The art of garland making
Tucked away at the northern end of Veerasamy Road, a stone’s throw from the ornate Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple on Serangoon Road, is Anushia Flower Shop. This busy bloom boutique is also the workshop of garland maker R Jayaselvam, who is currently welcoming groups of visitors for My Community Festival workshops.
The workshops, which are part of the Meet My Craftsman programme, are proving very popular, and although he laments the restriction on numbers forced by COVID-19, Jayaselvam is delighted to share his craft with the public. “Despite the pandemic, we are still engaging people in the art of turning flowers into garlands through My Community Festival,” he says.
It all started as a passion project, and it remains so. “I started garland making in 1978 and mainly taught myself. It boils down to passion. If you have passion in an industry or craft, you will deliver your goal.” Anushia opened its doors in 1994 and today Jayaselvam is generally regarded as the master garland maker of Singapore.
Anushia supports the religious life of the local Hindu community, as flowers are central to puja, the ritual of praying to the deities by way of making the offering of a beautiful garland. However, the business revolves around weddings these days. Many customers ask for unique designs involving complex patterns and multiple flower types, as Jayaselvam explains. “It can take me four hours to make a sophisticated custom-design rose petal wedding garland, as just one side can have 3,000 petals,” he says.
Supply is restricted because, as Jayaselvam succinctly puts it, “I only have these two hands.” His sons are helping the business by building a presence on social media, but Jayselvam remains a solo craftsman. As with many of the crafts showcased in Meet My Craftsman, the question of who will continue the tradition hangs in the air. Read on to find out more about R Jayaselvam’s work in our Q&A.
Garlands are an integral part of Hindu rituals and worship. Do you select different flowers and leaves to make garlands for different deities?
For Ganesha, the elephant god, we use carpet grass [Bermuda grass]. Tulasi [holy basil] is used for offerings to Krishna and Vishnu. For female deities, neem leaves are used for cleansing and purification.
Religious gatherings have been restricted during the pandemic. How has this affected you?
There are restrictions on the number of people who can enter the temples. They only allow 10 or 20-minute visits so the next group can come in and maintain social distancing. So that has been quite difficult for everyone. Garlands for weddings are really our specialty. They are made of different combinations of rose petals, full-bloom roses, carnations, orchids and jasmine.
How would you characterise the importance of garlands in Indian tradition and customs?
Garlands are part of a ceremony performed in the seventh month of pregnancy. And they are worn at funerals as well as weddings. So, from the day you are born to the day you depart this life, you need flowers. They have been part of Indian culture for 5,000 years. That has not changed and I don’t think it ever will.
What have been your most memorable commissions?
I was proud to make a garland for [Olympic gold medallist] Joseph Schooling, and just as proud to make garlands for Yip Pin Xiu, who won gold medals at the Paralympics. I have also made garlands for Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, Lee Hsien Loong, and many more as part of the welcome given to visiting dignitaries.
Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.
At the time of publishing, there were still a few slots available for R Jayaselvam’s garland-making workshops. Check availability and buy tickets for Meet My Craftsman here.