In a posting on my Arunachala Land blog I wrote about the types of flowers used in Tiruvannamalai during puja in Temples and at home. To read that posting and view many photographs of the flowers, go to this link here.
In the Anusana Parva (Section XCVIII) of the Mahabharata there is a beautiful and informative narrative explaining the function and importance of flowers in the worship of the Divine. In it Bhishma addressing Yudhisthira refers to a discourse between Manu and an ascetic named Suvarna. In that discourse Suvarna asks Lord Manu to answer (for the benefit of all creatures) why deities are worshipped by flowers, how the practice originated and the merits attached to the observance. Manu responds to Suvarna’s request by telling him that the topic relating to the mertis attached to the gift of flowers was expounded in a dialogue between Vali and Sukra. In that dialogue, Sukra said:
Penance (indicative of the duties of the four orders of life),first sprang into life. Afterwards came Dharma (or compassion and other virtues). In the interval between started into life many creepers and herbs. Innumerable were the species of those. All of them have the deity Soma for their Lord.
In Hinduism the god Soma evolved into a lunar deity--interestingly Monday in Sanskrit is called Somavaram. Full moon is the time to collect and press the divine Soma drink. The moon is also the cup from which the gods drink Soma, thus identifying Soma with the moon god Chandra. A waxing moon means Soma is recreating himself, ready to be drunk again.
Soma's twenty-seven wives are regarded as the star goddesses, the Nakshatras daughters of the cosmic progenitor Daksha who told their father that he paid too much attention to just one of them, Rohini. Daksha subsequently cursed Soma to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolised by the waxing and waning of the moon.
Some of these creepers and herbs came to be regarded as amrita and some came to be regarded as poison. Others that were neither this nor that formed one class. That is amrita which gives immediate gratification and joy to the mind. That is poison which tortures the mind exceedingly by its odour.
Know again that amrita is highly auspicious and that poison is highly inauspicious. All the deciduous herbs are amrita. Poison is born of the energy of fire. Flowers gladden the mind and confer prosperity. Hence, men of righteous deeds bestowed the name Sumanas on them. That man who is in a state of purity offers flowers unto the deities finds that the deities become gratified with him, and as the consequence of such gratification bestow prosperity upon him. O ruler of Daityas, those deities unto whom worshippers offer flowers, uttering their names the while, become gratified with the offers in consequence of their devotion.
The deciduous herbs are of diverse kinds and possess diverse kinds of energy. They should be classed as fierce, mild, and powerful. Listen to me as I tell thee which trees are useful for purposes of sacrifice and which are not so. Hear also what garlands are acceptable to asuras, and what are beneficial when offered to the deities. I shall also set forth in their due order what garlands are agreeable to the rakshasa, what to the uragas, what to the yakshas, what to human beings, and what to the pitris, in proper order.
Flowers are of diverse kinds. Some are wild, some are from trees that grow in the midst of human habitations; some belong to trees that never grow unless planted on well-tilled soil; some are from trees growing on mountains; some are from trees that are not prickly; and some from trees that are prickly. Fragrance, beauty of form, and taste also may offer grounds of classification. The scent that flowers yield is of two kinds, agreeable and disagreeable. Those flowers that emit agreeable scent should be offered to the deities.
The flowers of trees that are destitute of thorns are generally white in hue. Such flowers are always acceptable to the deities.
One possessed of wisdom should offer garlands of aquatic flowers, such as the lotus and the like, unto the Gandharvas and Nagas and Yakshas. Such plants and herbs as produce red flowers, as are possessed of keen scent, and as are prickly, have been laid down in the Atharvana as fit for all acts of incantation for injuring foes. Such flowers as are possessed of keen energy, as are painful to the touch, as grow on trees and plants having thorns, and as are either blood-red or black, should be offered to (evil) spirits and unearthly beings.
|Indian Coral Tree|
Such flowers as gladden the mind and heart, as are very agreeable when pressed, and as are of beautiful form, have been said to be worthy of being offered to human beings. Such flowers as grow on cemeteries and crematoriums, or in places dedicated to the deities, should not be brought and used for marriage and other rites having growth and prosperity for their object, or acts of dalliance and pleasure in secrecy. Such flowers as are born on mountains and in vales, and as are agreeable in scent and aspect, should be offered unto the deities. Sprinkling them with sandal paste, such agreeable flowers should be duly offered according to the ordinances of the scriptures.
The deities become gratified with the scent of flowers; the yakshas and rakshasas with their sight, the Nagas with their touch; and human beings with all three, viz., scent, sight and touch. Flowers, when offered to the deities gratify them immediately. They are capable of accomplishing every object by merely wishing its accomplishment. As such, when gratified with devotees offering them flowers, they cause all the objects cherished by their worshippers to be immediately accomplished. Gratified, they gratify their worshippers. Honoured, they cause their worshippers to enjoy all honours. Disregarded and insulted, they cause those vilest of men to be ruined and consumed.