Religion and culture, like ham-and-eggs, go so powerfully together that they mingle, as the ancient Tamil Sangam poet would say, like ‘red earth and pouring rain’. ‘Flower power’ then assumes a whole new meaning, because every religion and every culture uses flowers as greeting cards to God and to each other, alive or dead. However, it’s also possible to enjoy ‘flower culture’ without needing to belong to the religion it derived from. Ikebana is one such brilliant example.
As everyone knows, Ikebana began as meditational offerings at Buddhist temples by medieval Japanese monks and in the last century, this art of stylized and meaningful flower-and-foliage arrangement has evolved into an international interest with Ikebana associations around the world.
Every culture seems to have a flower code, the latest widely-discussed instance being Catherine Middleton’s bridal bouquet. The red rose is surely the global queen, because everyone now associates it with love tokens, although I have to admit to a sneaking fondness for the spectacular long-stemmed yellow variety called ‘American Beauty’. But imagine in the present climate if someone were to ban yellow roses just because one variety has an American association. How paranoid is that? It’s quite easy to imagine, alas, that someone in India could raise an objection, predictably around Valentine’s Day, to red roses as a ‘foreign flower’. This, despite knowing (and it’s so tempting to add “full well”) that red roses are heaped in abundance on the altars and shrines of every religious and denominational persuasion. Well, as everyone also knows, all fundos are baton-brothers in their poverty of imagination.
Meanwhile, it’s so sad to think of the poor little ‘ketaki’ being banned from pujas, if not as a pretty name for girls, all because of the myth that she was forced to commit perjury by Brahma (a delicious story, perhaps another time). And can you ever look at a blade of grass the same way again, knowing that seventeen-year-old Sita all alone in the Ashoka Vana, lays a single, fragile blade of it between herself and the huge, looming figure of Ravan, to indicate her moral and emotional resistance to him? The Arabs just had themselves a ‘jasmine revolution’, for jasmine is the true queen of Asia, from Turkey to China. And now they say the jasmine is banned across the high snows yonder. With Buddha Purnima on Tuesday, ought we to say, “Power to the pipal”?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture