A mala is a garland of prayers, literally. It is necklace made of flowers or beads, sometimes very precious stones, and each bead or flower is a repeated prayer or mantra. Traditionally a mala is used for meditation, to still the mind, which bring peace, or to celebrate an image or icon of a god or a person that is held in high esteem by the celebrant. Every morning, In India, millions of gods and images of family, parents, husbands and fathers are celebrated by the placing of a fresh flower mala on or around the image or icon.
The act of placing the mala is a ritual in itself: sit quietly in a shop in Jaipur in the early morning and all is bustle. The boss is sitting shouting orders from behind his newspaper, gently chewing pan and spitting, periodically. Skinny young men with checked shirts, over-long jeans and bad plastic shoe karma are deftly folding fabric and moving the dust from where it settled overnight back into the air with feather dusters. The chai wallah has just come with steaming buffalo milk chai. It is a nice moment to witness. The shop door opens quickly, the bell above goes off and a sweaty, steaming young man proffers a package wrapped in newspaper with a piece of thread wound round it several times to keep it closed.
The shop goes still and the boss heaves himself upright, takes the now opened paper package and goes and stands in front of a large bronze statue of Ganesh, the bastion of all Hindu shopkeepers for he is the god of good fortune. The shop owner’s shiny hair is pushed back with both hands, plastic trouser belt adjusted just under his belly and a deep breath is taken. A minion lights three incense sticks and passes them quietly from the side, still flaming.
The fire is shaken out and a mumbled prayer begins with the incense conducted all around the statue, then clasped in prayer pose and with a final bow, the mala is placed around the neck of the statue, the shop is open, the man smiles, sighs, everyone else resumes their business and quietly, the incense burns away at the feet of Ganesh and all that can be done to ensure good fortune that day has been done….
The images below are taken at the Jaipur mala flower auction early in the morning. Around the edges of the market area men and women thread flowers, using large needles, into malas, whilst in the centre is an auction of the huge, heavy sacks of flowers with sparrows, oblivious to the drama, picking off the insects.
All flowers not sold are given to the pigs.