Flower Therapy is swiftly becoming the buzzword in complementary medicine. Its safe healing powers and extraordinary ability to bring about a cure that is holistic in nature is creating a revolution of sorts. Its popularity reinforces the need for conventional medicine to take a good hard look at its practice of treating the disease, not the person.
India’s mind-boggling reservoir of flora and fauna makes it a veritable paradise for practitioners of Flower Therapy, or even just lovers of nature. While Indian Flower Remedies are just being discovered by the world, flowers had woven their delicate petals into the fabric of Indian society, its rituals and traditions a long, long time ago.
Sacred offerings for the Gods
Flowers have always been revered and held sacred by Indians. No puja, prayer ceremony, marriage or funeral rite is complete without the appropriate offering of flowers. In fact, Indians associate some flowers with their religious deities. Therefore, there are specific flower offerings for every god. The flowers are believed to be charged by the power of the deities themselves.
The Angel’s Trumpet, flowers of the Cannon ball Tree and leaves from the Wood-apple Tree are usually associated with Lord Shiva. Devotees of the monkey god, Hanuman, offer flowers of the Swallow Wart on Saturdays. Ganesha, the god of prosperity and remover of obstacles is made offerings of the Red Hibiscus, as is the goddess Kali. The leaves of the Sacred Basil (tulsi), Mast and Mango tree, and Frangipani flowers are used by the temple priests as an intrinsic part of all pujas. Flowers that are meant to be puja offerings are never smelled. Inhaling their fragrance means rendering them impure and unfit as an offering.
Celebrating with Flowers
Indian festivals have always been celebrated with a profusion of flowers. The entrance to every home is decorated with garlands of Marigold intertwined with Mango or Mast tree leaves. Mango leaves in particular, are used extensively during marriage and christening ceremonies. Fragrant rose water is sprayed on the guests entering a marriage hall. Flowers of the Flame of the Forest are very popular during Holi, the festival of colours. These flowers give forth a dye which is smeared all over friends and relatives as part of the celebration. Flowers are as necessary an item for the Indian woman as the exquisite silk saree for special occasions and festivals. They adorn their hair with slender plaits of fragrant flowers threaded together. The sweet smelling Jasmine is a favourite for wearing as a hair adornment. Incidentally, it is also a popular aphrodisiac!
In good times and bad
Flowers are not ubiquitous during feasts and celebrations alone. They are also used during funeral rites. It is customary to place the leaf of the Sacred Basil and a few drops of water from the river Ganges in the mouth of a person who has just passed away. Coral Jasmine, Ashoka, Bakul or Banyan trees are usually planted on samadhis or graves.
Indians have always been aware of the therapeutic effect of flowers. Herbal and ayurvedic remedies use flowers as an important ingredient.
The Hibiscus flower is used to treat a haemorrhage from the uterus. It is also used to prepare hair oil decoctions that are beneficial for hair growth. The Lotus is sought for curing heart ailments. Bathing in water in which the flower of the ‘Awal’ tree has been immersed is a ritual among women who wish to prevent backache and maintain their slender figure.
Ayurvedic physicians would go to the forests in search of the right kind of herb or plant. They would pay mental obeisance to the tree before plucking its flower. Flowers were never plucked at night. It was considered selfish and irreverent to pluck them while they slept.
Some flowers are also edible. Banana flowers are a delicacy and are cooked in delicious gravies. Rose petals are mixed with honey to make ‘gulkand’ a sweet and highly therapeutic preparation. It is recommended by practitioners of ayurveda and is also added to betel nut leaves to make a lip-smacking digestive.
Bonding with Nature
Although urban living is doing great damage to the Indian ecosystem, it wasn’t always so. Indians, essentially, are people who revere trees and plants and look upon them as the harbingers of peace, good health, joy, bountiful harvests and prosperity. Callousness towards trees was tantamount to blasphemy and felling a tree in full bloom was taboo. Indian philosophy has always stressed the importance of living in harmony with Nature. It even went so far as to encourage people to worship trees. The Sacred Basil (tulsi), for instance, is worshipped by Hindu women. They believe that it has the power to bring domestic peace and happiness. Women also worship the Banyan tree on Vat Savitri day. They fast on this day and pay obeisance to the tree. They believe that the Banyan tree has the power to grant the gift of longevity to their husbands.
Thus it is that all of Nature, flowers included, have always had a special place in the lives of Indians. It is on the basis of this strong and eternal bond that Indian Flower Therapy continues to bring forth miraculous cures, to heal and to rejuvenate.
As part of this series on flowers, we will be bringing you some interesting Indian mythological tales relevant to them in the next piece.