The Revival of the Gajra in Mainstream

It isn’t an old Indian romance without the tall, dark, and handsome leading man coyly stringing a gajra or garland of jasmine flowers in the heroine’s braid. Or maybe, as warm rain brushes the roof of a black Ambassador, the leading man runs out to a flower stall to return with a gajra wrapped in an old newspaper for his beloved. For centuries, the white and aromatic jasmine flower has reigned as synonymous with romance within the subcontinent.

First mentioned in the Vedas in 1500 BCE, the gajra was the last part of the 16-step bridal adornment process, or Solah Shringaar. Most common in South India, women even wrap gajras in their hair for various festivals and celebrations. However, from the 1980s to recently, the gajra was practically forgotten in pop culture.

Rajesh Khanna romances Mumtaaz by complimenting her gajra. From Apna Desh, released in 1972.

But, today, the gajra is having a moment. Be it the y2k nostalgia or the push for conscious fashion; the fashion industry is returning to heritage. The models walked the runway in Prabal Gurung’s Fall 2023 RTW line with sindoor lining their hair. Similarly, in Sabyasachi’s Heritage Bridal 2023, the models are decorated with alta, a red dye also a part of the traditional Solah Shringaar. Even Western brands, like Burberry, are returning to their roots, emphasizing signature brand elements, such as the revamped equestrian knight logo from the early aughts. With a new wave of creatives seeing culture as inspiration, the ancient gajra is retaking the front seat, experiencing a revival in the mainstream. 

Sahil Behal, a photographer whose recent campaign for Little Things Studio heavily uses the gajra, believes the flower’s revival comes from its uniting power. He tells GUAP, “the gajra is from South India, the collection was made in North India, and we were shooting in Delhi. We wanted to merge cultures.”

For the South Asian American diaspora, the gajra has united us with home. While our distance from the subcontinent limits us from freely accessing handlooms and heritage pieces, the jasmine flower is ubiquitous. It’s a piece of home we can easily access, wear, and let inspire us. 

Diaspora-driven brand No Borders hosted a pop-up shop in New York in November 2022 with an attendee-favorite fresh jasmine flower stand. 

Photo Courtesy Kanika Karvinkop

British-Pakistani rapper Riz Ahmed dons a gajra headdress at his Brooklyn concert of The Long Goodbye.

Model Anaa Saber lets a long gajra trail at the Jacquemes show. 

Preceding a short stint, the gajra has found a home yet again in the minds and hearts of South Asians. Its modern love affair transcends the borders of the subcontinent and goes beyond the hero and heroine romance to invoke reflection, nostalgia, and community.