When words fail, flowers enable us to
articulate our emotions or thoughts. In many cultures and throughout the
ages, flowers have taken on symbolic meanings, which find such eloquence
through the eyes of painters and poets.
In Asia, flowers play an integral part in
many of the local cultures. Here, they are not admired merely for their
physical beauty and fragrance, they also feature prominently in arts and
crafts, traditional medicine and even in local cuisines. The hibiscus or
Rosa Sinensis is the national flower of Malaysia, as it is in Jamaica
and Hawaii. Malaysia's first Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman
declared the hibiscus as a national symbol in 1960. The five petals of
the flower represents the Rukun Negara (the 5 principles of
nationhood) while the color red symbolizes courage.
Flowers or bunga (In Malay word)
need not even be real flowers with bunga rampai (potpourri made
with sliced pandanus leaves) and bunga telur (decorated eggs
given away at Malay weddings) though you will see the ubiquitous flower,
albeit and artificial one, stuck to the gift. Bunga lawang (star
anise), bunga cengkih (cloves) and bunga kantan (wild
ginger buds) are all essential ingredients in local cuisine.
Away from decorations and spices, flowers
are highly revered and used as offerings in many communities such as the
Buddhists and Hindus. The Chinese, for instance, use colorful
chrysanthemums in prayers and during festivals such as during Chinese
New Year and Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Day. White chrysanthemums adorn
wreaths during times of grief.
In Buddhism, the lotus blossom is sacred,
as the lotus represents man's eternal struggle to extricate himself from
worldly desires. Though the lotus grows in muddy waters, the flower
blooms high above the murkiness, rising above all that is impure. Flower
garlands are also traditionally placed over the threshold of a house,
thus allowing the scent to drift in. Or, they are hung in front of
statues of Buddha. Place in front of photographs of relatives, they are
offerings to the dearly departed.
For the Malay community, flowers play a
larger role in their cultural and traditional milieu. In Malay weddings,
the hantaran (dowry) typically includes the sirih junjung
(betel leaves decorated with flowers), a wedding ring, cakes,
traditional desserts, cosmetics, clothes, prayer veil for the bride and
scented flowers. Flowers take on a special significance at Malay wedding
ceremonies. As the bridegroom arrives at the bride's house, a group of
musicians accompany him, followed by bearers of bunga manggar
(palm blossoms). Nowadays, colorful fronds made of shiny paper in
various hues enliven the proceedings. On the dais, huge arrangements of
bunga telur await the couple. These are little silk flower sprigs
tied with an egg each and are symbols of fertility and abundance. Guests
who congregate to bless the newlyweds will be given a sprig each as they
leave the wedding.
An essential ingredient at Malay weddings
is bunga rampai, which is used as potpourri during the event.
Kesidang flowers were commonly used but are a rarity nowadays. The
kesidang tree has bright white flowers and a light, sweet
fragrance. The tree's branches may have been the original bunga
manggar, tied on top of bamboo poles and carried at the head of a
wedding procession. Other flowers popular with the Malays are bunga
kemboja (frangipani), bunga kenanga (ylang ylang) and the
pomegranate flower, used as motifs in local weaving and embroidery.
In contrast, the color red is a prominent
theme at Chinese weddings. It is a symbol of joy, and red roses or other
red flowers are a must in traditional Chinese weddings. The orchid is
the Chinese symbol of love and fertility. It is a lush flower with
slender petals that is exotic and is often used for bouquets and
corsages. Narcissus, daffodils and jonquils signal the end of winter or
hibernation and is ideal for spring weddings. It can be mixed with other
spring flowers for a striking bouquet, or planted in pots or simple
vases as a centrepiece.
Amongst Malaysian Indians, no function -
happy or sad - is complete without the presence of flowers. Flowers
appear at religious occasions, weddings, moving house, or welcoming an
important guest. And most noteworthy is the jasmine garland. Garland
take on different shapes at the hands of a nimble garland maker. It can
be a thick strand of jasmines tied as one continuous loop ending with a
flower tassel or, it may have two strands with two tassels. The art of
tying jasmine is tricky. The garland maker attaches tiny jasmine buds to
a long piece of banana fibre and strings them quickly with the fibre to
form neat rows that eventually turn into a garland.
Jasmines or bunga melor also
captivated the Straits Chinese with its heady scent. In the past, young
Nyonya women used them in their hair. Children would pick jasmines and
present them to their mother or aunts. Then, they would sit around and
watch her twirl her silky hair into a bun, topping it with a crown of
In today's modern world, flowers are a
medium to celebrate love, epitomized by Valentine's day. St. Valentine
may have been a martyred saint, possibly a third century Roman priest
who rebelled against Emperor Claudius II. The emperor had forbidden
marriage, as he believed single young men made better soldiers.
Valentine ignored this and continued to marry young lovers in secret.
Once Claudius discovered this, he sentenced Valentine to death. Another
claims that Valentine wrote the first Valentine's card to a girl he met
while serving his prison sentence. He signed the card 'From your
Valentine', which is still used to this day. In the UK alone, over 12
million cards and close to eight million roses were sent on Valentine's
Day every year.
Flowers are perhaps the most perfect of
creations, visually beautiful, dripping with nectar, heavenly scented
and exquisite to the touch. And above all, flowers are gifts from the
#Ads - Get the above cooking ingredients here at discounted price