This Chennai photographer documents Tamil Nadu women with their hair done up with flowers – The Hindu

Chennai News

In his new series Poochoodal, city photographer Naveenraj Gowthaman documents women from rural Tamil Nadu sporting with heartwarming hairdos

In his new series Poochoodal, photographer Naveenraj Gowthaman documents women from rural Tamil Nadu sporting heartwarming hairdos

For the first time in a decade of photography, Naveenraj Gowthaman requested his subjects to show their backs to the camera. “They found this unusual,” says the Chennai-based wedding photographer, “But obliged after I assured them I will take a good picture.” This was in 2020, when he was covering the popular Koovagam Festival at Kallakurichi. The women he was shooting, most of them in their early twenties, had decorated their hair with flowers.

The first photo in the series, shot at Koovagam festival in 2020
| Photo Credit: Naveenraj Gowthaman

Naveenraj was rewarded with a vibrant photo that also told a story. This formed the first picture in what he would call the Poochoodal series. In the two years that followed, Naveenraj started taking special note of women’s hair done up with flowers, especially in rural Tamil Nadu. “I shot them wherever I went on assignments,” he says.

“Festivals are big events in Tamil Nadu villages,” points out Naveenraj. “Everyone is all decked up, and the women do not forget to wear their brightest attire, that they complement with a strand or two of flowers in their hair.” This may be any variety, such as the pale-orange kanakambaram (firecracker flower) or even the Philippine violet, popularly known as December flower.

Some women feel complete only if they step out of home with flowers in their hair
| Photo Credit: Naveenraj Gowthaman

As Naveenraj documented this practice, he started reading literature on the subject to understand it. “I had several questions, the important one being ‘Why do women wear flowers’?” After two years of shooting over 100 photos, Naveenraj realised he did not need an answer. “They enjoy this. Some women feel complete only if they step out of home with flowers in their hair. I stopped reading about the practice then, and decided to not focus on the ‘why’, but to shoot something that was just beautiful to look at, and which made women happy,” he says.

Naveenraj came across women wearing some rather unusual flowers
| Photo Credit: Naveenraj Gowthaman

Naveenraj came across women wearing some rather unusual flowers, as opposed to the typical jasmine. “I saw how rural women did this with spontaneity. They would walk past a plant and their hand would automatically seek a flower and fix it delicately on their braid or kondai,” he says.

A little girl with two strings of kanakambaram and one string of jasmine hung between her two braids; another with two bright red hibiscus flowers atop her folded braid; a girl sporting a single sunflower on her ponytail… why, Naveenraj has photographed an old woman in the Javadhu Hills with four different varieties of flowers around her kondai (bun). “Most of these photos are from interior villages around Chennai, Viluppuram, Tiruvannamalai, Madurai, and Thanjavur,” he points out.

Most of these photos are from interior villages around Chennai, Viluppuram, Thiruvannamalai, Madurai, and Tanjore
| Photo Credit: Naveenraj Gowthaman

Naveenraj also hopes to document practices such as the elaborate weaving of flowers on a braid. “This is done for adolescents or young women on special occasions,“ he points out. There are specific people who are experts at this, whose services are sought-after before the big day. “This practice, however, is dying,“ he adds.

Photographer Naveenraj Gowthaman
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Ironically, Naveenraj spends a lot of time at wedding shoots photographing the bride’s impeccable hairdos decorated with tightly-strung jasmine or even exotic flowers like orchids or gardenias. “Their hairdresser probably spends hours to give it that neat finish,” says Naveenraj. “But to shoot a simple braid with a random mix of flowers that a village girl strung impulsively… this makes me smile.”

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/this-chennai-photographer-documents-tamil-nadu-women-with-their-hair-done-up-with-flowers/article65312513.ece