|Thovalai is a small village located near Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. It is a quaint village where several acres of gardens produce fresh flowers for local and export markets. The village is decorated with long garlands, some of which almost touch the ground. The village is known as a ‘flowering village’, and the flower market exports flowers like Malligai, Pichi, Kaakadai, Kanagamparam, Kenthi, Sampangi, Vaadamalli, roses, Kozhi poo and Chevanthi to many other places throughout the year. The village is also famous for its Murugan temple, dedicated to Lord Muruga, who is locally referred to as “Thovalai Murugan”.
Thovalai is located in Kanyakumari District, on the highway running between Nagercoil and Thirunelveli. It is situated near Aramboly Gap, a natural depression running through the Western Ghats range connecting Kanyakumari with rest of Tamil Nadu.
Thovalai is also known as Thovalai Vadakur.
Thovalai is surrounded by flower fields, and the flower business is the main occupation of the village people. They grow many varieties of flowers and export them to different parts of the country.
Every shop in this village greets visitors with a palette of colors, including garlands in oranges and yellows, whites and pinks. People visit the flower market early in the morning, and the market remains busy with the hum of people bargaining. The village is especially famous for a fresh-looking jasmine flower called Pichchi vellai, or Pichchi poo.
Jasmine flower growers demanded that the government establish a perfume unit, so the Floriculture Research Station was set up in Thovalai for the benefit of farmers cultivating flower crops in and around the Kanyakumari District. It was set up during 2008 and 2009 as the flower producers faced difficulties in preserving the grown flowers. This facility has raised the status of farmers, the quality of the exported flowers as well as the quantity.
The main aims of this research station are:
Some of the farmers from nearby villages, such as Kannan Puthoor, Viswanatha Puram, Chenbagaraman Puthoor, and Aramboly, have switched to paddy cultivation due to inconsistent rainfall.
The village is famous for the flower market and the Murugan temple situated nearby on a small hill. Festivals like Soora Samharam and Malar Muzhukku Vizha are celebrated here. Another Murugan temple, on Chekkargiri Hill, is also famous in Thovalai.
The village contains several educational institutions, including a government school, an engineering college and CSI Institute of Technology (affiliated with Anna University, Chennai).
A small river called the Thovalai Channel runs from the Pechiparai Dam through this village.
There is a small railway station present in this village where passenger trains stop.
For over four generations, a family in this village has woven a unique type of garland called Manikka Malai, meaning ruby garland.
Muthamperumal is an elderly man in his sixties, who has worked with flowers since he was young. His home can always be seen filled with with baskets of white and pink arali flowers (Nerium oleander), marigolds and chrysanthemums. His fingers work like magic, and these colorful flowers come to life and look like gemstones sparkling in the light.
The trick is to weave five rows of arali flowers together, giving them ruby-like appearance. The family uses a special technique, and one can hardly see the petals or the thread in the garland.
Muthamperumal learned this art from his father when he was 6 years old, and his father learned the art from his grandfather. The art of weaving Manikka Malai has been passed on for generations, and the family has the privilege of weaving the garland for Lord Padmanabha in the Padmanabhapuram Temple at Thiruvananthapuram. Even his young granddaughter is a talented weaver.
Manikka Malai are generally 12 feet long, The flowers are generally arranged in five rows, though sometimes seven or eleven rows are used. The design is sketched on paper first, and then the flowers are counted and arranged precisely before knotting with the thread begins.
Muthamperumal is also working with the Crafts Council of Tamil Nadu. He is teaching the art of Manikkam Malai to people who are really interested in learning it. He was recently given an award by the Crafts Council of Tamil Nadu for his contributions to the arts. Weaving flowers into a garland is literally an art and science mixed together.
Thovalai can be easily reached by bus, and air. There are a number of buses travelling from Thovalai to Nagercoil, and the ride generally takes between 40-55 minutes. The nearest airport to Thovalai is Thiruvananthapuram airport.