag for jasmine from Hoovinahadagali, Udupi, published by Deccan Herald on 16 June 2013.
Before they Bloom: Udupi Mallige of Shankarapura, published by Sahapedia on 21 April 2021.
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo Credits Harish Thali/YouTube