What makes flowers sacred to different faiths- Part 1

Flower is a sign of maturity of a plant, its readiness to procreate. At its pinnacle, a plant grows blooms that might be sweet-smelling, colourful or highly attractive to facilitate pollination. Flowers are pleasant, they represent hope, that soon fruits and seeds would be produced. The species would be preserved through tough seasons. The moment the conditions become favourable, seeds would sprout again. Flowers are a celebration of beauty, life, love, intimacy, fertility regeneration and hope.

The practice of assigning special meanings to flowers is known as Florigraphy. It is a branch of symbology. Special meanings have been attributed to them for thousands of years and they vary from culture to culture, time to time. Paintings, sculptures, literary works use these flowers to evoke feelings they signify.

Egyptians were decorating with flowers as early as 2,500 BC. Illustrations of arranged flowers have been found on Egyptian carved stone reliefs and painted wall decorations. From the Indus valley civilisation dating to approximately 2000 BC, among other terracotta objects there is a female figure with elaborate lotus decoration in her hair, probably the Goddess of fertility or the Earth Goddess. The Chinese were making flower decorations as far back as 207 BC in the Han era of ancient China. They created paintings, carvings, and embroidered items with depictions of flowers. The paintings can be found on vases, plates, scrolls, and silk, while carvings were done on wood, bronze, jade and ivory. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Bahai Faith, Jainism all these religions have been associated with flowers in one or the other manner. Comparative mythology also considers various symbols Gods are associated with. The objects their idols hold, weapons or even flowers. Each has an important significance.

Although there are thousands of flowers that appear in various myths and special occasions but the honour of becoming chief symbol of a philosophy or faith lies mainly with four flowers. They have qualities that several faiths have embraced them concurrently. For millenniums they have represented ideologies, philosophies, kingdoms, dynasties, have influenced history and have been influenced by it. They are:

A) Rose

B) Lily

C) Water Lily

D) Lotus

Rose (Raseace family, genus Rosa) – There is an account of numerous stories, about birth of roses. Greek mythology says that when Aphrodite the Goddess of love, saw her lover Adonis dying, she burst into tears. Her tears mixed with Adonis’s blood and roses bloomed. So they consider them a symbol of eternal love.

rose

The Romans are said to have adopted Aphrodite as Venus in their mythology. In their myth, Venus went to meet her lover in a garden of white roses, her son Cupid watched after her. Angerona(Goddess of rage) wanted to disgrace her. An anxious Cupid shot an arrow by mistake and all the plants grew thorns. Venus stepped on them and bled, her blood turned the white blooms red.

Angerona understood her love and carried the red bloom as a price for her silence; she became the Roman Goddess of silence thereafter. From there on besides love and beauty, the red roses became the symbol of secrecy.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-4-49-18-pm
Rare antique Meissen classical porcelain figure of Roman goddess Flora with roses in her wreath and vine.

Roman royal dining and conference halls were decorated with red roses to remind the guests to keep all conversation under wraps. The term ‘Sub Rosa’ (under the rose) to this date means confidential. The famous fiction novel Da Vinci code mentioned this symbolism of rose in detail. The protagonist chased the Rose line and the Rose chapel for hidden clues.

ancient-mesopotamian-coin-with-a-rossette-engraving
Ancient Mesopotamian coin with a rosette engraving.

The Mesopotamian civilization mentions that King Sargon I of Akkadians (2684-2630 BC) had visited the other side of Tigris to Greece and brought back Vines, figs and Rose for cultivation to his land.

dargah-e-shareef-khwaaza-moinuddeen-chishti-ajmer
Roses offered to Dargah-e-shareef Khwaaza Moinuddeen-chishti Ajmer.

The Islamic wedding called the ‘Nikaah’ is carried out with the groom hidden under a veil of roses tied to his head called ‘Sehra’. In India we can see roses being offered at Dargahs as loose blooms, baskets and sewn sheets. Most famous among them is the Dargah of Khwaza Moinuddeen Chishti at Ajmer.

the-north-rose-window-of-notre-dame-paris-has-at-its-center-the-blessed-virgin-mary-and-christ-child-in-majesty-surrounded-by-prophets-and-saints
The North rose-window of Notre-dame, Paris has at its center the blessed Virgin Mary and Christ-child.

Christian faith associates rose with Madonna, all over Italy roses both white and red are kept in the month of May to honour her, symbol of the holy mother of Christ. Rose has five petals in each whorl said to resemble the formation of Christ’s wounds. Rose has also been associated with their holy symbol the pentacle, if all tips are joined to each other. The five-point star is said to have shown at Bethlehem when Christ was born. The form is converted to ten petals and represented in the rose windows of Gothic Cathedrals. Thus rose also becomes an instrument of meditation looking inwards to contemplation at the still heart and outwards for releasing the spirit beyond immediate confines.

lily

B) Lily ((Lilium candidum)

The importance of lily is found in almost every religion and forms a part of history and folklore. Dating as far back as 1580 B.C., when images of lilies were discovered in a villa in Crete, these majestic flowers have long held a role in ancient mythology. The name Lily is derived from the Greek word “leiron”. According to Greek mythology, the lily stands for motherhood and birth because it is believed that lily was formed or created from the breast milk of Hera, wife of Zeus. In ancient Greece, people regarded lily as a symbol of sexuality and fertility.

lilies-and-swallows-in-a-fresco-at-thera-excavation-site-ancient-greek-civillization
lilies and swallows in a fresco at Thera- excavation site ancient Greek civilisation

Roman legend says that when Venus, the goddess of love, rose from the water and witnessed a lily, she became envious of the beauty of the flower. She couldn’t stand its beauty and feeling threatened, gave the flower an additional element — a large and long pistil at its center, in the hope that by doing so she will make the flower less attractive. Lily is thus also symbolized as proclamation of love and lust, which is also represented by Venus.

knossos-excavation-then-named-as-fresco-of-lily-prince-is-said-to-be-in-fact-the-tale-of-venus-cursing-the-lily
Knossos excavations Then named as ‘fresco of lily prince’ is said to be in-fact the tale of venus cursing the Lily flower.

Christianity changed the flower of sexuality and fertility to symbolize what it revered more, Virginity and purity. The archetypal flower symbolizing purity is the white Madonna lily (Lilium candidum). The association of the flower with the Virgin Mary dates to early Christianity. There is an apparent legend according to which, her tomb was filled with lilies after her assumption into heaven.

This mystic flower appeared most often in devotional paintings when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin that she would bear God’s son. A white lily was placed in a vase in the foreground of the scene, or held by the Angel, and sometimes a small-enclosed garden of lilies known as the Hortus Conclusus reinforced the message of virginity. The flowers most often associated with funerals. Lilies symbolise that the soul of the departed has received restored innocence after death.

fluer-de-lis-seal-on-a-cathedral-wall
fleur-de-lis seal on a cathedral wall.

Fleur-de-Lis, a portrayal of a three-petal lily in France, represents prosperity and royalty. The three petals of lily are often used to depict a trinity symbol of Hope, Faith, and Charity. It is a part of many royal family and armed forces seals. It appears in cathedral sculpture, flags, ornamental objects, and jewelry or fabric patterns.

Continued in sacred-flowers-part-2

(Pictures courtesy the Internet)

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