Flowers are a big part of the Hindu puja (worship). Shodashopachara (16 step) pujas require flowers for various stages of the worship. Our saints and poets sing of offering various flowers to their gods. Tyagaraja sings of offering “lotus, various types of jasmine, champaka, lilies” apart from the sacred Tulasi in his “tulasi dhala”. Some special leaves such as Bilva/Vilva (for Shiva), as well as grass like arungampul (for Ganesha) join their flower-brethren in these pujas.
We Hindus are blessed to have many deities (who we proudly worship whether we are disparagingly called polytheistic or idolators, or we are conceded to be monotheist with all deities as manifestation of One, or we are admired to be pantheistic). As a delightful consequence, we get to celebrate festivals around each deity across the year, each with their own special rituals, traditions, food and flowers!
Of course, for many devout Hindus, offering fresh and fragrant flowers daily to their altar is mandatory. They will go to lot of trouble (like waking up at 3am as my father does) and even the poor will shell out a substantial part of their purse to get a “muzham poo” – a arm length of jasmine garland to offer. As a result, there is always a fresh, natural smell in almost all homes and of course, overwhelming fragrance in temples!
The above lengthy introduction is just to assert that I love the tradition of offering flowers. I am not a pseudo environmentalist and by no means, am I advocating stopping the offering of flowers to our dear Devatas, just because I share the beautiful shloka below!
A beautiful verse attributed to Srimad Vedanta Desikar, states that, more than the flowers collected from nature, Bhagawan Vishnu prefers the following pushpam (flowers)
अहिंसा प्रथमं पुष्पं पुष्पम् इन्द्रिय-निग्रहः
सर्वभूत-दया पुष्पम् क्षमा पुष्पं विशेषतः
ज्ञानं पुष्पं तपः पुष्पं शान्तिः पुष्पं तथैव च
सत्यम् अष्टविधं पुष्पं विष्णोः प्रीतिकरं भवेत्
ahiṁsā prathamaṁ puṣpaṁ puṣpam indriya-nigrahaḥ
sarvabhūta-dayā puṣpam kṣamā puṣpaṁ viśeṣataḥ
jñānaM puṣpaṁ tapaH puṣpaṁ śānthiḥ puṣpaṁ thathaiva ca
satyam aṣṭavidhaṁ puṣpaṁ viṣṇoḥ prītikaraṁ bhavet||
The shloka enlists 8 flowers we can offer from our mind – which is both pleasing to the Lord and will also purify us.
The flowers are –
1. Ahimsa – non-violence in thought, words and action towards all creatures
2. Indriya nigrahah – sense control and reigning in the mind
3. Sarva bhuta daya – compassion and empathy towards all
4. Kshama – forgiveness to all
5. Jnanam – knowledge, especially self-knowledge
6. tapah – living a life of austerities and meditation
7. Shanti – peace even in the middle of samsara
8. Satyam – abiding in truth in all conditions
While physical flowers are great and should continue, we should try to offer these Maanasa pushpani throughout the day, not just during our puja!
(Source – inspired by Acharya Dhiren Khatriji who shared this shloka)