Malaysia Flower - Malay Wedding

Malaysia Flower - Malay Wedding

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 jasmine flowers.

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 heart.

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