It is close to 9.30 am on a sultry Sunday morning and the roads of Shankerpura (also spelt Shankarpura), known for its famous mallige (jasmine) bear a deserted look. I was looking for the famous “mallige katte” or mallige trading centre which I was given to understand was where the rate of the famous Udupi mallige is fixed. Also called Shankarpura mallige, I had first seen this native flower in the Mangalore flower market. Flower markets whether in Bangalore or Kolkata are always a pleasure to visit.
As I finally reached the place, I could see some activity slowly building up. Packets of neatly stringed jasmine bunched together in units called “Chendus” arrive with little slips of paper tucked in. “These packets have arrived from the houses where the flowers are grown. Each morning they are picked and strung into chendus and 4 chendus make an atta which is sold in the market” explains Denzel Castellino who is a mallige agent in Shankarpura.
He explained that almost every house of the village which has a large Christian community, grows the flower and it has been a tradition since the 1930s. Depending on the demand and supply situation, the rate per atte which varies from Rs. 100-2200/- is fixed. The growers are compensated accordingly.
Highly precious commodity
The Udupi mallige is a unique crop that is grown in Shankarpura which is a village in Udupi taluk. It is located between Katapadi and Shirva. The crop that was accorded a GI (Geographical Indication) tag a few years ago is extremely coveted and cherished by the local community. It is much sought after in Hindu temples and during the wedding season. The flower has a subtle fragrance that is unmissable and is strung when the flowers are picked in the bud stage. They are strung using thread and even using the fibre of the banana plant.
“Summer i.e March to May is the peak season for both the flowers and weddings and that is when the prices shoot up due to the excess demand. The flowers command a high emotional value with the locals just like gold. They buy close to ten attes for a wedding. says Ramakrishna Sharma Bantakal, 60 who owns a nursery and has over 500 jasmine plants.
The cultivation of the flower today has spread to other regions like Mangalore, Puttur etc and inspite of challenges faced by the growers and sellers in terms of climate change, low prices and shortage of labour, the fragrance of this wonderful flower continues to spread its magic.
Read more about the Udupi jasmine in my article in The Sunday Hindu.